Should people have a responsibility to their group?

In another thread, a poster basically asked how minorities in the U.S. dealt with “their” criminals. I didn’t want to hijack the thread, but it made me wonder if most people felt that individuals should have a **larger ** obligation to to help “their” group than a person outside that group would have.

I think for this thread, we should only look at the groups that people don’t choose to be in, such as groups based on race, or sexual orientation. Perhaps religion should count too, because most people stay in the religion that they’re born into.

Obviously, no one has a legal responsibilty, but may have a moral one, depending on your take on it.

In an interstellar conflict, I may feel a resposibility towards Earthlings, depending on who or what else was involved.

I think that, if you’re raisied within a community that shelters you, provides for you, educates you, nutures you, etc., then you have a moral imperative to “give something back” to the community when you’re able.

However, if you weren’t supported by the community in any meaningful way, I don’t agree that, just because you were born with some superficial characteristic in common, that you have any obligation to their group.

[Slapstick]“Lonesome no more!”[/Slapstick]

I feel greater bias toward helping someone of my own ethnicity/place of origin/age/gender/whatever, but only when I feel they’ve done nothing wrong. If you’ve robbed a bank or killed your spouse or molested your kid, it doesn’t matter a bit what you have in common with me-- you won’t get any special consideration. If I think you’ve fucked up, I don’t want you being a reflection of me any more than you already are.

Banding together around people because they’re black/female/born after 1930/whatever just like you is pretty dumb. It reminds me of all the OJ supporters who supported him because he was black, and of the Asian-American voters back home who voted exclusively for Asian-American candidates. It made me want to ask, “Are you so stupid you have no better criteria for your support than that?”

I’ve thought about this question a lot, and I don’t have any answers. Just feelings.

On one hand, I’m all about individuality and living one’s life for themselves. If I do well, I want the achievement to reflect on my character, my hard work, and my intelligence. By the same token, if I do poorly I want the failure to reflect on only me, not where and how I grew up or the make-up of my family tree.

Because I’m an individual, I want to view others as individuals. Not as people who are or are not in “my” group. When they do well, I want to be proud of that individual and not take credit or glory for their accomplishment. And when they do poorly, I don’t want to feel embarrassment or shame.

Unfortunately, that’s not how life is. In reality, I feel pride and shame for all kinds of things that I had no hand in. In reality, when people look at me, they don’t see just monstro, nor do I look at them and think individual. I’m programmed to see groups first, then individuals. If it’s not race, its culture, nationality, gender, and age. I don’t think these things keep me from seeing an individual beyond the first impression, but they’re always there, helping to explain quirks that might come up in interactions.

There have been times when I have wanted to escape from the boxes that society has placed me in. But for the most part, I don’t find them too confining since I have made them conform to who I am.

To get the point, I recognize that I’m a member of a stigmitized minority group. I don’t think there’s any benefit for me to disassociate myself from this group, or pretend that I don’t share a cultural background with the majority of people in this group. Do I love black people more than white people? No. But do I feel differently towards them than I do white people? Yes. I relate to black friends differently than I do white friends, and at various times in my life I have had best friends of both races. Can I really explain why this is the case? No. It just is.

I can think of only one situation where I came to the “rescue” of a black person because, at least in part, they were black. Once, I was riding my bike and happened to witness a car accident. A young lady (white) waited till the last minute to turn out of a parking lot and got hit by a guy (black) who had the right of way. Both were at fault (the guy was going too fast and the girl should have been paying attention), but I quickly noticed all the bystanders (white) were rushing to the girl’s aide and offering testimony on her behalf. Now, it may have been that I wasn’t the only one who saw what really happened, but I just got the sinking feeling that the black guy was going to get railroaded. Maybe because he was black, maybe because he was a guy, maybe because of neither–but the way he was just standing there on the street all alone, with no sympathetic crowd, made me feel very worried for him. So while I have would provided testimony regardless, I felt like I needed to be there especially because he was black and everyone else was white.

I mentored black girls while in college and grad school. Do I think I was able to give them something different than a white person could? You betcha. I did not group up poor or from a single-parent household like the girls did, but we had many things in common. There were no awkward instances of miscommunication and cultural conflict, and there was just a general sense of comfort in our interactions that might not have otherwise been there. So yes, I felt that I had an obligation to help out the little “sistas”. I was the only black doctoral student in my department, at a school situated in the middle of one of the “blackest” cities in the country. That disparity constantly weighed heavy on my heart. So in my case, I “made” myself feel obligated. If I couldn’t feel the tiniest bit obligated to help, who would?

Does this kind of altruism extend into other aspects of my everyday life? No, not really. When a black homeless guy asks for change, I don’t give him any more money than I do with a white guy. When I watch the news and see a black guy being accused of a crime, I don’t assume that he’s any more innocent than a white guy doing a perp walk. I don’t push away the old white lady on my way to help the elderly black one. I really try to treat everyone equally and when I don’t, I try to have good reasons.

So I don’t have an answer to your question. Whether or not you have an obligation depends on how connected you feel to your community and how passionate you feel about the problems in it. No one can make you feel these things; they just kind of happen.