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sentation, recognition, and potential forms of restitution for historical injustices, then even if we have some shared views of the past we will have conicting arguments for how the present generation should address the legacies. For example, white and black Americans would all agree that slavery is and was wrong, but there are wide gaps in their respective views on how we should respond to the legacies of slavery in the present.
IV. The Politics of Memory and Time
The history and legacies of slavery stand out as egregious historical injustices for which the federal government has yet to offer an apology or reparations. Rodney Roberts offers one explanation for why the government has not been able to ofcially apologize or provide reparations to African Americans for slavery, but has apologized to and granted monetary compensation to Japanese Americans for their internment during WWII. Roberts argues that the successful post-WWII economic development of Japan and the post-colonial economic stagnation of many African countries helped spur the apology to Japanese Americans given that they are more “like us” (read white) than African Americans, who are symbolically linked to underdeveloped and corrupt African regimes.38 To sup- port this argument, I would add that the symbolic power of the “Asian- American model minority” and “black underclass” stereotypes are a domestic parallel that also helps us understand why the federal government has apolo- gized to Japanese Americans but not to African Americans.
Another reason is that in the Rosewood, Tulsa, and Japanese American internment cases, there are living survivors who pressed forward the argument of apology and restitution. For slavery, however, there are no living survivors. Instead, we have legacies, memories, and descendants. This makes it more important for supporters of an apology and/or reparations to educate the larger public about how slavery’s legacies affect our present-day society.39 Thus, the politics of memory and inter-generational justice enter the equation.
Remembering and rectifying historical injustices requires the political mobi- lization of survivors and descendants, and the mobilization of alternative memories and interpretations of the past. The goal is to unsettle, undermine, and alter the “ruling memory” that a nation develops in which injustices of the past are constructed as minimally important, discrete, and non-systematic events or “details” of history, or simply aberrations in an otherwise just society.40 Part of the difculty in addressing the legacies of slavery is the view that slavery was an unfortunate tragedy rather than a crime and an injustice.41 Tragedies cannot be traced back to a person, group, or government responsible for the injustice, but are chalked up to the proverbial acts of God, or attributed to the mind-set of historical eras for which no person or institution can be held responsible. For example, some argue that while we now see slavery as immoral and illegal, prior
38 See Roberts, “Why Have the Injustices Perpetrated against Blacks in America Not Been Rectied?” Journal of Social Philosophy 32: 3 (2001), pp. 357–373. For example, even middle-class black people, who critics argue do not “need” the help of monetary compensation, are still constrained by racial discrimination that their m i d d l e - c l a s s s t a t u s c a n n o t o v e r c o m e ; s e e F e a g i n a n d S i k e s , L i v i n g w i t h R a c i s m . See Ann Norton, “Ruling Memory,” Political Theory 21 (1993), pp. 453–463. Judith Shklar, The Faces of Injustice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). 39 4 0 41