Robin Boylorn on Reparations, Part 1
In an interview on Jemele Hill’s Unbothered podcast, democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said that the call for reparations is complicated - and it is.
Reparations have been recently rekindled in the public sphere, showing up in presidential debates, congressional hearings, and newscasts. And while there has been a peak in interest, there is a lot of misinformation about the what, why, and how of reparations. In the Reparations Now Toolkit, the Movement for Black Lives defines reparations by what they are not. A reparation is not, for example, apologizing without accountability, or contributing to a black person’s Go Fund Me page. And despite what some people may think, Barack Obama was not a reparation.
A reparation is restitution, an atonement—it is an apology and an acknowledgment, it is an action to rectify wrongdoing. And while a reparation might include financial compensation, that compensation cannot be attributed to an individual.
So Senator Harris was right, it’s complicated.
One of the arguments against reparations is that slavery ended 150 years ago. But as scholars and historians have explained, the residue and legacy of slavery continues to reverberate in the lives of black Americans.
Enslavement was followed by generations of systemic discrimination in the form of educational inequity, Jim Crow, voter suppression, redlining, unemployment, and mass incarceration.
Black Americans are owed policy reparations that address institutionalized oppression and anti-black racism historically, presently, and in the future, which is why the HR 40 bill is so important. The bill proposes a study to identify options and potential outcomes. We need to focus on structural outcomes, because they’ll lead to financial benefits, even if not in our lifetime.
While people often associate reparations with financial compensation, history shows us that financial awards are often insufficient, resulting in small settlements that don’t have lasting impact, but if policies are put in place to shift the effects of poverty, miseducation, over-incarceration, and a lack of healthcare, they could have generational impacts. This could mean opportunities like loan forgiveness, appreciating homeownership, free college tuition, and living wages for the descendants of slaves. And while the immediate advantage would be directed at African Americans, these policies would eventually benefit all Americans by making life better and more equitable overall.
Because if and when black people are positioned to succeed, all people will be positioned to succeed.
Now that I’ve discussed the long term possibilities for reparations, in the next segment I’ll reflect on some short term outcomes.
I’m Robin Boylorn. Until next time, keep it crunk!
Written by Robin Boylorn
Edited by Brittany Young