Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

White guilt? You have no idea

“I think I speak on behalf of all whites when I say we are just totally sick of all the race-baiting going on in South Africa.” So says Dan Roodt, who read my last Thought Leader post and was most unimpressed by this “latest sigh of white guilt”.

So I thought I’d write about guilt. Once upon a time, long ago, I wanted to be a concert pianist. My dream of becoming a virtuoso didn’t happen, of course; at the age of 13, I developed crippling stage fright and after I failed Grade 8 – twice – I realised that Bach and Chopin were never going to be my friends.

Spirit animal

Did I let that stop me? Oh no. I became a virtuoso of guilt instead. I might not be Jewish or Catholic but I can outguilt anyone. See, I suffer from awkward English Anglican guilt, which revolves around painful social obligation and doing things you hate but feel you should. It’s the worst kind of guilt because there is no escape from it ever.

To date, I have come up with 11 major types of guilt in my life:

1. White Guilt. I became aware of how wrong apartheid was in about 1987, when I was 12. Today, I can’t walk down the street in the boomed off suburb where I live with my grandmother (to keep my overheads low; see point 10 below) without wanting to compose an essay on systemic inequality. Or twerk because it’s good for my thighs (see point 7). Or be glad that no matter how much I hate my hair, I don’t have to worry about weaves.

2. Work Guilt. I haven’t had a guilt-free moment of leisure in the last twenty years. If I didn’t have exams to study for or a thesis to write, I had deadlines and PowerPoint. My entire life revolves around being Productive or thinking about being Productive, and then feeling guilty about not being Productive enough. Then I feel guilty about being a freelancer and able to work my own hours when everybody else has to sit in traffic.

3. Writing Guilt. When my client work is done, there is writing to do. This way, every spare moment of my life is filled with obligation and a sense of failure when I don’t tick off my to-do list! When I stayed in the bush in December, I was able to churn out up to 11,000 words a day. It was the best holiday ever, even though I now feel massively guilty because the moment I got home the writing ground to a halt because I took on so much client work to allay my guilt about not being a productive member of society.

4. Other People Guilt. Work is the perfect guilt double-edged sword, the gift that keeps on giving. When I’m not working, I feel guilty about not working. When I’m working, I feel guilty about neglecting friends, family and significant others. I feel guilty about working instead of socialising. I feel guilty about always saying no to evening events. I feel guilty about tweeting that I’m socialising and then tweeting that I’m working past midnight again.

5. Money Guilt. Multiple sources of guilt here. I feel guilty about not earning enough in order to pay more tax in order to be a worthy citizen in a city that only cares about what you have, not who you are. Then I feel guilty about earning the money I do because I’m convinced I don’t deliver enough value to clients. I feel guilty about having money when others don’t. I feel guilty about not giving money to the guy at the robots with the cardboard sign. So I try to buy my own love by donating way more than I earn to charity or paying for the education of deserving youngsters, but its effects are shortlived.

Spirit animal 2

6. Food Guilt. Carbs are evil. Every time I want pizza or a muffin, I imagine a tiny version of Tim Noakes sitting on my shoulder wagging his finger at me. I go through stages when I resent having to eat anything because of the guilt it induces. Then when I do eat, I feel bad about eating, so I eat more to punish myself for being weak. Yes, I need therapy.

7. Gym Guilt. Our father who art sitting in an office somewhere working for Discovery Vitality, I have sinned: it has been seven days since my last gym visit. And when I do go to gym, I experience guilt triggered by multiple sources: not running fast enough, not doing weights, tweeting from the treadmill and – of course – being at gym instead of getting work done.

8. Parental Guilt. My mother has never reminded me what she went through to give birth to me. She doesn’t have to: I am a perpetual motion parent guilt machine. I work out of my parents’ house because they have wifi and a washing machine and it’s a way to keep my overheads low. The situation also offers a reliable supply of constant nagging sense of guilt about not being independent, not being married and not having kids.

9. Housework Guilt. I’m untidy, muddled, overworked and hate housework. This is a recipe for disaster. Whenever I run a bath after working past midnight to relax enough to try and sleep – again – there is a subtle ring around the bath to remind me of my failings. I try to disguise it by bathing by candlelight, but I know it’s there.

10. Car Guilt. I haven’t owned a car in two and a half years. (I’m starting a business with a friend, and I’ve had to put a lot of money into it, so it wouldn’t be sensible to sink my capital into a car just yet if I don’t absolutely have to.) I manage by borrowing cars from other people and occasionally being given loan cars in order to tweet about them. Because this means I am a freak and sometimes inconvenience others, I feel guilty about it.

11. Guilt Guilt. Guilt is stupid and pointless and a waste of energy. So naturally I feel guilty about feeling guilty about feeling guilty.

I could go on. The sad truth is that there is no guilt-free aspect of my life. There is no way out of this: no matter what I do, there is something else I should be doing to make up for my failings. The only thing I can take solace in is this: I might not be very good at the piano, but I am very, very good when it comes to guilt of all kinds.

So there you have it, Dan. White guilt? It’s the least of my problems.

Tags: , , , , ,

  • On whiteness and white guilt
  • The bitter sugar debate
  • South Africa’s three words everybody loves to hate
  • Tim Noakes and the weight of the soul
    • bernpm

      Guilt????? what a waste of time!! It is just a feeling which you choose to cultivate or to ignore. Try the latter an enjoy life :-))

    • mmmm

      thanks, I feel great.

    • Paul Bluewater

      The bad news is that it gets worse with age and success, or heaven forbid, failure!

      What a beautiful piece of comic relief. I cannot tell you when last I read an article just for the fun of it.

      Thanks a lot! I feel horrible at having indulged in such a fickle pursuit.


      It was that urgency of guilt that drove our ancestors to the heights they’re still striving for in the way they conduct themselves, raise their children and do their work.. if you’ll excuse the anachronism.

      It is this ‘guilt drive’ which will help our species escape horrible and inevitable geologically catastrophe on this planet!

      Given a choice, I’ll take the guilt, whatever it’s hue. It is something our parents give us, independent of colour. It is the minds expression of striving.

      Viva La Guilt!

      Only a hedonist will tell you to ignore it and give in to your base instincts!

    • Charlotte

      I totally identify – and commiserate: I keep telling myself that if I can only get the ‘time-management’ thing right – i.e. pushing 36 hours into every 24 (and that’s without sleeping)- I’ll get the better of it.
      Up to now, it hasn’t worked.

      I never actually wanted to be a concert pianist; but any thoughts along those lines came to an abrupt end when I was put on as the ‘piece de resistance’ playing Liszt’s ‘Liebestraum’ in Myrtle Bird’s end-of-the-year school concert.
      Besides not practicing the last 2 pages until the morning of the concert, and only being able to play the cadenza with one hand, I landed up on a completely wrong note.
      No one in the audience clapped. Only only one person gave an enormous gasp of horror. Myrtle Bird was in tears and my mother had to pay a whole term’s music fees as ‘notice’ – although I never went back for another lesson.

      It might help to think of the word ‘guilt’ as ‘drive.’

    • Dan Roodt

      I think white South Africans generally suffer from an overdose of guilt, which has been exploited by our adversaries. I thought it was only an Afrikaner issue, given our Calvinist heritage, but probably all forms of Protestantism entail some measure of guilt.

      The further north in Europe you go, the worse it gets, I think. That is my only explanation for why the Scandinavians feel under a constant obligation to donate money to the Third World and actually supported terrorism in this country out of a misguided sense of “making the world a better place”.

      Nietzsche with his sense of “innocent becoming” set the scene for a modernist revision of guilt. Even if one may not like Nietzsche or some of his pronouncements, he understood this problem so well and offers a marvellous sense of what an innocent, child-like approach to the world could be like. In Thus Spake Zaruthustra he uses the metaphor of the camel that is “well-laden” and finally says that we should affirm life, not guilt:

      “Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a
      game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.
      Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy
      Yea unto life: its own will, willeth now the spirit; his own world
      winneth the world’s outcast.
      Three metamorphoses of the spirit have I designated to you: how
      the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a

    • Chris Lombard

      Your life is really sad.

    • Not a guiltee

      Sorry Sarah, thats not guilt, it is learned helplessness / OCD. Try being grateful instead for the many blessing that you have. The world isn’t equal, nor are people.

    • Keith

      Seek professional help. You need it to get over yourself!

    • Christopher Szabo

      Guilt? Listen, I came here as a refugee from a system that made Apartheid look really, but really tame. It’s called Communism. And the African Nazi Congress and the rest of them were allied to the most brutal murderers in history. Do I have guilt. No! But I have anger. I’m waiting for the ANC/SACP mob to apologise for praising the USSR for crushing the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968. Between 1945 and 1989, or the approximate time-span of Apartheid, we lost about 300,000 people murdered, mostly between 1945 and 1953. If you translate that into South African terms, that would mean about 1,5 million deaths in concentration camps and deaths squads or torture chambers. Therefore, let these collaborators with mass murder remain silent, or apologise!!
      I’m waiting…

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Dan who on earth’s name is the white man’s “adversaries” that are exploiting this guilt trip? Black Men? The “swart gevaar”? And who is this “we” pale face? You look to Europe or religion to explain the white person’s guilt in South Africa? As if it is genetically imprinted? Could it be that you’re missing that small little historical incident called “apartheid”? It was a shocker, it was a terrible thing, it was perpetuated by white people. We don’t have “adversaries” in South Africa that we have not created our selves. And no, I’m not saying we should slit our wrists, or give our car to the guy at the robots, or even accept that apartheid be blamed for all ills. I happen to be a white man, and I have to say I’m tired of white folk thinking they speak for me simply because we share the same pigmentation. 1994 did not wipe the slate clean, the TRC did not erase the hurt, our cities, schools, churches, are still pretty much divided on racial lines. Are you a white man before you are a South African? If the latter, then welcome to the trenches, we still have some work to do!

    • Rod MacKenzie

      I must admit I enjoy feeling no guilt about having no guilt. Rather freeing actually. Which is not something to feel guilty about.

    • bernpm

      Edith Piaff: “je ne regrette rien”

    • http://N/A Roy Low

      I feel only anger all the time.
      The bullies at school, being held back in my career, because I speak English, the victimisation of the Broederbond, being used by people, who drop you once they have used you.
      But worst of all, the sheer anger at the situation in this country, with a Government who has thrown out as many whites as posibble, and crippled the economy.

      Neef I say more ?


    • Charlotte

      Look at the advice from bernpm & Rod McKenzie!
      It’s not white guilt – but women guilt. And what adds to it is that women are constantly being told its this ‘time-management’ thing …’don’t work harder, work smarter …’
      Woman have to play a multiplicity of roles today, as described by Sarah – and that’s without adding talent to the mix – which demands its own space.

      Not advocating a woman’s place to be ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen’, or any of the antiquated, religious inhumanities that degrade and differentiate against women, men simply do not get it!
      Today is ’father’s day”. What a farce! According to a recent report, S. Africa has one of the highest rates of unmarried mothers – with several million children never ever having had a male role model.
      Men should to get off their butts for a bit, take some responsibility, remember that rugby, soccer, cricket is only a ruddy game, and using it as a ‘spectator sport’ does not make a scrap of difference to the outcome of the game or the world in general.

      Even though marriage today is a choice. the onus still falls on women to do 10 jobs at once – to run round putting out fires and mopping up after men’s screw-ups. No woman minds hard work. But there are many who want to express themselves as well.
      One mourns the demise of chivalry and men who pull their weight, not just sit around putting on weight and making us feel guilty . ..

    • Matt

      “Liberalism announces the determination to share existence with the enemy” – José Ortega y Gasset

      Is It is surprise that this delusional liberal trying to lay the guilt trip on whites for defending themselves didn’t show any photos of the farm murders?

    • John

      Do have absolutely no guilt and never will have! Only guilt I could possibly have is the fact that I came from a culture that was genetically far superior and is only natural to take advantage of a backward culture. No big deal. They earned it!

    • Walter Köppe

      Very good, and be assured, you are not alone in this.

    • Barbra

      I love it, I share it, I hate it!

    • Karl

      That’s why forgiveness is such a relief – and thank God it’s not just a woofie either, but rather the promise: “Your sins are forgiven!” is as sure here on earth as in heaven, because our Lord gave his Church the wonderful office of the keys to absolve those who are sorry for their sins and believe that he died for their sins also. He assures us most emphatically in the gospel of St. Luke: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (19:10 NIV) If you believe it – you’ve got it. Thank God! Peace be with you +

    • Sean Haywood

      I think guilt is more of a woman thing. Maybe we should feel guilty about being men and not feeling as guilty as women typically do. We tend to shrug off guilt, whilst women seem to embrace it. Hell, I don’t even feel guilty about typing this whilst I should be working!

    • Ewald

      All the one sided talk around the so called demonic qualities of apartheid which abounds in the leftist, politically correct media, and the angelic attributes of the so called rainbow nation with Nelson Mandela as Idol, leaves me rather cold when I reflect on what I encounter day to day amongst the many white friends and acquaintances, both English and Afrikaans speaking.
      Yes, you are absolutely right – I purposely did not include the many good brown and black people I know, for reasons not relevant to the argument. What I read in most newspapers and see on television, and what I see and hear [in real time] in the circles that I move around in, are worlds apart.

      What follows below is what I observed increasingly since the disaster of 1994. To think that I voted yes for this is the only guilty feeling which haunts me.

      “I do not know one person amongst the white group that I know who is excited about our so called freedom since 1994″. Do you?

      In fact, I’ve not in conversation encountered one white person who will openly express support of an integrated society such as the failure of a system we have brought upon ourselves in 1994. Separate states [Apart] in SA is the answer.

      Are my [real time] observations unique? I’m convinced that a referendum amongst whites on the subject will win loose hands in favour of separate States in our country. Why not test me on this leaving the “how to achieve it” for now. Ask every white person in your group and report…

    • Impedimenta

      I could see myself in this, Sarah. : )

      Note, however, that you are extremely productive: work, art, social media, Thought Leader, etc.

      Let go of those aspects of your guilt – there are still the others to keep you going. Haha!

    • http://guiltafter1994 Soge

      Somebody told me that since 1994, more than 80,000 whites were illed in South Africa. Do you have any part in that guilt too, or are you smiling?

    • Mark Wilson

      I don’t have any feelings of guilt at all. Not one jot. Not one iota.

      I think it comes from being raised Catholic. There are only two possible responses – accept innate guilt or reject it. I chose to reject guilt. This includes guilt by association when I have clearly stated my disassociation with those and that which I deem wrong.

      Certainly I have regretted some decisions in my life… they were stupid and had adverse consequences. I forgive myself. I accept I am human, learn and move on.

      It helps if you like yourself. It helps if you see life as fun and interesting. It helps if you have empathy, without a disproportionate sense of responsibility. It helps if you don’t take yourself too seriously.

      Try it. You might like it.

    • Garg Unzola

      I think I speak only for myself when I say I’m sick of Dan Roodt speaking for white people and even more sick of this notion of white guilt. Ask not what you can do for your country, ask if your country will appreciate it. Because thanks to our newly-found ‘liberation’, we have other options. Nobody is forcing Dan Roodt to stay here, and more thankfully nobody can force me to walk around with ashes on my head.

      White guilt is the least of our worries, and so is the legacy of apartheid, along with its pallbearers like Dan Roodt.

    • Zeph

      Catholic perhaps?

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Ewald you should get out more…

      Here I thought South Africa was a rich tapestry of diverse people, who kinda bumble along, but get all emotional when we see our flag, hear Mandela is ailing, or when that taxi cuts us off. But you have clarified it for me Ewald, it is all just a matter of pigmentation. That is what makes us different, pigmentation. A biological process set into place by our DNA encoding, that I have no control over. Phew, just when I thought I may have some work to do. Now I can sit back and relax, pigmentation is going to do it for me. Pigmentation! Not values, not work ethic, not properly functioning government, not incorruptible officials, not good manners, not intelligence, not…, but hang on a sec, isn’t that what we had, a society divided on pigment, how did we screw it up…?

    • Momma Cyndi

      Charlotte is right – it is a woman thing.

      Do yourself a favour and pick a day. Just one day. Mine is Sunday. Don’t (whatever you do) get out of your pajamas – for some obscure reason nobody asks anything of you if you are in your jammies. Read the paper, do your nails, put a face mask on, exfoliate from top to bottom, experiment with baking a cake, do what you want and give your self permission to do so. That one day – even half a day – will recharge your batteries.

    • Trevor

      A sincere, if sad, letter from Sarah. I feel for her.

      Here’s another angle:

      Guilt (up to a point) says that you are alive morally. It has its place. ‘White guilt,’ of course, is part of contemporary South Africa, as the proverbial Martian must surely see. Guilt is not only what you feel, but what you must feel Temptingly, it meets with wide acceptance as well – a sort of ‘applause emotion.’ Further, White guilt is a way of fitting in, and ‘talking the current talk.’ It says that you are politically sophisticated, well-informed – flying the right colours. ‘ Do you feel guilty?Well done! Keep it up! Indeed, there are even people who need you to maintain it, whether as a kind of dis-empowerment or a psychological pathology.’

      But take note, however, that such guilt is for certain people only. So we shall not give the time of day to quite outrageous corporate culpability and loss of life in recent years. The source of guilt, and its appropriateness, must be founded and legitimated upon select and strictly circumscribed events and dispensations. For instance, don’t expect remorse and corporate guilt for AIDS denialism, Marikana, circumcision deaths, culpable ‘quiet diplomacy,’ or the issues that Christopher Szabo raises in his posting. The lens is severely restricted and there’s nothing else but what it sees.

      ‘White guilt’ has it’s place for sure, but let’s not be naive about the powers at play, the popular songs of our time, and the endorsement of…

    • Trevor

      ‘White guilt’ has its place for sure, but let’s not be naive about the powers at play, the popular ‘songs’ of our time, and the endorsement of perpetual guilt and its attendant paralysis.

    • http://[email protected] Jakes

      I suffer big time from guild all sorts off guild but i think that guild can destroy your mind.In this case white guild where you prefer not to look them in the eyes, not to talk to them.

    • Charlotte

      @ Momma Cyndi ….Quite right! – . Even God did, according to the bible – borne out by ‘The Ten Commandments which says: ‘On the seventh day, thou shalt rest.’

      (Just one thing: Who sees you in your jammies and face-pack?)

    • Momma Cyndi


      :) just me and sometimes the kids. Hubby gets permission to go to the pub. Comes home to find a beautiful wife who is full of zen.

    • baz

      the only guilt I have is not becoming the accompolished pianist I should have been
      as a youngster, due the fact, that ,my music teacher, late ms walsh passed away that
      night, after my very first lesson.
      another guilt is not packin in enough hours in the day to reach my daily chores.
      one of my guilty pleasures is comsuming a huge slab of Cadbury’s milk chocolate
      while reading a very absorbing book from the first to the last page with the mobile on silent…..

    • Mr. Direct

      I feel guilty about not feeling guilty….

    • Vitality Days

      Just drown out all feeling with excercise

    • lionel

      You need to unleash the latent sociopath that lurks within all of us. Alternatively, take self-mediation in the form of a bottle a day.
      Although the hangover may well induce a sense of guilt.

    • Roxanna Foster

      guilt can even kill you…it just increases your stress.