A “recovering progressive” friend on Twitter apologized to me recently for the offensive behavior of fellow leftists who called in and left hateful messages at the headquarters of the conservative group FreedomWorks in Washington, D.C.
My response to the embarrassed liberal? “I don’t believe in collective guilt.”
This man did not need to apologize to me. He had done nothing wrong. The responsibility for the reprehensible behavior is squarely on the shoulders of the base, unimaginative, hate-spewing individuals who left the messages. Were they representative of the left generally? Well, you don’t see a great hue and the cry in the press today, do you? Had this situation been reversed, on the other hand …
But that’s not the point.
In a free society, an individual bears sole responsibility for his actions. A whole race, gender, or generation does not bear guilt for the sins of some or even of many in that group of people. It’s unfair and wrong.
But liberals don’t believe this. For example, a white person carries the shame of slavery even if his family members never owned slaves and even if he himself worked to free those in bondage. White equals guilt. Or, as another example, “society” is guilty for creating the psychosexual environment in which frustrated men must rape in order to feel dominant. And then there are the more mundane things like “if she weren’t poor, she wouldn’t be compelled to steal that Ralph Lauren dress.”
A criminal wouldn’t be a criminal if he were loved more and society supported him, therefore it’s society’s fault that he is committing the fill-in-the-blank crime.
So who is to blame, then, when a black man rapes a woman? Would it be the rapist? No.
What follows is the harrowing and cognitively dissonant account of a woman’s rape at the hands of a black man she considered a friend. Her name is Amanda Kijera and here is her story:
Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I started to write what I thought was a very clever editorial about violence against women in Haiti. The case, I believed, was being overstated by women’s organizations in need of additional resources. Ever committed to preserving the dignity of black men in a world which constantly stereotypes them as violent savages, I viewed this writing as yet one more opportunity to fight “the man” on behalf of my brothers. That night, before I could finish the piece, I was held on a rooftop in Haiti and raped repeatedly by one of the very men who I had spent the bulk of my life advocating for.
It hurt. The experience was almost more than I could bear. I begged him to stop. Afraid he would kill me, I pleaded with him to honor my commitment to Haiti, to him as a brother in the mutual struggle for an end to our common oppression, but to no avail. He didn’t care that I was a Malcolm X scholar. He told me to shut up, and then slapped me in the face. Overpowered, I gave up fighting halfway through the night.
Truly, I have witnessed as a journalist and human rights advocate the many injustices inflicted upon black men in this world. The pain, trauma and rage born of exploitation are terrors that I have grappled with every day of my life. They make one want to strike back, to fight rabidly for what is left of their personal dignity in the wake of such things. Black men have every right to the anger they feel in response to their position in the global hierarchy, but their anger is misdirected.
Women are not the source of their oppression; oppressive policies and the as-yet unaddressed white patriarchy which still dominates the global stage are. Because women — and particularly women of color — are forced to bear the brunt of the black male response to the black male plight, the international community and those nations who have benefited from the oppression of colonized peoples have a responsibility to provide women with the protection that they need.
How is it possible, after being the victim of a brutal rape, to absolve the perpetrator of guilt and point the finger at men of another color who are nowhere near one’s body? This projection is absolutely stunning and self-defeating.
The man who committed this crime committed it for his reason and his alone. Without holding him to account, what hope of change is there? If a person cannot own his behavior, he cannot change it.
This sort of rationalization would absolve white slave owners, by the way. They were simply victims of cultural thinking at the time. And the patriarchy? A remnant of twisted religious extremism.
No one would be responsible for any action at any time, anywhere. There is, after all, a context for every crime.
At the root of this absolution is a desire to push personal responsibility on the collective. Unfortunately, the collective was not in that room that night. One man raped one woman.
He alone is responsible. Excusing his behavior is a moral travesty. A society unravels when evil cannot be named and shamed.
Forget collective guilt. It is a collective shame that this sort of thinking permeates liberal thought. This belief in action will utterly destroy society should it go unchallenged.