14 - Racial Wrongs and Restitutions: The Role of Guilt and Other Group-Based Emotions  pp. 262-283

Racial Wrongs and Restitutions: The Role of Guilt and Other Group-Based Emotions

By Aarti Iyer, Colin Wayne Leach and Anne Pedersen

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Racial inequality is everywhere. Throughout the world, people of color tend to be disadvantaged relative to those classified as “White.” There is little doubt that the historical indenture, enslavement, and colonization of people of color has contributed to this systemic inequality. It is also clear that contemporary forms of group privilege and discrimination carry racial inequality into the present and future. This seeming intransigence has led many observers to conclude that racial inequality is an unavoidable product of diverse societies (e.g., Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).

Given the apparent inevitability of racial inequality, one might wonder how anyone is able to muster opposition to it. Yet, a subset of people in every society opposes racial inequality, sometimes at great personal risk. This surprising, and extremely important, fact is our focus. We want to know why people oppose racial inequality. We are especially interested in why members of advantaged groups oppose systems of inequality from which they benefit.

In this chapter we examine how members of advantaged groups come to recognize, and react against, the illegitimacy of racial inequality. We give special attention to group-based guilt as one way in which the advantaged respond to racial wrongs. The first section of the chapter reviews the conceptual and empirical arguments for what racial guilt is. Because it is an unpleasant feeling of self-blame that people prefer to assuage, group-based guilt is associated with efforts to make restitution to those harmed. This is what guilt does to motivate opposition to racial inequality.

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