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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Collective guilt

We constantly hear about slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, and the other injustices which whites have perpetrated on blacks in the past. There is no argument about the injustice here, but no white below the age of 72 alive today had anything to do with Jim Crow. So how guilty should young -- or middle-aged -- whites feel?

The question of whether people should guilty about what their ancestors -- or relatives -- have done is a tricky one. Should today's young Germans feel guilty over what their grandfathers did to the Jews? Should today's middle-aged Germans feel guilty over what their fathers did? Should German-Americans feel guilty about what their racial relatives did?

What sort of price should they pay? To what extent, in this country, is affirmative action atonement for the injustices of the past? To the extent that it is, should, say, second generation Greek-Americans whose ancestors never owned slaves pay a price? Should Anglos whose family tree never included slaveowners pay a price? Should Japanese-Americans in California whose own parents or grandparents were put in concentration camps by FDR during World War II, and whose ancestors never owned slaves, have to defer to affirmative action?

To what extent should a recent immigrant, from, say Haiti, whose ancestors never suffered from slavery in the US, be the beneficiaries of a policy designed in part to rectify this past wrong? To what extent should a recent immigrant from Mexico, none of whose relatives suffered from slavery, be the beneficiaries of affirmative action?

If collective guilt is a legitimate concept, should all blacks should feel guilty about the high rate of violent crime that a small minority of blacks have perpetrated on whites in the last forty years? What sort of price should law-abiding blacks pay for the crimes of their racial brethren?

Such an idea is of course absurd. It would be the height of unfairness to expect a law-abiding black to have to pay any sort of penalty for crimes committed by other blacks. If you've done nothing wrong, then you shouldn't be expected to pay.

But maybe that concept might apply to other races as well.

It is an article of faith in the black community that a murder committed for racial reasons is more reprehensible than a murder committed for any other reason. Thus, the lynchings that took place in the South are somehow far worse than killings committed in, say, the course of rapes or robberies. Blacks are understandably enraged that there were black men who were lynched for flirting with a white woman back then.

But the same people who use the history of Jim Crow as justification for racial set-asides never to mention the more numerous black-on-white murders. They would say you can't compare the two, one is racially motivated, the other is just an ordinary murder. But is one crime really that much more heinous than the other?

I'm not so sure. In both cases the victim is just as dead. The victim of a lynching will never breathe again, or laugh again, or hold his loved ones. But neither will the victim of an armed robbery. And both sets of relatives will miss their loved one just as much. One has a racial element to it, and would today be classified as a "hate" crime, whereas the other would not. But it's hard not to suspect a certain racial animus involved in all interracial killings. All blacks have been subject to the same indoctrination the rest of us have about this country's long history of oppression, etc. Who is to say the generalized resentment a black murderer feels towards whites didn't play a part in, say, his killing of a white store clerk while committing a robbery? When you think about it, any murderer must be carrying a lot of hate in his heart to commit the crime in the first place. At the very best, he must have a completely callous indifference to human life, which amounts to the same thing.

Collective guilt means collective hate which in turn breeds collective resentment.

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