Backward-looking reparations and structural injustice

Abstract

The ‘structural injustice’ framework is an increasingly influential way of thinking about historical injustice. Structural injustice theorists argue against reparations for historical injustice on the grounds that our focus should be on forward-looking responsibility for contemporary structural injustice. Through the use of a case study – the Caribbean Community (CARICOM’s) 10-Point Plan for reparations from 2014 – I argue that this reasoning is flawed. Backward-looking reparations can be justified on the basis of state liability over time. The value of backward-looking reparations is that they ensure that historical perpetrators do not evade their reparative obligations and that affected communities are taken seriously. However, I argue that this backward-looking approach should be supplemented by a forward-looking structural injustice approach and the ‘social connection model’ of responsibility, which can (a) expand the scope of responsible agents and forms of injustice that warrant repair and (b) explain how citizens living now can be expected to pay for crimes of the past.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Andersen, A.N. (2018) The reparations movement in the United States Virgin Islands. The Journal of African American History 103: 104–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Araujo, A.L. (2017) Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Armstrong, A. and Colonomos, A. (2006) German reparations to the Jews after World War II. In: P. de Greiff (ed.) The Handbook of Reparations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 390–420.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Barkan, E. (2000) The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bassiouni, M.C. (2011) Crimes Against Humanity: Historical Evolution and Contemporary Application. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Beckles, H.M. (2013) Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide. Kingston: University of West Indies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Blake, M. (2018) Shame, justice, and decolonization: A reply to Catherine Lu. Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric 11(2): 51–57.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Butt, D. (2008) Rectifying International Injustice: Principles of Compensation and Restitution Between Nations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO). (2013) Transformation, reparations, repatriation, and reconciliation position paper. In: N.Y. Asantewaa Ohema, D.F. ‘Oravouche’ Benton Lewis, and B.F. Bankie (eds.) Returning to the Source via Reconciliation, Reparations, Repatriation, Transformation and African Nationalism - Creating the Future. Rayville, Louisiana, 2013: NCOBRA International Affairs Commission, pp. 228–231.

  10. CARICOM Reparations Commission. (2014) CARICOM 10-point plan. https://caricomreparations.org/caricom/caricoms-10-point-reparation-plan/, accessed 7 November 2020.

  11. Carruthers, B.G. (1996) City of Capital: Politics and Markets in the English Finanical Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Chinweizu. (2013) Reparations and a new global order: A comparative overview. In: N.Y. Asantewaa Ohema, D.F. ‘Oravouche’ Benton Lewis, and B.F. Bankie (eds.) Returning to the Source via Reconciliation, Reparations, Repatriation, Transformation and African Nationalism - Creating the Future. Rayville, Louisiana: NCOBRA International Affairs Commission, pp. 235–240.

  13. Clegg, P. (2014) The Caribbean reparations claim: What chance of success? The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 103(4): 435–437.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cobain, I. (2013) Kenya: UK expresses regret over abuse as Mau Mau promised payout. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/05/kenyan-mau-mau-payout-uk-regret-abuse.

  15. de Greiff, P. (2006) Justice and reparations. In: P. de Greiff (ed.) The Handbook of Reparations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 451–478.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Erskine, T. (2001) Assigning responsibilities to institutional moral agents: The case of states and quasi-states. Ethics and International Affairs 15(2): 67–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Esposito, E. (2019) The social media campaign for Caribbean reparations: A critical multimodal investigation. In: E. Esposito, C. Pérez-Arredondo, and J.M. Ferreiro (eds.) Discourses from Latin America and the Caribbean. Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 175–209.

    Google Scholar 

  18. French, P.A. (1984) Types of collectivities: A preliminary sorting. In: P.A. French (ed.) Collective and Corporate Responsibility. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 5–18.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Guthrie, J. (2020) Lex in depth: Examining the slave trade - ‘Britain has a debt to repay’. Financial Times, 28 June. London.

  20. Lu, C. (2017) Justice and Reconciliation in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Maizels, A. and Nissanke, M.K. (1984) Motivations for aid to developing countries. World Development 12(9): 879–900.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Manjapra, K. (2018) When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity? The Guardian, 29 March. London.

  23. Marshall, D.D. (2014) Capitalism, Slavery and the Reparations Battle. https://ibw21.org/editors-choice/capitalism-slavery-and-the-reparations-battle/.

  24. Mullet, R. and Armange, E. (2016) Slave descendants’ views regarding national policies on reparations: A Martinican perpsective. Social Science Information 55(4): 511–530.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Nangwaya, A. (2017) Caribbean reparations movement must put capitalism on trial. Pambazuka News. https://www.pambazuka.org/global-south/caribbean-reparations-movement-must-put-capitalism-trial.

  26. Nuti, A. (2019) Injustice and the Reproduction of History: Structural Inequalities, Gender and Redress. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. O’Neill, O. (2002) Toward Justice and Virtue: A Constructive Account of Practical Reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Parrish, J.M. (2009) Collective responsibility and the state. International Theory 1(1): 119–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Paul, H.J. (2009) The South Sea Company’s Slaving Activities. In: Discussion Papers in Economics and Econometrics, 2009. University of Southampton. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/socsci/economics/research/papers.

  30. Quirk, J. (2015) Reparations are too confronting: let’s talk about ‘modern-day slavery’ instead. Open Democracy. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/beyond-trafficking-and-slavery/reparations-are-too-confronting-lets-talk-about-modernday-slavery-instea/.

  31. Rauhut, C. (2018a) Caribbean activism for slavery reparations: an overview. In: W. Beushausen, M. Brandel, J. Farquharson, et al. (eds.) Practices of Resistance in the Caribbean: Narratives, Aesthetics, Politics. London: Routledge, pp. 137–150.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Rauhut, C. (2018b) Caribbean leaders in the transnational struggle for slavery reparations. In: A. Bandau, A. Brüske, and N. Ueckmann (eds.) Reshaping Glocal Dynamics of the Caribbean - Relations and Disconnections. Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Press, pp. 281–296.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Rawlinson, K. (2020) Lloyd’s of London and Greene King to make slave trade reparations. The Guardian, 18 June. London. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/18/lloyds-of-london-and-greene-king-to-make-slave-trade-reparations.

  34. Rawls, J. (1999) A Theory of Justice. Revised Ed. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Robinson, R. (2001) The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. London: Plume.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Scott, D. (2014) preface: Debt, redress. Small Axe 18(1): vii–x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Shepherd, V.A. (2018) Past imperfect, future perfect? Reparations, rehabilitation, reconciliation. The Journal of African American History 103(1): 19–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Singleton, T.A. (1999) The slave trade remembered on the former gold and slave coasts. Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 20(1): 150–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Spinner-Halev, J. (2012) Enduring Injustice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Stanford-Xosei, E. and Klu, K.M. (2013) An open letter to the heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Caribbean News Now. https://www.alainet.org/en/active/65675.

  41. Stilz, A. (2011) Collective responsibility and the state. Journal of Political Philosophy 19(2): 190–208.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Stilz, A. (2019) Review of Catherine Lu: Justice and Reconciliation in World Politics. Criminal Law and Philosophy 13(2): 385–392.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Strecker, A. (2017) Indigenous land rights and Caribbean reparations discourse. Leiden Journal of International Law (30): 629–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Thompson, J. (2002) Taking Responsibility for the Past: Reparation and Historical Injustice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Tracy. (2014) European Nations Attempt to Evade Reparations Lawsuit, But Caricom May Gain Political Leverage. Atlanta Black Star. http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/01/13/europe-nations-attempt-evade-reparations-lawsuit-caricom-may-gain-political-leverage/.

  46. UN. (2001) World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Durban. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Durban_text_en.pdf.

  47. Waldron, J. (1992) Superseding historic injustice. Ethics 103(1): 4. https://doi.org/10.1086/293468.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Waligore, T. (2018) Redress for colonial injustice: Structural injustice and the relevance of history. Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric 11(2): 15–28.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wallace, R.J. (1994) Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments. London: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Watson, H. and Campbell, T. (2014) Reparations campaign distracts from challenges facing Caribbean. Stabroek News, 11 August. https://www.stabroeknews.com/2014/08/11/features/in-the-diaspora/reparations-campaign-distracts-challenges-facing-caribbean-response-hilbourne-watson-trevor-campbell/.

  51. Weldon, S.L. (2018) Gender and global justice: Lu’s justice and reconciliation in world politics. Ethics & Global Politics 11(1): 31–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/16544951.2018.1507389.

  52. Wenar, L. (2006) Reparations for the future. Journal of Social Philosophy 37(3): 396–405.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Williams, M. (2013) Political responsibility for decolonization in Canada. In: G.F. Johnson and L. Michaelis (eds.) Political Responsibility Refocused: Thinking Justice After Iris Marion Young. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 78–102.

  54. Wittmann, N. (2013) Slavery Reparations Time is Now: Exposing Lies, Claiming Justice for Survival An International Legal Assessment. Vienna: Power of the Trinity Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Young, I.M. (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Young, I.M. (2011) Responsibility for Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Earlier drafts of this article have been presented at ‘Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond…’ (University of Edinburgh, 2015), the ECPR general conference (Montreal, 2015), and Collective Responsibility for the Future (University College Dublin, 2015). Many thanks to participants in these sessions for their helpful comments. Thanks also to the Free University-Berlin historical injustice reading group and Alasia Nuti for comments on an early version. Many thanks to Timothy Waligore for written comments on the final draft. The initial research for this article was made possible by a postdoctoral research fellowship at Justitia Amplificata, Goethe University Frankfurt. Final thanks to the anonymous reviewers at CPT for very helpful comments.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maeve McKeown.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

McKeown, M. Backward-looking reparations and structural injustice. Contemp Polit Theory (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-020-00463-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • reparations
  • slavery
  • Caribbean
  • structural injustice
  • responsibility
  • historical injustice