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Burdened VirtuesVirtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles$
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Lisa Tessman

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195179149

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195179145.001.0001

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 The Damage of Moral Damage

 The Damage of Moral Damage

(p.33) 2 The Damage of Moral Damage
Burdened Virtues

Lisa Tessman (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores problems with utilizing the concept of moral damage for discussing oppressed people. Highlighting what are actually wounds due to oppressive conditions can unintentionally lend credibility to a victim-blaming stance that attributes a group’s subordination to an inherent or self-perpetuating inferiority. Indeed, this is exactly the fate met by African-Americans who have been persistently portrayed as damaged and as exhibiting character traits such as “criminality” and “dependency.” Even if one exposes the systemic sources of moral damage and points to this moral damage in the oppressed as evidence of injustices against them, such an argument may not be heard against a background in which the supposed character flaws of members of subordinated groups have been used to condemn these groups as the source of their own problems. And yet, simply denying that there is anything wrong with the self obscures from the view of liberatory thinkers the need to theorize what sort of a self one ought to try to be to survive and resist oppression, and steers activists away from projects—difficult as they may be—of transforming the self.

Keywords:   moral damage, blaming the victim, African-Americans, oppression, character

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