Making White Guilt Fitting

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Virginia Tech


This paper draws on the non-fiction writings of James Baldwin to introduce a novel conception of white guilt that is consistent with standard philosophical views that guilt is fitting only in cases of direct moral culpability while addressing practical criticism that white guilt is at variance with the aims of social justice movements. Taking on Baldwin's perspective on whiteness as a subjective choice, I develop an Identity-Based Account of white guilt describing the emotion as tracking culpability for a pernicious form of self-identification. My central claim is that white guilt is fitting because in experiencing the emotion, one is simultaneously recognizing the role their own identity plays in providing a source of justification for actions that sustain a system of injustice. Conceived in this way, responses to white guilt demand taking part in corrective political action as a means of moral self-creation.



Race, Philosophy of Emotion, Social Political Philosophy, James Baldwin