In the full embodiment of the idea of collective and historical responsibility, you bear some responsibility for slavery and oppression even if you and your ancestors had no direct connection to the purchase and ownership of any slave, because you are part of the system and have benefited from that system.
By that reasoning, if you peacefully protest against racial injustice, but other protestors on the other side of the crowd – or even on the other side of the country – engage in looting and violence, aren’t you guilty as well, as part of the system? That second idea would sound strange and impossible to people, but I am not seeing a distinction.
Our church has taken up a study on racial justice, using a new book which I shall not name, but will mention that I loathe. There are plenty of difficulties right off the bat with trying to integrate Critical Race Theory, or any of the philosophical frameworks of the last two centuries which focus on group identities and viewing human activities as systems with Christianity.
If systems were that important, we might expect that Jesus would have mentioned them more. The Roman Empire was an interlocking system that had good things and bad about it. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor James, John, Peter, or Luke pay it much mind as a system per se. There is no advocacy that Christians should spend a moment of their time trying to change the system. We might ask ourselves why this is so. Just out of curiosity.
That systems were changed as a result of Christian belief is not at all the same thing as regarding attempts to “change the system” as Christian goals. To bring things closer to the present day, William Wilberforce did not attempt to “change the system.” His goal was to eliminate slavery in the British Commonwealth, which he saw as a great evil. That “the system” would change as a result was not something he wasted any ink or a single speech on. The downstream effects of our actions are always unknown, and often include unforeseen problems. We are to estimate those as best we can and take them into consideration, certainly.
There is something about focus on the system to removes our focus from our own actions. This happens on the credit as well as the debt side of the ledger as well. When we take credit and think ourselves special and virtuous because of things our ancestors, countrymen, or coreligionists have done that is equally missing the point. I have a couple of ancestors who fought for the Union to free slaves. I don’t believe I am owed any thanks for that.
If you are participating in an act, even in only a supportive or indirect role, I think that act does attach to you. At the end of Durrenmatt’s The Visit it is clear that the entire town has participated in the killing and the actions of a single individual do not stand out. Writing in Switzerland after WWII, it is clear that his intent was to tell Germans they all bore responsibility. I would agree. But were all Germans equally guilty? Does a telephone operator or a bartender carry the same weight of guilt as a guard who executed Jews and pried gold fillings from their teeth? Did a Jew or Gypsy who beat his wife become innocent on the day Hitler came to power?
People who focus on changing, disrupting, or overthrowing one system lose the ability to see the faults of their own system. The system is a snare for the Christian. Well, I suppose for anyone.