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Moving past white guilt: Author Shelly Tochluk discusses race, racism and white privilege

Author Shelly Tochluk joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss race, racism and white privilege.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Author Shelly Tochluk joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss race, racism and white privilege.

“The world doesn’t operate for everybody the way we often think that it does,” said author Shelly Tochluk on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.

The author of “Witnessing Whiteness,” which has been the focus of many YWCA Metro St. Louis workshops, and “Living in the Tension: The Quest For Spiritualized Racial Justice,” Tochluk reflected on race, racism and white privilege with host Don Marsh.

“Growing up in a fairly white area in Orange County, I was raised to believe if I stayed the course and pursued my education that I would have thoughts about the world that would match with everybody,” Tochluk said. “It wasn’t until I got into a teaching experience in the city where I was helped to be informed by my colleagues who were African American and Latino, that my expectations and assumptions for how the world worked were not being experienced by them in the same way.”

That’s a classic story of coming to terms with what is known as white privilege. The Diversity Style Guide defines this as: “Advantages for people with white skin. This includes advantages they might not even know about. It can be a product of systemic racism. Advantages can be economic, social or educational.”

Related: White Privilege Seminar Explores Race

Confronting white privilege often means letting go of “white guilt.” Tochluk said she thinks a lot of people feel guilty.

“I think there is a large push to help white people who feel guilty to understand that’s not what is asked for,” Tochluk said. “By and large, people of color that I know aren’t looking for guilt. Guilt doesn’t solve the problem. What people are yearning for is learning and action steps and betterment. If a certain level of a twinge of guilt helps someone to take more action — but I don’t think that is a point and purpose anymore.”

One way Tochluk advocates action is through the group Showing Up for Racial Justice, which hosts resources for white people interested in dismantling racism and white privilege.

Tochluk said she sees people both trying to work through racism and privilege and also people who re-trench in their fears.

“Just as a lot of prejudice is born of a sense of strangeness and lack of knowing people, that fear is the same,” Tochluk said. “It is a fear of the unknown. I don’t think it is an educated position. I think it is an understandable position in terms of being afraid of something you don’t know, but in this day and age, there are too many ways to get out to know others. To look at what’s happening now and just hunker down and sit in the fear, that is going to be the downfall. Our culture needs us to take a step forward here.”

Tochluk will give a further discussion of these topics in St. Louis at 5:30 p.m. on July 14. More information here

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.