Reparations for White supremacy? Charles W. Mills and reparative vs. distributive justice after the structural turn

Journal of Social Philosophy (2022)
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Drawing on the work of Charles W. Mills and considering the case of reparations to Black Americans, this article defends the “structural turn” in the philosophical reparations scholarship. In the Black American context, the structural turn highlights the structural and institutional operations of a White supremacist political system and a long chronology of state-sponsored injustice, as opposed to enslavement as a standalone historical episode. Here, the question whether distributive justice is more appropriate than reparative justice is particularly pressing, since structural racial inequalities form part of the basis for reparations. Derrick Darby’s pragmatic argument for non-race-specific redistributive policies and Tommie Shelby’s principled defense of distributive justice are both considered, as well as the challenge to the structural turn that comes from Carlton Waterhouse’s argument for reparations for enslavement rather than “legacy of slavery” reparations.

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Jennifer Page
University of Zürich


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