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Keywords:

  • collective guilt;
  • social identity;
  • political ideology;
  • attitude toward affirmative action

This paper reports two studies among white South African students on feelings of collective guilt about apartheid and attitudes to affirmative action. Study 1 reports on 21 in-depth interviews, Study 2 on results from 180 survey questionnaires. Substantial proportions of the participants in both studies displayed feelings of collective guilt. Among participants in both studies who identified strongly with white South Africans, some displayed strong feelings of collective guilt while others displayed no such feelings. Our survey data suggest that political ideology functions as a moderator. Strong feelings of guilt were found among students who identified strongly with white South Africans and defined themselves as liberals. If they defined themselves as conservatives then no feelings of collective guilt were observed. Strong feelings of collective guilt were accompanied by positive attitudes toward affirmative action. The influence of political ideology on attitudes toward affirmative action was mediated by collective guilt.