Should nations, ethnic and religious groups feel collectively guilty for the deeds of their predecessors?
The idea of guilt by association is applied in nations like North Korea, where entire families are often severely punished for the actions of individuals, even down to the third generation.
Group punishment might be seen as a deterrent to certain behaviors, as it suggests families are responsible for enforcing norms and rules on those closest to them, and are responsible for negligence in this regard. Their proximity to the "offender" makes them "guilty".
But how are grand-children responsible for such "crimes"? And when Christian families are thrown in gulags, the method seems more tailored to erradicating a pest before it spread, than any theory of justice.
Third party responsibility
There are laws in certain states in the U.S which qualify those present during the commission of a homicide, as a complicit and involved party, and therefore liable for a murder charge along with the perpetrator, even if they didn't directly kill the victim.
So the getaway driver in a burglary gone-wrong can be liable for murder even though he wasn't directly engaging in violence. In some sense we look down on the North Koreans while having similar laws and punishments that hold third parties responsible, to the same extent.
On a slightly different vein, what responsibility then do American white millenials have for slavery and Jim Crow. Or white Australians and Kiwis have for mistreatment of natives or misappropriation of land two hundred years ago?
The sense of guilt is a real sentiment many white people feel. Maybe not as individuals who are directly responsible, but as benefactors of injustices done in the past. Not necessarily from slavery, but land appropriation and unequal distribution by race for example.
So it might be understandible for some whites to have their representatives seek amends or reparations corporately. Each case is different though, for example land occupation and confiscation after the Maori Land Wars was not the universal situation, as colonials also settled portions of uninhabited land in vast areas.
Are all the natives or minorities currently disadvantaged due to the historical crimes their parents endured from whites? If so, does society have a duty to any sort of restitution, for those historical crimes? And to who?
Blacks during Jim Crow for example were certainly treated terribly as a group, and maybe some sort of restitution should be rewarded to their children as a group.
At the outset, disproportionate levels of poverty, crime and social dysfunction by race do not automatically suggest a modern manifestation of past oppression, or existing "systematic racism" for that matter.
Many non-oppressed groups have immigrated to western nations, and were significantly overrepresented in crime and poverty statistics, despite having never been oppressed by white majorities.
Similarly other immigrant populations who have been oppressed are overrepresented as high achievers and success stories only a few generations later. Not to mention the success of holocaust survivors and their children.
So diagnosing third-generation damage resulting from historical abuses isn't so clear-cut.
Children don't automatically suffer because their parents were oppressed, it depends on how they are raised. Maybe some groups recover better. And maybe some historically oppressed groups teach their children to feel like victims, even though they do not live under the same circumstances.
Circumstances are not necessarily intergenerational, but a mentality can be. And the worst is a mentality that perpetuates bad outcomes to the next generation.
Why then are young white people collectively responsible for the actions of some of their predecessors?
At some point, after restitution is made, there is a limit to this guilt, it then becomes the responsibility of historically oppressed grandparents and parents to raise their children with healthy identities, not resentful at society for actions that happened generations ago.
Children will feel angry for the plight of their parents, but in the Western world they are no longer limited by it.
And to move on in unity, whites should not be singled out as the uniquely guilty party in the world, while the atrocities of everyone else are ignored, even the present day slave trade of Africans in Lybia and other Middle East Nations.
Certainly Christian organisations ministering against human slavery including sexual servitude are front and centre of this fight.
Amos Sale is a Press Service International young writer from Auckland, New Zealand.