The Prevalence of White Guilt Among American High School Students

(1) BASIS Tucson North Upper School, Tucson, Arizona

After the election of the nation’s first African-American president, it has been asserted that America is evolving into a post-racial society and the younger generation has fewer reservations about race and ethnicity. To test this hypothesis, a group of students were given a survey that was paired with a slide show that contained a quote, a statistic, a fact, and an image. All elements of the presentation showed information pertaining to racial relations between Caucasians and people from minority groups. The quote and the image presented information on racial relations in the past while the statistic was relevant to modern racial inequalities in society. Students were asked to report whether they experienced emotions of shame, anger, gratefulness, or any combination of the three while looking at the slides. The goal of the survey was to determine if Caucasian adolescents still harbored white guilt, defined as feelings of shame and embarrassment for discrimination applied to peoples of color by their ancestors, and the advantages they still receive in society as a result. From these tests, Caucasian students reported feelings of shame when presented with slides that pertained to past racial relations, but reported feelings of anger when presented with slides that pertained to current racial relations. These results suggest that there are still vestiges of white guilt among adolescents today and that Caucasian students recognize current inequalities in society.

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race white guilt psychology
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