Questions About Guilt & Repentance

Is collective guilt a necessary component to the current racial discourse?

The thread by Amy Carter Whitfield that Luke Stamps thinks is “fantastic” seems to implicitly rely on a notion of collective or inherited guilt (“we apologize”). Or perhaps it’s just very presumptuous? But could Whitfield’s basic thread be written without an assumption of collective or inherited guilt? Probably. One might try to make the case that a group of white, liberal, racially conscious Americans in 2020 who are engaging in a ritual of repentance are not repenting of sins they haven’t themselves personally participated in. How? Because “racism” is understood more broadly than personal, conscious animus against those of another race. Insofar as racism is systemic, white people can participate in systemic racism without holding to personal, conscious animus against those of another race. Thus, we might say that it is white people’s involvement in those systems that needs to be repented of.

When collective guilt is a component of the current racial discourse

But even though collective or inherited guilt isn’t a necessary part to our current discussion on reparations or white guilt, it does seem to be an implicit part of the framework in which many are engaging these issues. I think Amy Carter Whitfield’s tweet is one example. Here is another from Brandon Smith, a teacher at Cedarville University:

  1. If we are guilty for the blood of our black brothers and sisters are we not also guilty of the blood of our white or asian or hispanic brothers and sisters?
  2. If white people are in some sense responsible for George Floyd then are they not also in some sense responsible for David Dorn?
  3. If white people are in some sense responsible for George Floyd or if they are in some sense responsible for past racial injustices, such that they need to repent of those injustices or of the injustice against Floyd, then a fortiori, are not those white people who had some involvement in the protests that spilled over into riots especially responsible for victims like David Dorn?
  4. If we, as a group, need to repent for past injustices, will our children need to repeat that group repentance eventually too? And will their children need to also repeat that repentance?
  5. If we need to repeatedly repent for past injustices, is there really forgiveness on offer?
  6. If we can inherit the guilt of our ancestors, can we inherit their forgiveness?
  7. If white people have collective guilt for injustices committed by white people, do black people have collective guilt for injustices committed by black people?
  8. Why should we think that guilt is communicated along lines of racial identity, especially given the widespread agreement that race is a social construct?
  9. If guilt is communicable, wouldn’t it most naturally be communicated first between immediate family, then between extended family, then between local civil institutions, etc? Or, if the guilt first occurs in the context of an institution, wouldn’t it most naturally first be communicated through the hierarchy of that institution?
  10. Why is the discussion of reparations limited to issues of past racial injustice? Can we expand that to include past injustices from one white family to another or even a black family to a white family?
  11. Can we expand (or narrow) discussion of reparations to institutional guilt and responsibilities of reparations that include white and black people? (In some ways, there is already a legal framework for this sort of thing.)



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John Bowling

John Bowling


Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.