White innocence constitutes the crime. It is how whites tend to think, speak and act as if we play no role in the racial conflict that is largely of our making and responsibility.
As Jennifer L. Pierce argues in Racing for Innocence: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash Against Affirmative Action, whites tell a story about ourselves that disavows any accountability for racism. White denial of responsibility, including how we are socialized into a racist society, is rooted in the American myth that we as a white nation are an exception and exceptional. This myth, of course, whitewashes history, forgetting a history of genocide of first American peoples and how our capitalist system is built on slavery and racism.
Pierce further explains that the myth of white innocence thrives within the American liberal myth of the unencumbered individual. Whites live as if we are innocent until proven guilty; we assume every individual is treated fairly and respectfully.
The story of innocence we tell ourselves renders the most basic questioning of white privilege and systemic racism invisible for critical reflection.
It is not only that whites tend to live by the myth of American innocence, but we also live by a fantasy of Christian innocence.
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