White Guilt YKTTW Discussion

White Guilt
A character from a historically-privileged group feels uncomfortable or guilty about their status.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-10-18 11:59:28 sponsor: hbi2k (last reply: 2014-03-04 08:06:00)

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This trope is when a character from a currently or historically privileged race, class, religion or other group feels very guilty about their (real or perceived) position of privilege. They will be made very uncomfortable when dealing with characters from less-privileged groups. They live in fear of being Mistaken for Racist, but their every attempt to prove that they aren't will be chock full of Unfortunate Implications, and they'll just wind up digging themselves deeper. May manifest as Positive Discrimination toward people of less-privileged groups.

May result from Political Correctness Gone Mad or Everything Is Racist, or be a self-inflicted form of it. Can overlap with Innocent Bigot when the character is accused of bigotry and doesn't quite understand why, or Boomerang Bigot when the "guilty" party lets their guilt lead them to treat members of their own group unfairly. Can overlap with White Man's Burden if the character attempts to help the poor underprivileged minority. Expect to hear cries of "Some of My Best Friends Are X!" Some characters may even seek out a Black Best Friend for this exact purpose, which of course has Unfortunate Implications of its own.

Compare Sins of Our Fathers, where punishment is externally imposed whether or not the punished feels any guilt or responsibility for their ancestors' actions, and Must Make Amends and The Atoner, where a character is driven to make amends for their own crimes rather than the crimes of their race, class, or social group. Compare and contrast Intolerable Tolerance, where someone from an "underprivileged" group demands special treatment beyond what is reasonable. A specific variant of Cultural Cringe.

As there is a fine line between a normal level of sensitivity to those of other backgrounds and this trope, please limit real-life examples to those in which the person self-identifies as experiencing White Guilt.


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  • The entire point of The Help, where Skeeter, a Southern Belle in The Sixties who doesn't quite fit in, decides to write a book from the perspective of the serving black maids. The potential Unfortunate Implications of the (well-meaning) movie were fairly well explored by critics of pop culture around the time it was released.

     Live Action TV 
  • In one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scoobies do a lot of hemming and hawwing about how to handle a Native American spirit bent on vengeance against the white man. On the one hand, he's hurting more-or-less-innocent people. On the OTHER hand, it IS true that his people were horribly oppressed.... It takes an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Spike to goad them into decisive action.
  • Leslie Knope shows occasional signs of this on Parks and Recreation, especially when dealing with Ken Hotate, the leader of the local Wamapoke Indians.
  • Lampshaded in the Frasier episode "Dr. Mary''. Frasier hires an African-American call-screener who takes over his show by calling herself "Dr. Mary", spouting ghetto-psychology; but he's afraid to say anything because she's black and came from an underprivileged background. Eventually she gets her own show spouting more ghetto-psychology, but finds out about his guilt and tells him, "God bless your guilty white ass!"
  • Liz Lemon of 30 Rock has her fair share of this, as when she finds it difficult to break up with an annoying black boyfriend played by Wayne Brady for fear of being thought racist. She also admits that she voted for Obama primarily out of White Guilt. She mostly gets over it after a couple seasons of Tracy playing the Everything Is Racist card a few times too often, although characters like his wife Angie can still throw her off-balance by playing off of this trait.
  • In The Big Bang Theory episode The Raiders Minimization Sheldon tells Amy "I heard they were illegally squatting on Native American land. Personally, I think what we did to the Native Americans was wrong," hinting that he may experience some amount of this... insofar as Sheldon is capable of feeling guilt about anything.
  • In Community, after Jeff and Troy find out their new friend Joshua was a blatant racist, Jeff offers to buy Troy frozen yogurt as his white guilt was driving him nuts.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Professor Dick Solomon, one of a group of aliens who is sent to Earth to study it, after making several comments regarding one of his African-American students that came out in a way he didn't intend, later studies on the histories regarding colonialism and imperialism. He is found revolted by the way humans have treated each other based on their skin color and utterly regrets the things he said earlier. In effect, he has White Guilt despite being "white" through happenstance rather than birth.

  • This is the theme of the song "Guilty of Being White" by Minor Threat.

     Real Life 
  • Stephen King has admitted in interviews that his tendency to overuse the Magical Negro trope is likely due to his own White Guilt.

     Standup Comedy 
  • Louis C.K. has a standup bit where he extols how wonderful it is being a white male in a world that's basically run by (and for) white men. He admits that he's going to enjoy this while it lasts, because he figures karma is going to bite white men in the ass soon (and that they're going to deserve it when it does).

  • Bobwhite has a story arc where Cleo goes mad with political correctness and worries that, as the only privileged white person in her circle of friends, she may have unintentionally oppressed everyone she knows. She starts apologizing for this to everyone. Everyone just finds this annoying.

     Web Original 
  • Django Unchained causes "Django Guilt" according to College Humor; an amusingly short-lived wave of guilt among white people for the era where black people were subjected to slavery and death.
  • Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation mentions feeling this during his review of Condemned 2, which casts you as an upper-class person beating up the homeless, being "British, middle class, and whiter than a snowman with a bukkake fetish."
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