In June 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a compelling piece titled “The Case of Reparations” that was published in the Atlantic. Intended to be an eye-opener to the necessity of compensating the descendants of slaves, Coates ignited a national fervor for advocating the potentiality of an economic system that aims towards redistributing wealth in the America. Recently, extended conversation on reparations has reached political platforms and has been promoted through social activism. Though mentioning the subject is a sign of initial support, it is necessary for politicians to be more assertive in fighting for reparations to the black community. 

As the campaigns for the 2020 Democratic primary have begun, candidates such as Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro have endorsed the potential of adopting policies that would support an economic system for granting compensation. These candidates have released statements that merely skim the surface of the continued perpetuation of modern oppression and discrimination permitted by the United States government (which, through one angle, is evident through the prison-industrial complex). At the moment, these politicians are only alluding to our need to act upon alleviating the negative economic and social effects left due to slavery by mentioning that we need to begin a conversation on reparations. Though early in their campaigns, their lack of substantiation on the plaguing issue makes their agendas regarding compensations to the black community weak.  

It is understandable that this task is going to take a long time – slavery was legally abolished over a century and a half ago and yet it is still difficult for some Americans to discuss issues over race. It would explain the relative indifference to the estimate from Yale that on average, black families only accumulate $5.04 in wealth in comparison to white families mean of $100. Though this proves the evident racial wage-gap, likely due to the unfairness of the discriminatory economic system, some are dismissive of the notion that economic inequality is a standard issue in America. This places an emphasis on the necessity for politicians to be aggressive with their advocacy for reparations – the staggering statistics have been vehemently addressed for decades, yet some turn a blind-eye and refuse to consider promoting reformative policies. There is no doubt that the masses need to be informed on such a topic prior to determining their stance on the issue, but the conversation must transcend merely acknowledging that there is a problem with American inequalities and turn into a discussion outlining developed solutions.

In a country where financial deprivation on the behalf of minorities is normalized, the nature in which atonement for slavery is approached must be enacted without fear of being unconventional. This is not easy work, nor is it meant to be. Estimates concerning the cost of reparations could reach $14.2 trillion – with many finding such an extensive calculation impractical, politicians cannot be reluctant in their support for the cause. Candidates who do support reparations can begin by announcing their support for HR40, a bill proposed to the House by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. In the bill, Lee urges the consideration of a “national apology” for the inhuman nature of slavery and its lingering effects. By urging the consideration of this bill, hopeful candidates may be able to convince others to do so as well. 

The societal, economic and political implications of such a system are too immense for politicians to remain idle after announcing their support for challenging the generic American model of economic distributions. Perhaps if progressive candidates show more dedication towards the issue, the possibility of establishing new economic policies may transform into a more secure reality. As candidates continue to prepare for the 2020 presidential election, hopefully there will be more direct advocacy points regarding reparations. Frankly, with stagnant action comes a stagnant outcome – blacks in America have waited centuries for equality, and here is an assertive and necessary place to start.  

Photo: @missy via Flickr Creative Commons

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