Pro: Reparations for Slavery

Black author and activist bell hooks writes in her seminal collection of essays “Killing Rage: Ending Racism” that “our freedom is sweet. It will be sweeter when we are all free.” When considering the state of black people in contemporary American society, it is essential to establish that they are, in large part, not free. To be black in America is to be bound to the legacy of slavery, one that echoes insidiously in our collective consciousness and manifests itself in virtually every facet of American life. Reparations for slavery — compensation of some sort given to the descendants of slaves — would work to formally acknowledge the existence of this legacy in the hope of one day truly eradicating it.
To fully understand the logic behind reparations, one must first recognize the systemic oppression and institutional racism upon which this country is built and from which those in power have greatly benefitted and continue to benefit. We are born into an inherently uneven playing field. Every generation of Americans shoulders the weight of a shared history. For black people, this means accepting not only the personal burden of an ancestry brutalized and dehumanized at the hands of the U.S. government, but also the innumerable burdens of the systems of oppression still in place in the United States — the legal, political and economic institutions that are and have been embedded with white hegemony and cultural prejudice for hundreds of years. Reparations would play a significant role in dismantling these systems and unambiguously addressing the lingering, omnipresent history of inequity in this country. The reason reparations come into play is twofold; firstly to compensate — monetarily or otherwise — for the immeasurable historical disadvantages slavery and its legacy have precipitated, and secondly to hold the U.S. government accountable for its substantial role in the oppression of black people, both as slaves and as free humans.
The specifics of the compensatory end are anything but concrete. Some proponents argue that land reparations that were originally issued to black people after the Civil War and never carried out should now be reissued as grants to descendants of slaves. Others are pushing for a more comprehensive approach, one that includes reparations in the form of land, ownership of companies, and stock.
The logistics of reparations — assigning a monetary value to the tragedy of slavery — are admittedly messy. However, what is truly important is that a national conversation is sparked, with the fact that black oppression lingers to this day as an accepted given, not as a contentious point that people of color have to reestablish in every debate had over race. The only way contemporary institutional and ideological racism will be widely acknowledged in mainstream America — and thus the only way for a healthy and productive nationwide dialogue to begin — is for the U.S. government to formally acknowledge its part in the subjugation of black Americans for the past 300 years. The U.S. government has avoided officially apologizing for the greatest stain on this country’s history for far too long and has thus unconsciously — or perhaps consciously — invalidated the suffering and heritable anguish of each generation of black Americans.
Our country must unequivocally address the parts of its past it has long ignored and let fester in the streets of the inner city, in the halls of legal and political institutions and in the minds and hearts of everyday Americans.