Diagnosing “White Masochism” —
a Call to the American Psychiatric Association and to All Those Still in Their Right Minds
By Alexander Zubatov
One of the central theses of the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee’s magisterial 12-volume A Study in History (1934) is that great civilizations are almost never killed off from without; suicide rather than murder is the usual mechanism of their demise. Any American, indeed, anyone in the West, who has been alive and conscious in the course of the past decade or so should know exactly what Toynbee is talking about. We are living through a time when many in the West are gleefully condemning themselves and espousing the causes of uncivilized minions clamoring for the West’s destruction.
A significant manifestation of this larger pattern is the epidemic, growing day by day, of white people falling over themselves in a mad rush to denounce their principal sin — of being white and, therefore, inherently racist and guilty of all the other sins of history. In a development so absurd it seems like something straight out of Jonathan Swift or George Orwell, a Mother Jones article entitled, “Hi, I’m Bonnie, and I’m a Racist,” describes the proliferation of meetings that are a kind of Alcoholics Anonymous for racists — “Racists Anonymous” — where white people go to church (yes, church … because that’s where you go to expiate sins, right?) to take part in group sessions dedicated to racial self-criticism. The article quotes the founder of this approach to healing the “disease” of racism, the Reverend Ron Buford, who is black, explaining that “Once you accept the fact that we’re all racists, it’s just varying degrees. In our culture, it’s impossible not to be a racist to some degree.” (Undoubtedly, this means racist against blacks, because, as we are routinely being told by the same people responsible for meetings like this, it’s apparently impossible to be racist against whites.) “Also important, Buford says, is to lower the bar for what counts as ‘racist,’ ” the article helpfully explains. Indeed, lowering the bar in a “Racists Anonymous” meeting is critical to its mission, since no actual racists would ever attend such a workshop unless forced … which, I predict, they soon will be. As of now, those in attendance at these exercises in racial re-education are surely the ones who need it the least. They are not so much white racists as they are white masochists who have been gaslighted into believing they are racists and are now eager to be punished for their concocted sins.
Lending credence to the burgeoning phenomenon I am describing is the fact that there is now a Wikipedia entry for “White Guilt.” “White guilt,” it tells us, “is the individual or collective guilt felt by some white people for harm resulting from racist treatment of ethnic minorities by other white people both historically and currently.” This certainly describes those white people going around denouncing themselves for their alleged “privilege” in the hopes of receiving that absolution that always seems to elude them. I found a useful historical analogue under another Wikipedia entry, the one for “self-criticism”:
Under some systems of communism, party members who had fallen out of favor with the [higher-ups in the party bureaucracy] were sometimes forced to undergo ‘self-criticism’ sessions, producing either written or verbal statements detailing their ideological errors and affirming their renewed belief in the Party line. Self-criticism, however, did not guarantee political rehabilitation, and often offenders were still expelled from the Party, or in some cases even executed.
The good Rev. Buford’s approach is similar: political rehabilitation is not guaranteed. At Racists Anonymous meetings, “[t]here’s a ‘no-fixing’ rule — self-improvement is the priority,” the Mother Jones article explains. It quotes — as a kind of ready-made instructional catechism — a back-and-forth between “Bonnie” (the self-confessed white “racist” of the article’s title) and a helpful black woman present to administer a welcome comeuppance:
“Somehow I can’t seem to remember those weird names,” [Bonnie] says of her introductions to black people.
“On the ‘weird’ names,” suggests a black woman across the circle, “you might want to use ‘unique,’ or ‘different.’”
“Thank you, thank you,” Bonnie replies.
One can almost hear the note of masochistic gratification in Bonnie’s reply. It felt so good to be corrected and upbraided! Please do it to me again!
And this got me thinking: is this increasingly widespread mode of behavior — this “white guilt” that’s really a form of masochism — psychiatrically classifiable? Shouldn’t it be? Shouldn’t the American Psychiatric Association seriously consider adding the metastasizing phenomenon of “white masochism” as an official, certified, bona fide, DSM-classifiable psychiatric malady?
Most people would agree that there’s nothing wrong with a bit of harmless, playful S&M. It doesn’t hurt anyone (or, at least, not anyone who doesn’t want to be hurt), and it probably makes our society more interesting than it would be if everyone’s sexual fantasies were plain vanilla. But when it crosses a certain line, masochism (as well as sadism) becomes a psychiatric condition. Here is how the DSM-IV defines the disorder:
- Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.
- The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Turning to the intellectual arena, there’s nothing wrong with people being a bit self-critical. I would not want to live in a society consisting of people constantly going around thinking and talking uncritically about how great they are (having spent seven straight years at Ivy League universities, believe me, I know what I’m talking about here). But, just like masochism in the sexual sphere, when self-criticism crosses a certain boundary, it should begin to merit psychiatric attention. If we tweak the DSM-IV definition of masochism only very slightly, we get this:
- Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, browbeaten, belittled, or otherwise made to suffer on the basis of one’s self-identification as being of the “white” race.
- The fantasies, urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
If anything, the subtraction of the sexual dimension makes the behavior even loonier and less explicable. At least when there’s sex involved, we understand what the masochist is getting out of it. Take the sexual part away, and what we have is a fit of self-destructive madness, pure and simple.
Lest anyone wonder whether the second element of the definition — “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” — is going to be satisfied by what we’re seeing around us, feeling distressed enough by one’s whiteness (and, thus, inherent racism) to attend a “Racists Anonymous” workshop would qualify, would it not? So would writing a lengthy New York Times-published exorcism of the phantom of “White Debt” in which, among other things, the author asserts the belief that “whiteness is costing me my community. It is the wedge driven between me and my neighbors, between me and other mothers, between me and other workers.” That certainly sounds like “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupation, or other important areas of functioning” to me. These histrionic speculations from the same article, worthy of any Old-World Catholic self-flagellator, fall into that disturbing category as well:
I had the uncomfortable suspicion that my good life, my house and my garden and the “good’’ public school my son attends, might not be entirely good. Even as I painted my walls and planted my tomatoes and attended parent-teacher conferences last year, I was pestered by the possibility that all this was built on a bedrock of evil and that evil was running through our groundwater.
What is the condition of white life? We are moral debtors who act as material creditors.
Evil running through our groundwater? I don’t know what “white life” is or why anyone should feel “moral debt” for the past acts of others who merely had a generally similar skin pigment, but what I do know is that proclamations like this strongly suggest that their author is psychiatrically certifiable. What I also know is that the proliferation of pieces like this one is duping more and more well-meaning white liberals into thinking that there is something wrong with them on account of little more than the color of their skin.
There are many more examples where these came from. How about white readers feeling distressed at having read so much work by white writers? Or white English majors at Yale begging to stop having to read work by white poets? And, speaking of Yale, how about those like Yale President Peter Salovey or, for that matter, Harvard Law School President Martha Minnow, who have gone on a crazed crusade to ferret out and expunge institutional names and symbols from which protesting peons can find tortured paths through our historical labyrinth along which they are able to draw dotted lines back to slavery?
The examples are legion. The psychiatric disorder is spreading, and with it, a deeper disorder in the very fabric of Western culture. We can describe the symptoms. We can make the diagnosis. But the real question is this: will we find a cure before the sadists eager to pile on to this orgy of white masochism beat and whip us and the last vestiges of our once-great civilization into oblivion?
** August 2018 update: This utterly deranged August 14, 2018 New York Times piece responding to a pathetic, guilt-ridden white guy is such a perfect installment in the genre of white masochism that I had to link to it here. It includes bits like this:
- “Shame and anger are powerful emotions, Whitey…. What you really feel is trapped within an identity that marks you, inescapably, as an oppressor.”
- “As you seem well aware, your race granted you privileges that were and are denied to people who are not white. This is true for all white people in America, no matter how racially diverse their childhood neighborhoods were or were not, no matter how much money their families had or didn’t have, no matter how difficult or easy their lives have been. Every white person should be ashamed of that injustice.”
- “You have to relinquish your privilege. And part of learning how to do that is accepting that feelings of shame, anger and the sense that people are perceiving you in ways that you believe aren’t accurate or fair are part of the process that you and I and all white people must endure in order to dismantle a toxic system that has perpetuated white supremacy for centuries. That, in fact, those painful and uncomfortable feelings are not the problems to be solved or the wounds to be tended to. Racism is.”
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in The Federalist, The Independent Journal Review, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, Mercatornet, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.