Reparations would be more symbolic than anything else, according to Eizenstat. “A large part of the argument for reparations is the symbolic importance of an admission of wrongdoing. Public apologies can be powerful tools for reconciliation,” he wrote in a Politic column.
The Japanese American reparations legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan included a national apology. Bill Clinton formally apologized on behalf of the U.S. government for experiments on Black men with syphilis at the Tuskegee Institute. Nine states, including former confederate states Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia, have formally apologized for slavery. The U.S. House and Senate passed bipartisan resolutions of apology in 2008 and 2009 but failed to reconcile the two versions and send them to the president. “No U.S. president has ever formally apologized for slavery. It is time for another effort,” Eizenstat wrote in Politico.
He suggests the U.S. form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modeled on South Africa — a mandate from President Nelson Mandela that included neither financial compensation for apartheid nor punitive measures against white perpetrators. Instead, its purpose, Mandela said, was “to help reconcile and build our nation” — to heal and not to divide.
“We need a similar commission in the U.S. to examine slavery and racial discrimination to expose hidden truths, past and present, not for divisive individual or group compensation,” Eizenstat wrote.
He concluded: “It’s time for the country to get serious about making up for that mistake—and for the decades of mistakes and discrimination that followed. But we should pick a way forward that avoids sending the country into a divisive, complicated, contentious process that could bog down our politics for decades.”
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