Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Guilt

I'm going to start this off by saying that I missed the Jena Six protest on Thursday. The big one, with thousands of people, where the NAACP and other like organizations specifically called for white allies, so that they could challenge the racist notions of the ruling bodies of that town.

I didn't make it. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn't know that it was happening on Thursday until it was Thursday afternoon. I didn't know the call had gone out for white allies, and I didn't know that pitifully few white allies had shown up at the rally.

My ignorance here seems to be rather steep. To the point where it lines up rather nicely with apathy, an outsider could construe, and perhaps the delightful concerned citizen who informed me of all this drew that conclusion. With luck, they are a better person than that, and just needed to let someone know how much it hurt them, hurt there ideals, their notions of society, to have seen such a pathetic turnout. There was some degree of dismay, some of anger, and some of shock and lots of disappointment in the one-sided conversation.

I listened attentively, having been called out and correctly identified as having gone through YRUU anti-racism training. And, to be fair, I'm in New Orleans because of a commitment to social justice. The Jena Six, this great big, latter-day showcase of racism and unfair power structures, is the current Big Deal, and don't get me wrong, it is one. It's big enough to warrant
a large outpouring, a tremendous show in support of the accused. And I missed it; I was, in fact, ignorant of the rally, and it was well within my ability to find out, to show up, to protest, to even mobilize my peers towards such action. But, I didn't.

There is no changing of the past that can be done. That isn't how the past works, and so rather than being rallied, motivated towards some new great work, I was left there, listening to someone who knows superficially my commitment to justice, and told about how it was all a failure, and then told to go forth and organize my peers. No specific objective was given; it seemed to be an after-the-fact thing, like organize your peers to make up for the sin of not having been there today. Perhaps this entry's title and my tone give it away, but this was not a pleasant conversation. This was one of those moments where the appropriate course of action was to take on the guilt of the dozens who don't care. This is the moment where the kid sitting in class is scolded, while his tardy peers get off without the talk. This was a rather intense laying-it-on, as it were. I messed up, and Unitarians lack formal penance.

At one point, I asked what could be done. What work is there still to do, what more is needed, what can I do to help the cause, to atone for my well-established failure.

I was told nothing more than I had missed it. That this was the big one, the new mobilizing for another campaign in the Civil Rights movement, which now has less choice of battlegrounds and so must be ready whenever a situation is presented, unorchestrated as it may be. these are tougher battles, and the call had gone out, and I had missed it. There is nothing more to do.

This is useless guilt. This is guilt that has bluntly removed itself from a valid purpose. If there was more action to take, I would have been as ready for that as a three-time murder being told by Pope Urban II that if I took the cross to the holy land, I still had a place in heaven. But there was no plea, nothing more than a vague "be ready" given to hint at a way to absolve this. This Guilt has done nothing more than harm, and while all guilt comes with harm, it is considered good form to include healing instructions as well.

So, On Guilt - if there is no specific aim, no greater action that this guilt will make the individual undertake, if there is no social justice that can come as the result of it, it has very, very little place in, well, anything, really. It alienates allies, it lessens sympathy, and it gives off an unpleasant "holier-than-thou" attitude. It's a detrimental thing, and people eager to do good work don't need that, not without instruction.


Christine Robinson said...

Once to every soul and nation
comes the moment to decide
in the strife of truth with falsehood
for the good or evil side (hymn)

Nice hymn, but it's a crock. There are thousands of moments. The next one will come, and you'll jump on it.

You've moved to an amazing city where justice is not rolling down like waters. You'll find your way to be involved.

Be thee absolved...

Kelsey Atherton said...


frannyzoo said...

About the only organization that can give the Catholic Church a run for its guilt-laying money is DailyKos. At times, the "movement" (for lack of a better all-encompassing term) stifles with its constant pressures to always be somewhere or think something. Then there's our natural desire for things to be different, now. A nice guilt cocktail, no?

Rev. Robinson is right, there will be other moments. Unfortunately, in a way, there will be "thousands of them".

In other words, what she said. Thanks for the piece.

Reed-father said...

Kelsey, you come from relatively guiltless stock. Not me, I do guilt in the usual, clumsy weakening way. But Lia does not have guilt in her general vocabulary. You should talk with her about that next call home to see from whenst you came.

Reed-father said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kelsey Atherton said...

thanks, all of you. I'm doing much better now

G. Lora said...

Forgive yourself. It takes a lot of practice but feels so good when at last you can do it.

G. Lora said...

Forgive yourself. It takes a lot of practice but feels so great when you can do it. G. Lora