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Thursday, January 5, 2023

White Guilt–Whips, Chains, And Atonement Are Never Enough

Sheldon Miller signed up for Whiteness – A Penitential Curse And How To Atone For It, a non-degree course at a local university, part of its continuing education program.  The program was touted by its administrators, group leaders, and students as one of the most prestigious in the area – taught and attended by PhDs with practical experience in the subjects taught.  Courses ranging from literary Naturalism, Advanced Number Theory, the Bach Cantatas, and the genius of Giotto and Machiavelli were all oversubscribed.  The retirees who had led lives of intellectual vigor if not virtuosity could not seem to hang up their spurs and clamored for space at the university’s academic smorgasbord.

Machiavelli, Niccolò | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Sheldon had been a regular student of the Arts and Literature curriculum of the program, enjoying the give and take over challenging and often contentious works of fiction.  He had been thoroughly engaged by a recent course on Ibsen in which the instructor had deconstructed the major plays through a Nihilistic lens. Hedda Gabler, he contented was the Nietzschean hero, a woman of powerful, amoral, indomitable will.  Rebekka West and Hilde Wangel were cut from the same cloth, women of irreconcilable ambition, indomitable will, and amoral purpose.

It was with some some surprise that his fellow students learned that he had signed up for the ‘racism course’, not only because of Sheldon’s lifelong pursuit of literature, but because of his equally long engagement in progressivism and social reform. His colleagues knew and respected him for his Freedom Rides, sit-ins, later support for the more radical civil rights movements of H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael, his association with the ideas of  Louis Farrakhan, and his passionate participation in all things Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter vigils return to Germantown - WHYY

He was especially moved by the contention that America is systemically racist, that white supremacy is the legacy of Western civilization, and that the true revolution of the black man had not yet come.  Whites first had to pay their dues for slavery, oppression, racist ignorance, and historical myopia.  

How could anyone look at the Palais de Versailles or Westminster without seeing the blood of Africans dripping from the walls.  The grandeur of Western civilization, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the revolutionary democracy of France and the United States was nothing but window dressing.  The so-called great art and ideas of these eras was no more than a vulgar display of white nationalism, colonialism, and imperialism. 

As a Jew, Sheldon could relate to Atonement, an acceptance of guilt and the necessary consequence of punishment.  We try to be good, but fall off the moral wagon so easily.  Simple atonement for the sins of the past cannot be enough.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ, Son of God, came down from his seat at the right hand of his Father to die on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind.  Individual forgiveness was not possible given the magnitude of the sins committed before his coming, their ubiquity, and their desultory treatment. 

Easy for them to say, thought Sheldon, have a deus ex machina come down from the clouds, do an Easter Passion, die heroically for all mankind, then go back to his celestial paradise.

Crucifixion of Jesus - Wikipedia

We Jews know better, said Sheldon.  Sin, guilt, and atonement are never ending.  There can be no forgiveness, only acknowledgement of the perpetual indignities against one another for all time.  The Wailing Wall is there for a reason.  We must wail and rail against injustice, hoping that God will show us a way to make good for our sinful past.

And so it was a given that Sheldon would become a progressive in thought, word, and deed.  He was a true believer in the calumny of white supremacy, the innate, inherent superiority of the black man, and the necessity of atoning for the sins of slavery, racism, and oppression.

Sheldon took every opportunity to expose himself to the anger and hatred of black people.  He went to Black Lives Matter rallies and demonstrations not only to show support for the movement but to be spat upon, to be called ‘racist’, to be scorned, tarred, and beaten.  He deserved it all.  No punishment from former slaves would ever be too harsh.

So when he saw the ‘racism’ offering in the university catalogue, he was quick to sign up, and looked forward to the class like no other he had ever taken.

On the first day of class he saw that he was in good company.  The class was even more Jewish than most (so many Jews in fact were enrolled in the program, that no classes were held on Jewish holidays), and within an hour he knew that he was among the like-minded. The instructor, a well-credentialed older black man recruited from out of bounds – a ringer, for there were scant few black people either in the student body or among instructors.

Yet this departure from protocol was exactly what the students wanted.  It was one thing to be reminded of white dereliction by an old Jewish teacher; another altogether to be harangued and verbally abused by a youngish black man.

Leroy P. Jones was just what the doctor ordered – a shiny shaved bald headed, tall, imposing, and vocally impressive black man.  No academic trifle he, no on-the-one-hand-on-the-other parsing of the truth.  There was no give or accommodation to the man.  He was there to abuse, brutalize, and shame the class until they dropped on their knees and begged for more.

Image result for image black preachers on pulpit

One would have thought that with every nook and cranny of American society steaming with racial invective; and where black commentators, journalists, and editors were given their head and used all manner of formerly unconscionable racist language, the last thing that Sheldon or anyone else for that matter would want to hear was more of the same. Yet the desire to be perpetually punished with evermore harsh abuse, to be subject to the righteous tyranny of the black man, to be forced to admit universal crimes against black humanity seemed to have no bounds.

The class was filled to overflowing, camp chairs filled every empty space, and standing room only provided.

The booming voice of Mr. Jones could be heard far down the halls.  It rose and fell like that of a Southern preacher, imploring, chastising, beseeching, but above all damning and condemning.  “You, white people”, he shouted, “are not part of the problem.  You are the problem.  You are racist to the core, hateful, scornful, dismissive of your black brothers and sisters.  You have abused, enslaved, and brutally treated them for centuries and you continue to do so.  You cannot stop because your racism is systemic, hardwired into your lily white genes.  Make amends! Do it now”. 

The class filed out of the classroom quietly and pensively.  There was none of the usual banter and small talk.  They sought shelter, some measure of solace after so much harsh, brutal truth.

Most of the other students, also leaving their classrooms at the end of the hour, were chipper and upbeat as usual. They had been piqued with interest by the lectures and discussions just completed.  While most had read of the ‘racism’ offering in the catalogue, few were tempted.  It was enough to see black faces everywhere shouting at them. To money to hear it close up would never happen.

Mourners,' Many Faces of Grief, at Metropolitan Museum - The New York Times

So Sheldon felt good about himself and the class.  It was right and just to be confronted head on by his own systemic racism, and to realize the extent of his sin and moral negligence. 

Again, one would assume that after such a haranguing, anyone would head to their local bar for some happy talk, but not Sheldon.  Mr. Jones had simply stirred the pot of vile things.  Sheldon wanted more hurt and pain, and more still.  He bowed his head when passing black people on the street, reluctant to look them in the eyes.  His shame, his internal pain, his guilt became more a part of him than ever before. 

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