Responsibility and Historic Injustice
Cases of historic injustice whose original perpetrators and victims lived generations ago present particular ontological and conceptual problems when we try to apply the liability model to them. This chapter begins with a discussion of claims for reparations for slavery in the United States to illustrate these difficulties. It argues that on the whole, it does not make sense to use the language of blame, guilt, indebtedness, or compensation to talk about the responsibilities that Americans today, and particularly white Americans, may have in relation to the historic injustice of slavery. Yet the past matters to the way members of the society take up responsibility for present racialized structural injustice. The chapter concludes the discussion of responsibility in relation to structural injustice with brief considerations of two other big cases: responsibilities toward people in Africa today in relation to the historic injustices of the slave trade and colonialism, and responsibilities toward American Indians in relation to the ravages of the North American conquest by Euro-Americans.
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