Somewhere around 25 years ago, in a college somewhere in the American Midwest, I sat on a hideously yellow or orange sofa in the middle of a Performing Arts building. I was approached by an American Indian/Native American/First Nation/Whatever They Call Themselves Now person asking me to donate to some cause for American Indian rights, or some such. He tried to play the guilt card, about how his people have historically been oppressed.
Let me stop right here and say: they have. That’s really not in doubt, and not going to be the point of this post. I’m going somewhere else with this.
I told him, basically, “So what am I supposed to do about it? I didn’t do anything to you!”
He was pretty clearly offended by that, but I didn’t care. Both statements were true. His people have been historically oppressed, and I didn’t do it.
Now, 25 years later, they would probably call that “white privilege” or something else nonsensical and try to make me feel guilty. I’d certainly have been called to task by a “Bias Response Team” and forced to write a “sincere” apology. Which, of course, I wouldn’t do.
But I don’t. I don’t at all feel guilty. I’m not actively oppressing anyone, I have no desire to actively oppress anyone, and I utterly refuse to allow someone to make me feel guilty for something I haven’t done. I understand that some people will say “but you’re an oppressor just for being <insert race/religion/sexual orientation/planetary citizenship here>” – I reject that, and that’s all there is to say about that.
The Japanese people have done some really horrid things in their recent past. You’ve got the conquering of Korea, the Nanjing Massacre, the War of the Pacific, Pearl Harbor, etc. The Imperial army was feared for their cruelty.
And they no longer exist. They haven’t for years. Nearly all of them are dead. Their children have no memory of those days. Anyone who does is at least seventy years old.
Should they feel guilty?
I can’t answer that. I’m not Japanese. But I don’t think I would. After all, I had nothing to do with it, and I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did. At some point you just have to kind of let it go, accept that where things are is where things are, and move forward without either guilt or recrimination. Forgiveness is one thing when it’s directed at someone who did something to you. But it costs little to nothing if it’s directed at someone who didn’t.