The return of reparations, defined as the effort to address the wrongs done to blacks throughout U.S. history, to the political agenda might seem oddly timed because of the current preoccupation with turning back the clock in so many policy areas.
The issue of reparations for African-Americans is back in the news, with a number of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination endorsing the idea in one form or another. Much of the support involves endorsement of a bill creating a study commission that has been introduced unsuccessfully since 1989.
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There is good reason to focus on the economic side of this question, since economic disadvantage is at the core of how blacks have suffered under slavery, segregation and their legacies.
Memorably, the commission concluded that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal” and that “white racism” was the cause. The commission recommended massive programs to attack the impoverishment of urban ghettos and to improve the well-being of the black population.
Most non-black Americans oppose reparations and always have. But if it can be shown how and why blacks experience–and have long experienced–unfair treatment and outcomes, we might finally, as a nation, come to terms with our long national nightmare of racial inequality.
Despite the enthusiasm of some Democratic presidential hopefuls and the increased recent attention to the topic, there remain many doubters who would have to be persuaded before reparations could become reality.