The case for reparations

Excited and scared to tackle this sensitive topic.  This is a controversial topic. This is a heated topic. I clearly do not have the answer to it.  So I won’t even pretend i’ve got this.  But what I can do is obviously give my opinion on the topic.  Moreover, I can also look at the arguments through negotiation lenses.  By this I mean, looking through the smoking mirrors, focusing on the problem rather than the emotions attached to it, but also looking at how emotions are used.

This is an ambitious goal, so I decided to start a 3 part series on the topic.  First, I’ll review the case for reparations, secondly, I discuss the case against reparations and finally, I’ll give my opinion.  3 part series because I want to force myself to dig deep into the research before formulating an opinion.

Let’s review the most compelling arguments for reparations.  One of my favorite on this topic is Ta Nehisi Coates.  His overall point is that “the present situation is the result of past actions”.  Because many people seem to assume that black people and white people start with a level playing field, that they have similar resources at their disposal and ought to achieve similar results.

  1. Held down for 200 years.  America took so much from Blacks and for so long that the only way to give Blacks the same opportunities than whites is to pay reparations.  Ta Nehisi Coates provides several detailed examples in the essay he wrote for the Atlantic in 2014.  Housing policies are vivid examples.  The most famous is probably Redlining.  Essentially, it prevented Black families to own houses by limiting access to mortgages and when they did manage to own houses this policy decreased the value of their house, eventually creating ghettos.
  2. Slaves were an asset.  Wealthy people think in term of assets – read “do you speak trust fund “to better understand.  An asset is something that produces you money while you sleep because it works for you.  Now realize that slaves were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together says Yale historian David W. Blight.
  3. There’s a direct cost for slavery’s legacy. Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Andrew Brimmer estimates that discrimination costs blacks $10 billion yearly through the black-white wage gap, denial of capital access, inadequate public services, and reduced social security and other government benefits. This has been called the “black tax.”
  4. Apologies should mean reparation.  As recently as 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for this country’s oppression of African Americans: “The Congress (A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; (B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.”
  5. Reparations precedents.  President Ronald Reagan apologized for Japanese American internment during World War 2. Each survivor received $20,000 for the loss of property and freedom during the period.  The German government made reparations to survivors of the Holocaust. The ask was $13 billion in today’s dollars.  Money that has been put to very good use by Israel to develop the country.

These 5 arguments are the most impactful in my opinion.  They are sound and focusing on facts.  But clearly, they have not worked so far because African Americans have not received reparation.  Could that be the issue? being too rational and not throwing enough emotions? Could there also be a timing aspect to it?  Precedent examples happening very soon after the fact, and also more in modern days.  It seems also unclear what the real problem may be. Is it money, or is it also the implications that will come with it.  In both precedent examples, only a portion of the population could be blamed for the terrible events. Slavery was much deeper. It was over centuries, and a large portion of the population, benefited from it, enforced it or openly supported it. What would be the implications of seeking to pay reparations?

Next week we will look into the arguments against reparations, and focus on why they have been more compelling and resulted in not paying reparations, so far…

Photo by Nicola Fioravanti on Unsplash