In Flint, Michigan (USA), an ongoing anthropogenic water crisis exposed residents to lead and other drinking water contaminants. The neoliberal policies that created this water crisis made Flint residents responsible for their own safe drinking water. In this article, we draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2016 and 2018 among older adults in Flint to argue that the water crisis has deepened forms of responsibilized citizenship by making residents responsible for ameliorating harms of the state. Older residents’ narratives of previous experiences of racialized structural violence shaped the emotional qualities of their present experiences with contaminated water. By exploring these responses and situating them within narratives of the past, we show that contemporary water governance can operate according to a necropolitical logic, in which citizens are responsibilized not towards an optimized future but rather in response to harms caused by the neoliberal state. Necropolitical logic reinforces the racial and economic inequalities that characterize majority-Black postindustrial American cities, thus limiting the potential for equitable resource distribution. By foregrounding older adults’ experientially grounded knowledge of the sociopolitical life of water, we underline the need for a holistic approach to justice that addresses the harms of both the present and the past and the relational nature of these harms. This approach could work towards remedying the racially disproportionate experiences of water insecurity in the United States.

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