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Senator Kamala Harris said she’s in favor of reparations for African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. Senator Cory Booker has advocated for baby bonds to help eliminate the wealth gap between black children and white children. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro told us he supports the bonds, too.
All of those politicians are running for president. And for the first time, it seems reparations has become a significant issue in the lead-up to a presidential race.
The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates recently told New York that he “never thought reparations would be on the Democratic Party’s discussion table.”
Coates made an influential argument for reparations in a 2014 essay, “The Case for Reparations.”
But what might reparations for slavery, and the ensuing legacy of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, look like?
Nearly five years after Coates wrote the essay, it’s still influencing the national conversation about reparations. But his main policy recommendation – for the House of Representatives to approve a measure to study the effects of slavery – has not happened.
To those who say they’re not responsible for the acts of slave owners hundreds of years ago, Coates writes:
One cannot escape the question by hand-waving at the past, disavowing the acts of one’s ancestors, nor by citing a recent date of ancestral immigration. The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte. A nation outlives its generations. We were not there when Washington crossed the Delaware, but Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s rendering has meaning to us. We were not there when Woodrow Wilson took us into World War I, but we are still paying out the pensions. If Thomas Jefferson’s genius matters, then so does his taking of Sally Hemings’s body. If George Washington crossing the Delaware matters, so must his ruthless pursuit of the runagate Oney Judge.
But reparations remain broadly unpopular — two-thirds of Americans oppose them, according to a 2016 Marist poll. A recent piece in Vanity Fair suggested “the conventional wisdom holds that there’s no faster way to lose an election than to propose a massive, direct racial transfer of wealth.”
Some have raised questions about who should get reparations.
Why not reparations for the millions of human beings killed by wars waged overtly and covertly by the US government in Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Panama, and so on?
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) March 21, 2019
And others have pushed back because they view reparations as a new form of injustice:
Here’s Jeff Jacoby, writing for The Boston Globe
To demand compensation for African-Americans who were never slaves is not a demand for individual justice but for racial group entitlement. To insist that white Americans in 2019, by virtue of their color, owe a debt for the slavery and repression of centuries past is to preach collective guilt.
We talk about the modern-day case for reparations.
Produced by Jonquilyn Hill.
- Sheila Jackson Lee Congresswoman, Texas' 18th District; @JacksonLeeTX18
- Danielle Kurtzleben Politics reporter, NPR; @titonka
- Kirsten Mullen Folklorist; art consultant; co-author of upcoming book, “From Here to Equality”
- Ken Woodley Author, "The Road to Healing: A Civil Rights Reparations Story in Prince Edward County, Virginia”
- James Antle Editor-in-chief, The American Conservative magazine; former politics editor, Washington Examiner; senior advisor, Defense Priorities; @jimantle
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