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Anno LVI, n. 230, gennaio-aprile 2021
The murder of George Floyd has moved US citizens to ponder the injustice of systemic racism to an unprecedented degree. Identifying an injustice as systemic, however, often brings to the extremes of either paralysis or revolution. In this article I propose the category of political guilt as an alternative, powerful catalyst for change in the midst of systemic injustice. I offer an account of the enduring legacy of slavery in contemporary US society and I trace current social and economic inequality to deliberate political choices made over the course of the 20th century, which helps me cast them – in the wake of Shklar – as injustices rather than misfortunes. I introduce the concept of political guilt, formulated by Karl Jaspers in the aftermath of World War II, as a device to repair injustice, to understand the current shift among white moderates, and to navigate the current debate on reparations. At the end of the article, I briefly ponder the potential of the language of guilt to also rewrite the story of colonialism and repair its wounds.