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Collective Guilt


Last week in South Carolina, and off-duty police officer, Anthony DeLustro, got into a fight with a citizen, Michael O’Neal, outside of a restaurant. O’Neal, who was unarmed, tried to leave in his car and the off-duty police officer jumped in the passenger’s seat, shot and killed him. The police officer is facing murder charges. Most likely, there were people who were reading this story waiting to pass judgement until they found out the racial dynamics of this deadly police shooting. This story elicited many interesting comments by people. Some claimed this incident did not become a national news story because the victim, O’Neal, was white. Others said that the only reason why the police officer is facing murder charges is because the victim is white. There may be some truth to both of those statements. I am not completely sure how the media and the judicial system would have treated this story if the racial dynamics had been different. And it is always dangerous to guess at a hypothetical.


There were also a number of anti-police comments. People were not making the usual statements that all police officers are racist, many just stated that all cops want to find reasons to kill citizens which on its face is not only ignorant, but not factual. There’s 750,000 cops in America who have tens of millions of interactions with civilians every year and only a small percentage of those interactions – one hundredth of one percent – end up in deadly violence, and most of the violence is by citizens toward police officers. So, saying that all cops want to kill citizens is a prejudice statement against the 99%+ of the police force who don’t want to kill citizens. That statement judges an entire group based on the actions of one person within that group.


One of the most fascinating things that I observe from situations like this is in an age where we are hyper-sensitive to combatting racism in every form, we as a country, are not only embracing but almost legitimizing prejudice against many other groups. The same person who will call you out as a racist or a misogynist for a so-called micro-aggressions will turn around and judge an entire group based on the actions of a few people within that group.


We’ve been hearing a lot of this new phrase that is entering our political dialogue called “collective punishment”. That is a phrase that many of the pro-Hamas, pro-Palestinian people have been charging Israel with because of the way Israel is conducting its war with Hamas in Gaza where civilians have been killed. Those killings of civilians are being characterized as “collective punishment” because those citizens did not commit acts of terrorism against Israel, they happen to be Palestinian, and because Hamas is on the side of the Palestinians to destroy the state of Israel, it is being charged that Israel is engaging in a form of collective punishment against all Palestinians because of October 7. It seems fair to be against collective punishment, but in this country, we’re not always against collective punishment, or collective blame.


As a white person in America, I hear on a regular basis how white people are blamed for the slavery in our country from 160 years ago. They never say “certain white people”, or “southern white people”, or the “white people who live 160 years ago”, they just blanketly say white people, as if every single white person who has ever lived in America owned slaves and committed atrocities against Black people. That’s called collective blame and collective guilt. And many white people have happily bought into that collective guilt.


And now that there’s a strong push for reparations where white people who never owned slaves have to pay Black people who never were slaves reparations for slavery that ended 160 years ago. That’s called collective guilt and collective punishment, vilify a group of people or punish a group of people because of the horrific actions of a small percentage of people in that group. And let’s be clear, in America, the slave owners were a small percentage of population. At the start of our country, half the states were free states, that didn’t have slavery, and over 60% of the population lived in the free states in the north, and only 40% lived in the southern slave states. Owning slaves was expensive. Only the wealthy had enough money to purchase slaves. Less than 10% of the white population in the south actually owned slaves. So less than 5% of the white people in America owned slaves, but in 2024, it is presented that every person whose skin color was white back then, owned slaves, and every person living today who is white benefited tremendously from slavery, and any success that any white person has right now is directly related to slavery, even the white people whose ancestors came to America after slavery was abolished.


But this is the way we think in America these days. There was a point in America, in the 1960s and 1970s when our thought processes were moving away from this type of prejudice. When people were seen as individuals and judge accordingly. When Martin Luther King said that people should be judged “based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin”, he was absolutely correct, but he didn’t go far enough. People should be judged by the content of character and not their gender; people should be judged on the content of their character and not their chosen profession, or how much money they have, or what socioeconomic group they reside in, or how many educational degrees they have or do not have. People should be judged on the content of their character, therefore, they should be judged as themselves, as individuals, and not as part of any group.


But sadly, we’re moving in the opposite direction. We are grouping everybody together and judging the group as a whole. This collective judgment, this collective blame, this collective punishment that we are so eager to enact on people, is intellectually lazy. You, individually, are not smart if you say that all Black people are criminals, or all white people are racist, or all cops want to kill civilians, or all Muslims are terrorists, or all Jews are greedy, or all men are misogynist. Making those type of statements, judging an entire swath of people as a group is blatant prejudice, and a true sign that you’re not very smart, that you have no intellect. But far too often, those types of statements towards all sorts of groups are thrown around way too easily with very little pushback.


It is curious that at the same time, we are embracing this collective judgment based on irrelevant characteristics or factors, we are also being pushed towards tolerance of all behavior by individual people. So, the same people who are judging an entire group of people with a broad brush, are telling us that we cannot judge one individual’s specific behavior because that would be prejudiced and intolerant. The puzzling thing is that many people just nod along with this type of contradictory thinking like it’s okay, like they’re not actually witnessing all the naked prejudice that is going on around them.

 

And this type of prejudice is one of the main reasons why there is still racial animus in this country. If the only way to achieve a level of racial harmony in America is for white people to ascribe to the collective guilt that is being foisted upon their entire race, it will be rejected. Why should someone accept blame for crimes that they did not commit or would never commit merely because they are the same skin color of those who did commit those crimes?

 

No other racial group is asked to do that. Are the present-day Chinese expected to assume the guilt for the 40 million people that Mao killed? Are Russians accepting the blame for Stalin’s atrocities? Are 21st century Germans held responsible for Hitler? Are Black people in America, accepting the blame for slavery because it was Black people in Africa who captured and sold the slaves that were shipped to the America’s? Of course not.

 

Why aren’t present-day Hispanic people vilified because Spanish people conquered all of South America, but present-day white people are vilified because white people conquered North America? Why is it that when there is an Islamic terrorist attack on citizens in the West, we are told that we cannot blame the entire Muslim world for the actions of a few extreme Muslims, but the entire white race is still being held accountable for slavery in America that ended 160 years ago? This is not about ending racism or prejudice in America; it is not about achieving justice; it is all about power, and collective blame and collective guilt, is the easiest way of demoralizing and disempowering an entire group of people.

 

What I try to do, is judge people individually, and when a person makes a statement like the ones above, I judge that that person does not have much credibility. And that person probably is not someone who’s opinion should be valued. So, if you hear someone say all Christians are this, or all Americans are that, or all men are this other thing, or all [blank] are [blank], thank that person, and walk away from them as quickly as possible because in a day and age where we are hit with so much information and opinions, that it’s hard to discern what is true and what is not, it is a gift when somebody shows you clearly who they are, clearly that their opinions are absolutely meaningless. It’s one way, may be the best way, of deciphering through all the noise.

 

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J Garrett is a graduate of Princeton University. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.

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3 Comments


Sam Dehne
Sam Dehne
Apr 14

I give this a Like.. because I agree you are right.. not because I "like" that fact.

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Adler Pfingsten
Adler Pfingsten
Apr 12

While I agree with your central thesis there are exceptions to the rule that do not benefit from time and distance e.g. collective white guilt stemming from a tiny fraction of the population that were slave holders 160 years ago; collective Russian guilt for Stalin’s atrocities between 1920 and 1950; collective Chinese guilt for the tens of millions of Chinese that resulted from Mao’s Cultural Revolution; German guilt for Nazi atrocities…all of which are a distant memory relegated to history books and dating to the French Revolution.

 

“The shock which the Nazi horrors produced was so great, because they came after two hundred years of Roussellian propaganda about the goodness of human nature and also because the Germans were…

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Jack Hiller
Jack Hiller
Apr 11

Leftists are trying to disrupt our culture, and a primary tactic is to turn groups, of any kind, such as White, or Trans, against each other--identity politics. Their aim is civil war to enable formation of a new Socialist government.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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