White Guilt: Race, Gender, Sexuality and Emergent Racisms in the Contemporary United States
Grzanka, Patrick Ryan
Parks, Sheri L
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White guilt is a culturally and historically contingent emotion rooted in White people's recognition of unearned privileges and collective and/or individual roles in the perpetuation of racism. Situated within the context of neoliberal multiculturalism, this interdisciplinary dissertation investigates contemporary manifestations of White guilt in popular discourse and the lived experiences of young White adults in the United States. As a form of identity-based affect, White guilt may aid in the development of antiracist White people; however, because White guilt retains a focus on the White subject, it may offer limited potential to transform social relationships and systems of inequity. Three interrelated studies compose the methodological work of this project and undertake the task of empirically grounding White guilt so that we may better understand its forms, limits and consequences. The first study interrogates journalists' coverage of three moments of controversy in the early 21st century: Anderson Cooper's "emotional" reporting during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Don Imus-Rutgers University basketball scandal and Isaiah Washington's firing from <italic>Grey's Anatomy</italic> after allegedly calling a co-star a "faggot." Reporting on these episodes illustrates how multiculturalism manages and defers racial guilt and shame while simultaneously eliding the intersections of identity that structure experience. The second study is the creation and initial validation of a survey-based measure of White guilt (the Test of White Guilt and Shame or "TOWGAS"), which attempts to reconcile several limitations of extant research on racial affect - namely, the persistent conflation of guilt and shame. The third study centralizes the intersectionality of White people's experiences through in-depth interviews with 10 White college students. A modified grounded theory approach is used to explore how gender, sexuality and race together influence how these White people a) perceive Imus, Washington and Cooper and b) conceptualize their own Whiteness and the feelings associated with racism and inequality. Finally, the concept of "emergent racisms" is posited as a critical, working framework with which to investigate White racial affect. This theoretical approach emphasizes the complex interactions between identity, affect, attitudes and context (i.e., situation) that co-constitute the phenomenology of White guilt and shame.