When assigning guilt to a body, a methodology preferable to a mere vendetta or prejudice, it seems incumbent that all parties should maintain a frank disposition when passing or accepting blame. A sort of unconscious idea rests in my mind that guilt comes from two sources: A man may be guilty by intent or by an accident. The worst of guilt springs from a marriage of these. It is known that a man, for a slight, imagined or otherwise, might hate his neighbor, and it is also understood that accidents, free of any foul intent, may still harm. Man is not free from guilt in either case, but when he, with intent, harms his neighbor, society recognizes a certain opprobrium. We all have stepped on our neighbor’s toes, we all have had nasty thoughts; from these ills reparations, confessions, and apologies are derived, but who cannot recognize the difference when intent and action work together for ill?
And yet a fourth type of guilt is extant, is assumed in conversation, a guilt free of intent or action by the guilty: Guilt of association. Often, apologies for assigning this type of guilt are attempts to demonstrate how this action of association is itself a harmful act. In cases, this may be true: I would think that if God blesses a man for bearing a cup of water to God’s ministers, the opposite may be said of one who by association gives some boon to an evil actor of ill intent. However, it is subsequently understood that if we argue for this fourth type of guilt by appeals to the other three the fourth is revealed derivative and not essential, should be scrapped as a fourth member altogether and assigned to some supplementary distinction.
Pernicious, this faux fourth, assuming the dignity of the other three, without claims of apology, remains, and has, perhaps, yet one argument remaining, but an argument which, though I think strong, destroys the fourth for anything as useful as it is now instituted; that is to say, the ground on which this fourth type of guilt can stand, as far as I see, broadens its influence to encompass all men, and subsequently cannot be used by some men over others.
But, how is the fourth used? I had a professor plainly apologize that, in a recorded musical performance we were to consider in class, the performers were white playing traditionally black music. What guilt was he accepting? He said this was the best recording he could get, but he was sorry the performers were white. I cannot, in my mind, make this an appeal to the other three: How did this action hurt anyone? or how was there ill intent? The only guilt I could understand him acknowledging was a guilt of association, a guilt of associating with white musicians.
Perhaps there was guilt. I could imagine such an action harming black artists with some racist intent, or perhaps a weak person might avoid playing a recording by a black artist for fear of racist recriminations. Furthermore, perhaps my professor’s apology was not a declaration of guilt, but a quirk of language in which he merely meant to console any parties interested in a black artist being featured (it was, on consideration, black history month) and I do have a habit of taking people’s words too literally at the expense of subtlety.
Considering the first possibility, that my professor was either himself racist or choose the recording by white artists for some racist agenda alien to himself, I would have to laugh. We were studying the blues, and a large swath, if not a majority, of the artists were black. Furthermore, if memory serves, the song was a recording of a performance in the White House for Barak Obama. The other possibility, that my professor was not admitting some guilt but comforting anyone interested in a recording by a black artist in the same manner a sweepstakes host might say “sorry” when a contestant answers a question wrong, I would have to ask who he was consoling and for what? Not any competing musician biding for the same place. Furthermore, why should the subject of race be inserted into this sort of apology? If it were of this type, would it not be given equally? Would we say the same of a professor who said, “I’m sorry, the band is black”? Would we not immediately recognize the statement as an evil, as associating a race with some guilt?
And such is how this fourth type is used: People are guilty of being born, of existing. I am not interested in positing a motive or agenda; this is not a conspiracy theory meant to hustle some blatant white supremacy. No race is superior to another, and no race is less guilty. Yes, I mean less guilty. To give the devil his due, white people held black slaves. White people, today, can arguable be said to have benefited from this horrible injustice. The guilt of slavery is on white people, and on all people.
Forgive me that I now make a religious appeal, but did Jesus die for the sins of Jewish people? Yes. Did He die for the sins of white people? Yes. Did He die for the sins of black people? Yes. Jesus died, and took on all our sins. I accept the guilt of association in this sense. I, having never held a slave, am guilty of slavery because mankind is guilty of slavery. I, having never raped, am guilty because mankind is guilty.
These arbitrary distinctions of color and lineage cannot compound the guilt of fallen humanity, cannot isolate one group from the whole and thereby dispose of all the blame. There is a fourth type of guilt, original sin, and it bloodies all our hands. We are all sinners, sons and daughters of sinners.