James Baldwin, a Black American writer, contends that the root cause of America’s racial problem is not necessarily prejudice or hatred but guilt. In his essay, “White Man’s Guilt,” Baldwin says that most of the arguments white people use today against the reality of America’s racial problem can be reduced to a plea: “Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it” (Price 411). In many of his essays, Baldwin explores white America’s long history of guilt, denial, and justification, and he explains that many white Christians—in an attempt to avoid blame and protect their power, their privilege, and their identity as good, innocent, moral people—have perpetrated immense trauma against Black people. Since the time of slavery, white Christians have created a variety of theological justifications for racial inequality, and these justifications generally shift blame to Black people and to God. “Now, this is not called morality,” proclaims Baldwin, “this is not called faith, this has nothing to do with Christ. It has to do with power, and part of the dilemma of the Christian Church is the fact that it opted…for power and betrayed its own first principles” (Price 438). Contemporary research in the field of race and religion has shown that racism—and the denial of it—is often worse in white Christian communities today. A close examination of how and why white Christians have participated in racism demonstrates that racism is more than a few isolated incidents of “bad” people engaging in individual acts of prejudice, hatred, or violence. In this thesis, I will put Baldwin’s observations and insights about white people and white Christians in conversation with other scholars of white Christian ideology to demonstrate that racism is a widespread moral sin rooted in guilt and the attempt to avoid blame, maintain power, and protect identity. I will argue that preaching love, forgiveness, and unity often misses the mark, and that Baldwin’s solution of repentance offers a more effective approach in helping white Christians to combat racism today.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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white Christian guilt, James Baldwin, racial repentance, blame, racism