SAAP 2016

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Haunting Guilt, Communities of Memory, and the Process of Atonement

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Abstract: In this paper, I argue that communities maintain a level of guilt even generations after an historical atrocity. Moreover, this guilt, which I call “haunting guilt,” demands a communal, ongoing, and cross-generational project of atonement. Haunting guilt is related to what Sandra Bartky dubs “guilt of privilege,” in that the guilt does not depend on overt acts of wrongdoing, but rather is based on one’s identity. However, unlike guilt of privilege, haunting guilt relates someone to a specific past atrocity. Drawing upon Josiah Royce’s account of communities of memory and atonement, I argue that haunting guilt requires atonement in order for both communities and individuals to move forward. While communities must undertake a project of atonement, they must also work avoid the harms Shannon Sullivan outlines in her description of white redemption projects. Hence, they must be communal, ongoing, and cross-generational.


Kara Barnette    
Westminster College-Salt Lake City
United States


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