Should the U.S. government pay reparations to Black Americans?

Should the U.S. government pay reparations to Black Americans?

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Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced a bill to examine reparations for slavery in every session of Congress for the last 20 years, to no avail. 245 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutionalized racism have created a vast wealth gap between black and white Americans—and the U.S. government has, in the past, paid reparations for injustices committed against other groups. But some argue reparations for African Americans aren't needed, aren't possible, or won't rectify the problem. What do you think?

The Votes Are In!

At The Nation, Joshua Holland argues past racist public policies created the vast racial wealth gap, and current policy only widens it further. Talking about economic reforms or improving schools isn't enough.

 Absent significant policy interventions, or a seismic change in the American economy, people of color will never close the gap.

In his 2014 essay the Atlantic entitled "The Case For Reparations," Ta-Nehisi Coates writer laid out a powerful and meticulously researched argument for reparations.

Something more than moral pressure calls America to reparations. We cannot escape our history. All of our solutions to the great problems of health care, education, housing, and economic inequality are troubled by what must go unspoken."The reason black people are so far behind now is not because of now,” Clyde Ross told me. “It’s because of then.”

Commentator David Frum responded to Coates' essay, acknowledging the validity of his case, but countering that offering monetary reparations would be impossible to enact fairlyas well as an ineffective solution to racial economic inequality.

If “reparations” means intensifying the nation’s commitment to equal opportunity for all its people—and most especially for the descendants of those once enslaved—then (again) let’s have reparations. But if “reparations” flowing from some Americans to others in race-conscious ways meant to redress the racial wrongs of the past—then it’s a disastrous idea for all groups in society.

The UN recommended reparations for Black Americans in 2016, calling the current situation "a human rights crisis."

"The legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent," the report states. "Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching." 

While Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all support the idea of economic, social, and legal reform specifically aimed to redress historical injustice and to boost opportunity in African-American communities, they all oppose monetary reparations from the U.S. government to Black Americans, most often on the grounds that they would be legislatively impossible. Even Bernie Sanders said a reparations bill could never pass in Congress:

"The likelihood of it getting through Congress is nil."

In 1988, the U.S. government granted reparations to Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II—formally apologizing and paying $20,000 (equivalent to $41,000 in 2016) to each camp survivor. The U.S. eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs. So reparations for racial injustice and property theft are clearly possible. If they were given to Japanese Americans, how do we justify not giving them to people whose freedom, labor, and dignity were stolen for centuries? Ta-Nehisi Coates asserts that people who deny reparations are possible are denying reality:

 "[They] must directly explain why the Japanese-American case is compelling, but the more recent African-American case is not."

Who would receive payments? How much would recipients receive? If Black Americans were given reparations, shouldn't monetary compensation be offered to Native Americans? The complexity around how monetary reparations would be enacted leads many to believe they're just not possible.

But proponents of reparations say much of the discussion around their practicality, viability, or fairness is just an excuse to avoid facing the moral issues hand:


And others say no amount of monetary payments can make up for the suffering and wrongs done to Black America.

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