“I’m Just One Person”: The Response to Collective Guilt Demanded by The Left

A concept the Left likes to tout around and try to enforce is the idea that so called “privileged” individuals benefit from a wider system that is made for them, to the exclusion and oppression of others. The most common examples being race and gender, which I will focus on mainly as there is much to say on them. This “system” of oppression over women and racial minorities is the explanation for why they can’t seem to achieve in life or have that “American Dream” of hard work and related to that, why whites, men and especially white men, can’t actually take credit for their achievements! In other words, anything they achieve in life is not due to their own personal efforts, but to the wider “system”.

However, paradoxically, it seems to the Left, this “system” can also only work one way. For example, any criticism of minority communities is unjust because the larger forces, “the system” at work, is to blame, not individual choices. However why then is it the individual’s fault when talking about white people? The argument white people are complicit in a system of racial oppression and are each personally racist simply for having more privilege is just like arguing that poverty in minority communities is their personal fault despite a biased system outside any individual’s control. Or look at how men are told too, that they are responsible for benefiting from a system designed to put them on top and women second class citizens. However one cannot help being born male! Just because historically men as a group may have enacted systems barring women from achieving more, each individual man born in this era had zero personal part to play in the history of women’s oppression.

White individuals living today had absolutely no part to play in the racist atrocities of our past. They did not personally own slaves. Personally attend lynch mobs. Personally take land away from indigenous peoples or exploit them. Personally vote for segregation or internment camps as those living now would have not been born or of voting age. These events happened decades, several generations, even centuries before they were born. Before their grandparents were even born for some historical events! The vast majority of men around now had absolutely no part to play in barring women from entering the workforce or achieving outside the home. Many men raise their daughters to be strong independent women and treat their wives as their equals. Certainly none alive today barred women from getting the vote!

The “system” is supposedly some uncontrolled force of its own impacting both the oppressed and benefiting the oppressors outside any one individual’s control to stop or change it. So why does it seem like the onus for changing this almost all powerful system on people who were simply born into it themselves? Just because white men are the “oppressors” benefiting from this alleged system, doesn’t mean they have the power to control it on an individual scale! It’s not often thought of this way, but one has as much control over being born white or male as one does being born an oppressed minority or a woman. Being born into a legacy of being the historical oppressor does not make one an oppressor by default! At least not in terms of moral responsibility. Yes, any part of an oppressive unfair system in society needs change, but to demand someone change it simply because they were born as its beneficiary is as unfair as making someone live under its thumb simply for who they were born as. The people who should be changing it are not one group. If we want change as a society, the whole society must be a part of that change. Our leaders. The people who are affected by it and have a stake in the issue such as the “oppressed” groups. Those who benefit but repudiate the unfairness of it. Plenty of whites have fought for racial equality side by side with minorities. Plenty of men fight for equality for women. There is no issue with that at all.

The problem is in the idea that the onus to change the system is on someone simply because they were born a certain race or gender but have not actually done anything tangible to oppress anyone else on a personal level. Put more simply, just because something unfair was done overall by a wider group, doesn’t mean one single individual is morally responsible for that wrongdoing. The moral onus to stop unfairness is on those being unfair. For example, it can easily be argued former slave owners morally owe reparations to those they enslaved. However does any non-slave owner owe reparations for slavery a distant ancestor, or even more broadly someone of their race was a part of 200 years ago?

A man who never personally oppressed women, stopped women from moving up in their careers, never treated a woman poorly or abused one, or stole an opportunity that was rightfully a woman’s has no moral responsibility for men who do and men who did. A white person who never treated another person as less than, oppressed them, stole any opportunity from them, or thought they were less of a human being deserving of respect and dignity due to race is not morally responsible for any wider systems of racism in society. Now the Left would come back and say, “but these issues are not about individuals and their actions but wider systematic issues.” and yeah, I can understand what they are trying to argue but they made it about individuals when they decided white people and men need to take moral responsibility for the privileges they were simply born into but never actually stole from anyone through their own actions.

These ideas about personal moral responsibility for a wider system sadly have taken hold on many white people and men who are genuinely not racist or sexist people and reject their unearned privileges and even actively fight alongside others against the alleged “system” benefiting them in the name of greater moral good. This leads to an idea akin to Original Sin where being born a white or male is cause for some form of collective guilt for inheriting privilege and a legacy of being designated as an oppressor. However, my response to that is: But I’m only one person. 

As an individual, I have no control over a wider social system. I only am able to control my own actions. So the questions I need to ask myself are not “How have I benefited from privileges I didn’t earn?” or “How am I complicit in a system I can’t control?” but “How have I treated those around me?” “How do I make sure I’m being fair and equitable?”, “How do I treat those who look different than me?” That’s all I can control! How I act. How I treat others.

You are not a racist for simply being white in (an alleged) system geared for whites and passively benefiting simply due to your race at birth. Your actions make you racist or not, not your whiteness. You are not a misogynist for simply being born a man in a society (allegedly) geared towards men in a similar light. The onus can’t be just on one person to change an entire society! And certainly one individual can’t be asked to feel moral guilt over something they were never personally a part of creating!

Not to mention, we all have unearned privileges in life. Why is “privilege” such a dirty word? Even if it’s not racial or gender privileges, having a good family, friends, SES, health, etc… are privileges that can be unearned but given to us through our lot in life. I also believe while we should take a moment to reflect on them and be thankful and not take them for granted, we shouldn’t feel guilt simply for having better luck than the next guy. We can’t “do it all” so to speak.

So while I would love to have the power to take away all the inequality, racism, sexism, injustice etc… in the world, the Left needs to remember:

I am just one person!

Image result for branco cartoon white privilege

8 thoughts on ““I’m Just One Person”: The Response to Collective Guilt Demanded by The Left

  1. Sorry, your knowledge of spiritual culture is immature. There is no such thing like priviledged class mentioned in the bonafied scriptures. It is only Maxmuller a german thinker of 19th century hadd coined such a false system which you are talking about.

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  2. You raise several interesting points. Perhaps the most important of them is that we are individuals rather than merely members of a race. As you point out, today many will call it racist to deny any notion of white guilt, that is collective guilt based on race. That would imply Martin Luther King was speaking as a white supremacist when he called for people to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. I’m old enough to remember when he gave that speech and I can say that not many people thought of Dr. King as a white supremacist at the time. I wonder what he would have thought about that.

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  3. “…but to demand someone change it simply because they were born as its beneficiary …”

    I think this is a crux of the issue.

    Those wailing about the evils of cis-white-men and their privilege want their targets feel guilty and give in to their extortionist demands for unearned benefits. I don’t think they actually want that system to change and don’t expect it to.

    First off, if the system changed, then they would no longer be able to “other” a specific group, thereby justifying their own racism and bigotry. And it *is* racism and bigotry.

    If the system changed, they would no longer be able to claim a victim class (or as allies of a victim class). If they are not victims, then they cannot make demands for unearned benefits from the so-called privileged class.

    I also think, somewhere in the back of their minds, they recognize that the system has already changed. They had to invent new problems (“white male privilege”) in order to maintain their victim status. The reality is, while not perfect (no system ever can be “perfect” – largely because we would all have different ideas of what that would be), we in North America have the least racist, freest societies. Slavery continues to be practiced in other nations, right now. Systemic sexism against women exists in other nations, right now. Systemic persecution of gays exists in other nations right now. etc. But they can’t go after those nations, because the ideology behind these systemic abuses of human rights is counted among their victim classes.

    If they openly recognized that our system is not actually oppressing them, they would lose their status as a victim class. They would no longer be able to blame others for not having the life they think they are entitled to. They would no longer have a foundation to demand others give them things like high paying jobs they don’t qualify for, or financial reparations for suffering they never experienced. They would have to take responsibility for themselves, and take action to achieve the life they want – and if they failed, they would have to take responsibility for that, too.

    The reality is, the “privilege” that some cis-white-males have in our society is no different that the privilege of, say, black people in an African country, or Japanese people in Japan, or Costa Ricans in Costa Rico. I have a friend who is a white male who has lived with his wife and son in Costa Rico for many years now. He treats his wife as an equal and they are raising their son to respect women in a country rife with “machismo”. After all these years living there, and he still would never be able to find a job, continues to have difficulty finding students for his martial arts school and clients for his businesses. In fact, his martial arts training has saved his life and the life of his family several times, simply because he’s a white guy in Costa Rico.

    The reality is, the very people whining about “white privilege” and systemic racism that they are using to justify their own racism and demands for free handouts are incredibly privileged themselves, just in the good fortune of being born in the US and Canada.

    Liked by 3 people

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