Brookings Institution: Only 19 Percent Of White Americans Support Financial Reparations, Most Favor Symbolism

Brookings Institution: Only 19 Percent Of White Americans Support Financial Reparations, Most Favor Symbolism


Only 19 Percent Of White Americans Support Financial Reparations, Most Favor Symbolism. Image: Hand-colored woodcut of a 19th-century illustration of Africans brought into Virginia Colony as slaves in the 1600s. (North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images)

The discussion of reparations seems to finally be taking place across the country as Black voters publicly press their elected representatives to push the issue in Washington, D.C., and various cities move forward with their own reparations initiatives. But still, the concept of providing reparations to the Black descendants of slavery has yet to gain the support of white America, according to a recently published study by the Brookings Institution.

The study, published on Dec. 8, 2021, found that white Americans favored symbolic gestures as a form of reparations over a monetary solution. Titled “How we repair it: White Americans’ attitudes toward reparations,” the report was written by Ashley V. Reichelmann, an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Tech and associate director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, and Matthew O. Hunt, professor of sociology at Northeastern University.

Researchers asked the question, “How do we repair the harm – economic, physical, and psychological — caused to Black lives by slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, police brutality, and other manifestations of systemic racism?“    

In the last seven years, not much has changed as far as the number of whites who support monetary reparations. In 2014, 68 percent of those polled opposed such payments, while 15 percent supported them (17 percent were unsure).

More recent polling in 2020 and 2021 suggests generally similar results. In 2020, 63 percent of those polled opposed cash payments (31 percent supported; 6 percent had no opinion), while in 2021, 62 percent opposed (38 percent supported). Only 19.47 percent of whites polled supported cash payments.

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In the 2014 poll, 79 percent of white Americans opposed cash payments as a form of reparations (6 percent supported; 15 percent were unsure). But only 19 percent of Black Americans were opposed (59 percent supported and 22 percent were unsure).  

In the 2021 poll, 72 percent of white Americans opposed this form of reparation (28 percent supported), while only 14 percent of Black Americans did (86 percent supported).  

Some white Americans who opposed monetary reparations said they did so because it would be difficult to determine the monetary value of the impact of slavery as well as who should receive financial repair. Other reasons included the “denial of any ongoing legacy of slavery and corresponding concerns about the undeserving nature of prospective recipients of reparations,” the report stated.

Instead, white respondents favored reparations in a symbolic form, such as an apology or a memorial.

“Not surprisingly, white Americans are most supportive of symbolic actions and most opposed to cash payments,” wrote the study’s authors. “Regarding the factors structuring opposition, we found that white Americans who are older, more conservative, and who view race relations as unimportant, are most opposed to the range of reparative policies we examine.”

Brookings is a think tank and research group founded in 1916 that conducts research in social sciences, primarily in economics, metropolitan policy, governance, foreign policy, global economy, and economic development.

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