“Should we not all feel guilty?

By Constantino Cano II

When looking at white guilt, I feel it is important to see it as two sides to a single coin. It would seem that the very concept of white guilt insinuates a sense of contrition on the one side, as well as a sense that something ought to be forgiven on the other. However, when modern white individuals express this self-blame, I wonder if it is really theirs to express. And in the same light, I wonder if it is up to the minority demographics of today to forgive. Especially considering that most of the awful atrocities for which whites feel this sense of guilt, happened well before the lives of those around today. Does that even matter? For when a white man apologizes (through literal words or attempting compensatory actions/policies) for the gross errors of his ancestors to a black man, can he apologize on behalf of an entire race as though it is up to him? Does it matter that he himself never committed such awful things and is he morally obligated to do so regardless? This seems to be quite an ethical weight for a single person. And in kind, is it up to that black man to forgive and accept that apology, forgiving on behalf of an entire race? Does it matter that he himself never endured such awful things and is he morally obligated to do so regardless? This also seems to be quite an ethical weight for a single person. 

It should be noted that there is a case to be made as it concerns said black and white men’s current position in lieu of the events of the past. Specifically, that the past affects the present. As a result, many feel that reparations are in order. Much like war reparations, more often than not, generations of citizens are charged with the burdens of compensating the international community for the deeds of prior leadership and policy. This seems to be a fair charge, but seen personally, would I want to be held accountable for the actions of my current political or legislative leadership? Not particularly. And yet, there seems to be a sense, where I am to blame for the actions of current leaders and of those of the past, if anything it seems, for the mere reason that I have somewhat benefitted from them. And in this sense, it seems that White America is not alone (even if arguably, they have benefitted the most). Currently, Native Americans live on reservations, incomparable to the pre-colonial, coast-to-coast free land of the past, and despite being predominantly of Native American descent myself, I have undeniably benefitted from the outrageously inhumane crimes of previous administrations. What is more, and even more unsettling, is that in all honesty, I have benefitted off of the backs of slave workers and depraved capitalists; of underpaid immigrants and lying politicians; of dead animals and deforestation and those that endorsed it and even those that stood by; of horrible abuses, wicked abusers, and those that let the abuse happen. 

Am I to blame for all this? Am I to apologize? I personally did not do any of this, but I am irrefutably benefitting. In fact, it seems that most people are, at least somewhat. Is it so, that while I do not have white guilt, perhaps I should have capitalist guilt, or colonial guilt, or male guilt, or human guilt? How are we to make sense of this? Undeniably everyone has something, for which they currently benefit that was indeed a terrible crime of the past. Should we not all feel guilty? Is it right to scapegoat white America, for the sole reason that they arguably benefitted the most? Let us say that it is, and thus we do scapegoat them, then, because of their guilt, they apologize (if they can indeed do this), are we minorities not to forgive them (if we can indeed do this)? For would we not seek forgiveness ourselves and should we not seek it anyways, for arguably we all are guilty? Let us say they are indeed remorseful, and we minorities do extend forgiveness, what now? What does true forgiveness look like? Are reparations no longer in order? Does white America retain the spoils? What of those suffering under the consequences today and what of the justice for those of the past?

I would love to hear your guys’ thoughts on the matter down in the comments!