Negative: A Legacy of Shame

22% Whites / 3% Blacks

  • At the time it was necessary but now it’s being used as a crutch, now the whites are just as discriminated against as any other race. – White female, 65 years old
  • It’s pouring salt in an old wound. – White male, 65 years old
  • Keep bringing up [the past] shows black and white animosity and people will start taking sides again. – Black male, 23 years old

Comments in this theme centralize around the notion that the memories of the events of Central High have caused problems for blacks and whites, and for race relations in general. Some people felt that keeping the memory of Central High alive means keeping old wounds open, which stands in the way of progress. There were also concerns that the legacy of Central High fosters distrust and tension between the races. Some people felt that it permitted or encouraged blacks to present themselves as victims, or expected to have things handed to them with no effort on their part. Others felt that it brought about a reverse discrimination, and that whites are now the ones being treated unfairly.

This theme may be seen as a counterpoint to another theme: “Lessons from History”. Whereas the comments in that theme encourage the remembrance of the past, the comments in this theme indicate that some people would rather the past was buried. The “Legacy of Shame theme” was held by far more whites than blacks. This stark difference in numbers can perhaps be explained by the phenomenon of “white guilt”. Spanierman et al. (2006) observe that whites often demonstrate feelings of guilt and shame, or “anger, sadness [and] frustration”, due in part to their awareness of white privilege at the expense of black equality (p. 436).

This may go some way to explaining why so many whites would be reluctant to dwell on past events that bring these feelings to the forefront.