A Personal Reflection on The Case for Reparations

“Reducing American poverty and ending white supremacy are not the same.” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent article in The Atlantic not only draws attention to the national debate on reparations for slavery, but invokes the centrality of white supremacy as the backbone of wealth inequality in the US.

As Caribbean nations prepare to sue European nations for their history of slavery and genocide, we in RG are called to examine the concept of reparations in our work.

I am relatively new to the RG community, and I currently work as a summer intern. Although I am still learning about the many spokes in this community, I strongly believe that the concept of reparations should play a strong and central role in our work.

I don’t yet know the exact historical details of how my family gained access to wealth, but I do know that as a white American Jew, my ancestors were granted better opportunities than were black Americans, and my present-day family still has dramatically more access to resources than do the descendants of those who were forced to build this country.

What’s so important about naming wealth redistribution as reparations for slavery, colonization, and genocide? There are many different possible answers, and many people who would disagree with this idea. I want to ask why do tax debates, Occupy Wall Street rhetoric, Democratic Party lines, and the nonprofit social justice sphere not use this historical framework? This makes them weaker, not stronger for being inclusive of white people who prefer not to dwell on uncomfortable histories.

While no amount of money or count of resources could ever repay the damage done from genocide, colonization, and slavery past or present, what would it look like for white, wealthy people to support and advocate for reparations and restitution? If Germany has indeed made attempts at reparations for the German Holocaust, surely the wealthiest nation on the map has the ability and obligation to at least pursue Rep. Conyer’s proposed study of the effects of slavery.

As someone wise in the RG community once told me, none of the wealth that we each hold individually belongs to us. Much of what comprises the resources of white Americans, whether that resides in a house, land, or skills, were produced and made possible by people who, if not for colonialism and slavery, could have been our partners instead of our servants. How much more would we all have in trust, safety, and knowledge if our present didn’t have to look so much like the past?