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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let's Not Be Fatalistic About Prospects for Reparations

Posted by Ansel Herz on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 9:44 AM

If you haven't read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Case for Reparations, do that. Or watch this:

Here's the question, though, for any supporter of reparations: How do we make it happen? As Coates points out in his article, a bill to establish a reparations commission by progressive stalwart John Conyers has gone nowhere, for decades. And in the interview, he seems pessimistic that reparations will happen any time soon, given how rare it is in history for nations to reckon with their foundational sins and correct them. The country's first black president is on record as opposing them.

However, there's reason to think this might be the right historical moment. Namely, the unprecedented and unanimous call by the heads of fifteen of our neighbors to the immediate south, for reparations.

Don Rojas at The Nation reports:

It was almost surreal, improbable just a few years ago: a room filled with presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers from the fifteen-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM), all listening with rapt attention, several nodding in agreement, as Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, one of the region’s most distinguished academics, and perhaps the Caribbean’s most prominent public intellectual, gave a riveting report on the recent work of CARICOM’s Reparations Commission, which he leads...

There was applause at the end of the professor’s report. Not a single dissenting voice was heard from a group of leaders whose politics ranged from conservative through liberal to progressive. The CARICOM heads of government then proceeded to unanimously adopt a ten-point program for reparatory justice for the region.

This breakthrough plan calls for a formal apology for slavery, debt cancellation from former colonizers and reparation payments to repair the persisting “psychological trauma” from the days of plantation slavery.

Racial injustice is intricately entwined with economic inequality, which President Obama has called a defining challenge, Rojas points out. "The so-called pragmatists who argue that the question of reparations is impractical, unachievable, utopian, a waste of time and energy," he says, "are those who are ignorant of the moral power of a cause whose time has come."

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