How The Idea Of Reparations For Black Americans Is Getting Closer To Reality

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Written by Ann Brown
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In this Feb. 23, 2019, photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the Story County Democrats’ annual soup supper fundraiser in Ames, Iowa. Several Democratic presidential candidates are embracing reparations for the descendants of slaves _ but not in the traditional sense. Over the past week, Harris, Elizabeth Warren and former Obama cabinet secretary Julian Castro spoke of the need for the U.S. government to reckon with and make up for slavery. But instead of backing the direct compensation for African-Americans, they are talking about more universal policies that would also benefit blacks. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It’s been a long road for the concept of reparations for Black Americans, but it seems like it is moving closer to reality. Many of the 2020 Democratic candidates have been discussing and in some cases endorsing the idea of reparation. The word is on the lips of everyone from Kamala Harris to Cory Booker to Elizabeth Warren.        

“Much of the support involves endorsement of a bill creating a study commission that has been introduced unsuccessfully since 1989,” Forbes reported.

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Reparations would be an effort to address the wrongs done to Blacks in America, though there has not been any agreement as to how this would materialize.

Reparations has been give before to other groups. “We know this in part from the experience of Japanese-Americans. Those who were ‘interned’ (read: incarcerated) as ‘enemy aliens’ during World War II waited more than 30 years before they received compensation for the wrong done to them. Congress created a commission of inquiry in 1980 to address the issues. On the basis of its recommendations, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided for $20,000 for each surviving internee as well as an official apology from the government. The legislation was designed specifically to ensure that other groups—African-Americans, in particular—would not see the law as a precedent,” Forbes reported.

The problem is slavery was so long ago that it would be difficult to find the descendants of all those who were enslaved.

Back in the late 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson empaneled the Kerner Commission following a number of major urban riots. The commission concluded: “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. But the recommendations got caught in the meat-grinder of presidential politics and Johnson, who had done so much to improve the situation of blacks up till that point, essentially ignored the findings. And since the Kerner Commission, no such major official effort has been mounted to understand and respond to the inequalities suffered by Black Americans,” Forbes reported.

Today, reparations face similar obstacles as most non-Black Americans still oppose reparations.

Still, there might be hope.

“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. A commission of inquiry into historic inequalities is likely the best and most politically plausible way to address them. It worked for the Japanese-Americans, and perhaps it will for African-Americans as well,” Forbes reported.