This White ‘I’: The Reciprocal Shame of Oppressor and Oppressed

  • A Hurst

Abstract

Vice’s answer to the question of this white ‘I’ who must try to live well in South Africa, configures shame, political silence and humble self-reconfiguration. I accept her insightful analysis of ‘whiteness’ in terms of the oppressor’s shame, but find that her specification of identity does not accommodate the multiplicity of privilege/oppression relations in which individuals participate. Since this implies that many South Africans, albeit unevenly, share the oppressor’s shame, her advice concerning ‘whites only’ political withdrawal seems inappropriate and curiously self-subversive. Focussing instead on her reflections concerning moral emotions in ethically-compromised selves, which should motivate self-reconfiguration, and drawing from Kristeva on ‘forgiveness’, I argue that compromised selves in privilege/oppression relations cannot reconfigure themselves independently, and should rather negotiate on-going forgiveness relationships. Further, since privileged and oppressed shoulder different but reciprocal ethical responsibilities, besides considering the privileged self who should appeal for forgiveness,1 one must address a gap in Vice’s argument concerning the reciprocal shame of the oppressed.
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eISSN: 0258-0136