For the first time since the Reconstruction Era, reparations are a topic commanding serious discussion and debate, but there are many misconceptions floating around about the issues, according to reparations scholars Dr. Sandy Darity and A. Kristen Mullen.
“Today, Black reparations is in the public square,” Darity and Mullen wrote in an article for Rolling Stone magazine. “This is a propitious time to push forward toward Black reparations.”
Husband-and-wife team Darity and Mullen co-authored the book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.” In the article for Rolling Stone, they addressed 10 things people get about reparations.
1. Misconception: victims and perpetrators aren’t alive
Technically this is true, but in other ways it is incorrect. “Unfortunately, the ramifications of slavery persist because the nation never undertook a process of restitution. If anything, the U.S. has pursued policies that only have hardened the Black-white wealth divide. In addition, there are indirect living victims and beneficiaries of slavery and direct living victims and beneficiaries of the Jim Crow period,” Mullen and Darity pointed out.
In their book, “From Here To Equality,” they explained, “ …the failure to pay a debt in a timely fashion does not extinguish the obligation, particularly since the consequences of past injustices continue to be visited upon the descendants of the direct victims.”
2. Misconception: Only a few owned slaves so why should everyone pay?
Opponents of reparations frequently claim that less than 1 percent of the population owned slaves and someslave owners were black. Darity and Mullen dispute that. They point to the 1860 Census that revealed “that 13 percent of white Americans, including those in the Union states where slavery was prohibited by then, were members of families that owned at least one human being.”
3. Misconception: Africa owes a debt
Since some African nations participated in the slave trade, they are the ones to pay reparations. “Certainly, a separate case can be made that additional compensation is due from the countries whose traders sold their fellow Africans into slavery, but it is the specificity of the experience of Black people in the United States that supports the case for African American reparations,” argued Darity and Mullen.
4. Misconception: Other groups have suffered, why pay Black people?
Others have also received reparations. “When Japanese Americans registered their claim for restitution for their unjust incarceration during World War II, there were few voices saying that other groups’ claims should be considered beforehand or simultaneously. Nor should there have been,” wrote Mullen and Darity.
5. Misconception: Reparations are divisive
Some opponents to reparations complain that reparations are dividing a divided country even more.
The reverse might actually happen, Darity and Mullen said. “It is possible that redress for Black American descendants of U.S. slavery will result in a broad sense of unity and purpose that strengthens the republic and our democracy.”
6. Misconception: No price tag can be placed on oppression
It is difficult to “assign a monetary value to the full range of atrocities heaped upon African Americans, but that does not mean no effort should be made to achieve redress,” wrote Mullen and Darity.
7. Misconception: Impossible to say who deserves reparations
Not so. Mullen and Darity have laid out a proposal for who would be eligible.
“Actually, it is straightforward for claimants for Black reparations to establish eligibility under the following criteria: Eligible recipients should be Black Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the U.S. who were denied the promised 40 acres. They also must have self-identified as Black, African American, Afro-American or Negro for 12 years prior to the enactment of a reparations program or commission, whichever comes first,” they said.
8. Misconception: Local reparations will lead to federal reparations
Dr. Darity and Mullen said they are worried that the opposite might happen.
“We fear that piecemeal ‘reparations,’ whether at the state or municipal level, will become barriers to achieving a comprehensive national program of reparations,”they wrote. “When an intensive push is made for a federal project, opponents of reparations readily can charge that Congressional action is unnecessary because state and municipal programs already in place satisfy the Black reparations claim.”
9. Misconception: Debt paid by white lives lost during the Civil War
Black soldiers also fought and died in the Civil War, Darity and Mullen wrote.
“Furthermore, ending a harm, that is, ending slavery, is not the same as compensating the victims for the consequences of the harm. Following the logic of Malcolm X, the first is the equivalent of pulling the knife out from a stab wound, while the second is the equivalent of healing the wound. Both need to happen, but only the latter is reparations.”
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10. Misconception: Passage of HR 40 bill will lead to reparations
Darity, Mullen, and a slew of other reparations advocates have long argued that the proposed HR 40 reparations bill needs to be rewritten as it inadequately addresses all the necessary points of reparations.
“Regrettably, HR 40 has weaknesses of substance and structure. Its failure to establish any specific directives for the commission in designing its proposals for Congress is the central substantive flaw,” Mullen and Darity wrote.