If white people had to apologize for all the things Muslims are expected to apologize for, they'd always be apologizing.
The reason is simple. When an act of violence is committed by a Muslim (or in the name of Islam), the assumption by many in the West tends to be that all Muslims — 1.6 billion people worldwide — are somehow responsible for it. We saw this in the aftermath of last Wednesday's attack in Paris, when a pair of gunmen massacred the editorial staff of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for insulting the Prophet Muhammad:
Yet in similar situations, white individuals seem to be accountable only to themselves when they shoot up schools, bomb buildings or commit other acts of mass mayhem. No one expects a general apology from white people. Because that would be ridiculous.
It's a troubling double standard, made even more so by the number of people who openly subscribe to it:
Of course, some will argue that "Muslim" is not a racial category, and it's worth noting that a more apt comparison might be between Muslims and, say, Christians or Jews.
But even that misses a crucial point: In Western countries like France and the United States, Muslim populations are overwhelmingly people of color — Middle Eastern, South Asian or North African in ethnic origin. This means race and religion often get conflated, mixed with broader concerns around immigration and the growing presence of minorities in white majority countries.
The fact that hate criminals in America commonly mistake Sikhs for Muslims when committing Islamophobic attacks illustrates this perfectly. That Muslim-owned stores were quickly vandalized in France after last week's killings does the same.
But the bottom line is that Muslims, as a group, don't owe anybody an apology for the despicable acts of a few individuals who happen to share — and violently misinterpret — their religion. Not to mention they themselves are the most common victims of radical Islamic violence, with polls showing Muslims in the Middle East are just as concerned about terrorism as anyone in the West, if not more so.
So the question remains: Why are all Muslims expected to apologize whenever something like the Charlie Hebdo shooting happens?
The logic behind it is absurd, but if we're going to commit to it, we at least owe ourselves some consistency. To that end, here are a few things we should be asking all white people to apologize for (EDITOR'S NOTE: This list could go on forever, since white individuals — like most other individuals — have done some really, really terrible things):
1. Col. John Chivington of the U.S. Army, who in 1864 led 700 soldiers in the massacre of 70 to 163 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe, mostly women and children, in Colorado.
2. Adolph Hitler, who as dictator of Germany between 1934 and 1945 oversaw the mass murder of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of communists, disabled people, LGBT people and others.
3. Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash and Robert Chambliss, who in 1963 planted a box of dynamite inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black children and injuring 20 other people.
4. Shawn Barry, Lawrence Russell Brewer and John King, who dragged James Byrd Jr. for three miles behind a pickup truck, severing his head and right arm, because he was black, in Jasper, Texas in 1998.
5. Mitchel Trumble, who along with three other white teenagers burned down the Gobind Sadan USA Sikh temple in Palermo, New York, in 2002. They allegedly thought the temple was called "Go bin Laden."
6. Steven Sandstrom and Gary L. Eye, who shot and killed William L. McCay in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2005 because he was black.
7. Ralph Nicoletti, who, along with Michael Contreras and Brian Carranza, beat a 17-year-old black boy with a metal pipe on Staten Island, New York, and ran over another man — whom they mistakenly believed to be black — with their car in response to Barack Obama being elected president in 2008.
8. Wade Michael Page, who used a semiautomatic weapon to murder six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012.
9. Justin Ladd, who tortured and sexually abused his two teenage stepdaughters over a period of five years between 2008 and 2013 because he didn't like that they were Latina.
So far, no apologies have been issued on behalf all white people for any of the above incidents. Because that would be absurd.