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Religions 2018, 9(11), 370; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110370

How Levinas Can (and Cannot) Help Us with Political Apology in the Context of Systemic Racism

Department of Religious Studies, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA
Received: 12 September 2018 / Revised: 25 October 2018 / Accepted: 16 November 2018 / Published: 19 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
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Abstract

What is the structure of an apology? What is an apology supposed to achieve, and how do we know when it has achieved its purpose? These questions seem pretty straightforward when we are speaking of an apology as it is traditionally conceived, which considers an explicit action that I have performed toward another individual. But how does one apologize for one’s thrownness into systemic structures of inequality and violence—such as America’s long history of racism toward people of color? I call this here a “political apology,” which may take both national forms—such as Australia’s National “I’m Sorry Day”—or personal acts—such as when a white person might apologize to a friend who is a person of color for the persistence of anti-Black racism in America. This essay will consider Emmanuel Levinas’s work and how it relates to this notion of a political apology. In some respects, Levinas’s thought is profoundly constructive and useful; however, his ahistorical, asymmetrical account of intersubjectivity is inadequate to explain what an apology seeks to achieve on a substantial political level. For this, I believe we must articulate a Levinasian-inspired account of the self–other relation that more adequately takes into account both parties as well as the concrete situation in which the need for apology arises. View Full-Text
Keywords: Emmanuel Levinas; critical race theory; apology; empathy; intersubjectivity; ethics; systemic racism; social justice Emmanuel Levinas; critical race theory; apology; empathy; intersubjectivity; ethics; systemic racism; social justice
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Bahler, B. How Levinas Can (and Cannot) Help Us with Political Apology in the Context of Systemic Racism. Religions 2018, 9, 370.

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