Reparations: The Final Destination for White Guilt

The injustices and horrors that were common place in the antebellum United States may live for some only as they are presented in history books but for others the lingering effects from slavery are felt in everyday life. So, how do we, as a nation, begin to undo the wrongs that were committed? Many argue that reparations would be an official way for white America to recognize their wrongs and allow for closure in the African American and Black communities to begin while providing resources that have traditionally been denied to people of color. I agree that reparations would do all of these things but they would also carry a host of unintended consequences that would devastate progress within the Civil Rights Movement.

1. How do you quantify the impact of centuries of enslavement?
The notion that our government, which is disproportionately white and does not have the best track record of looking out for racial/ethnic minorities, would be the ones to decide how much money would go to repaying for the years of inequality seems like it won’t work out too well. Historically, our governing bodies have been unable to view racial situations objectively and I do not believe paying reparations will be a pivotal moment for them.
2. Reparations are seen as an apology for the past, not a promise for the future.
The wealth disparities between Black and white communities are so vast and deep that reparations don’t stand a chance to create a society that is rich in both equality and equity. This money could be used for substantial reforms in our various social safety net programs, providing free and universal daycare, improving public schools and creating publics works projects that would be all specifically targeted to employ marginalized peoples. We don’t need reparations, we need a revolution in order to create substantial and sustainable systemic change.
3. Change does not happen in laws or legislation.
Change happens in the hearts and minds of people and paying reparations, I fear, will only reinforce the same narrative that white America is constantly telling itself: saying sorry is enough. I think that for much of white America once a reparation is paid the impacts of centuries of oppression will disregarded. No longer would they tolerate a critical eye being given to race issues because the “payment has already been made, the work is over, the playing fields are officially even.”
4. Reparations allow for modern day white Americans to be exempt from any accusation of being a racist.
The idea behind reparations is to pay for someone else’s wrong doings not your own. Because reparations would seem to mark an official end to a white supremacy system people are exempt from having to challenge themselves to continue to grow from the past.
5. Logistically it is impossible to decide who would receive a payment or not.
Even if their ancestors were not enslaved directly every Black or Brown body in America today feels the repercussions of everything from enslavement to the war on drugs. By not paying reparations to all oppressed people of color we would be discounting the oppression and marginalization of today, again providing America with a way to deny modern day injustices.

I believe that racism is truly a white person problem and therefore the solution needs to come from a place of white understanding, acceptance, and growth. I fear that reparations will hinder our growth as a nation and will not serve to educate but to agitate. In theory, I agree that reparations are a logical step in the right direction but in practice is white America is prepared either individually or structurally to fully embrace the full meaning reparations?