Many think that whatever our ancestors did is not our problem, because we are not them, and so we have nothing to answer for. Why should we apologise?
It is this sort of thinking that was used to try to derail any public discourse about providing an apology to the Australian indigenous peoples for their treatment since European settlement usurped their lands. Well, the responsibility is quite clear once we recognise the principle involved.
If we are the beneficiary of the mistreatment of a person or a group of people, we owe them reparations for that mistreatment, including an apology.
This applies regardless of whether we are directly descended from a perpetrator, or just got off a plane from overseas. We benefit from what the country has become as a result of the mistreatment. I suspect a lot of the reticence about making an apology was that then that opened the door to compensation, and actually doing something about elevating indigenous peoples out of the quagmire that failure to address their real needs has left them with.
Some may say that we cannot afford to pay such compensation, even though there were plenty of opportunities to do so when times were booming. To them, I say that we will continue to be reminded of our failure to act until we make reparations. So it is better we apologise and make reparations to whomever whose suffering has benefitted us.
Complications occur when the mistreatment was based upon what then seemed like clear-cut definitions of race.
We now know that there is no way to definitively define races by DNA. So-called races are now identified by profiles of characteristics, so identifying the race of a particular DNA sample relies upon making inferences using probability. Using skin colour was a relatively simple basis for discrimination. However, when the Nazis wanted to identify so-called Jews as a race, they seem to have relied upon self-identification or tracing family trees back to those who self-identified. That makes the discrimination based more upon culture than physical characteristics.
To limit the influence of the people being discriminated against, half, quarter or eighth-castes were included. That type of grouping tended to remain the basis of all subsequent handling of them by the government, even for early reparations. Unfortunately, sometimes race-cultural discrimination ended up going beyond marginalisation, into attempts to eliminate the target group altogether.
Reparations are the concrete actions taken to remedy the results of mistreatment. However, care must be taken that the actions don't embed other unintended discrimination.
This is especially important when the mistreatment has been carried out by governments, as there will be a lot of political pressure to make actions that fulfil the agenda of the pressure group rather than making fair reparations.
One such proposed action may be to legally embed ongoing political representation for the affected group. Basing such far-reaching consequences upon flawed criteria, like eighth-casting, will unfairly favour those of particular birth circumstances, well beyond any other reparations that may have re-established equality of opportunity.
Thus, part-casting may be appropriate for some limited-duration reparations, but not for ongoing ones. Also, given the ongoing blending of genetic influences with each generation resulting from a more socially-mobile population, there may be no way to legally identify anybody by such criteria in the future.
The limits of what should be done in reparations are:
The prompt elimination of unfair discrimination in laws and regulations, as well as of daily social mistreatment, is of paramount importance in making a society truly egalitarian. Otherwise, despite all well-meaning intentions, inequality will remain, and that will not be alleviated by any number of representative councils or other promises that will only result in delays.
Anyone who delays actions towards equity, despite the obvious heniousness of mistreatment over decades or centuries, cannot be trusted. Look into their loyalties for their true motives. If their ideology dictates their stance, distrust those who also follow that ideology, as there will be others who will have been discriminated against in its name.