Barack Obama has never been too keen on reparations. In a 2016 interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates for Atlantic magazine, he explained why.
Asked by Coates about the wealth gap and reparations, Obama replied: “Theoretically, you can make, obviously, a powerful argument that centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination are the primary cause for all those gaps. That those were wrongs done to the Black community as a whole, and Black families specifically, and that in order to close that gap, a society has a moral obligation to make a large, aggressive investment, even if it’s not in the form of individual reparations checks, but in the form of a Marshall Plan, in order to close those gaps.
“It is easy to make that theoretical argument. But as a practical matter, it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence of historic wrongs, we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to make that right.
“You can look at examples like postwar Germany, where reparations were paid to Holocaust victims and families, but…they lost the war. Small population, finite amount of money that it was going to cost. Not multiple generations but people, in some cases, who are still alive, who can point to, “That was my house. Those were my paintings. Those were my mother’s family jewels.”
If you look at countries like South Africa, where you had a Black majority, there have been efforts to tax and help the Black majority, but it hasn’t come in the form of a formal reparations program. You have countries like India that have tried to help untouchables, with essentially affirmative-action programs, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the structure of their societies.
Obama added: “So the bottom line is that it’s hard to find a model in which you can practically administer and sustain political support for those kinds of efforts. And what makes America complicated as well is the degree to which this is not just a Black/white society, and it is becoming less so every year.”
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