Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2004

Abstract

I have several comments to offer on the subject of reparations. Reparations is not a single idea. The forty acres and a mule that General Sherman promised to the slaves was the beginning of the idea of reparations in America, but not the end. Reparations is a multi-part idea; until we get that straight, we are vulnerable to the feeling that we are lost again. There are at least three arenas in which the reparations issue may be contested. One is the political arena. In the arena of legislation and political maneuvering, bills must be submitted for majoritarian acceptance. It is no surprise that the current reparations bill has not gained the majority acceptance necessary for success. Thus, success in the political arena requires personal and collective political activism. The second arena is legal. In this arena those wronged can bring lawsuits. There is a coalition currently working on these lawsuits. As a lawyer, I must confess that the legal arena is probably less promising than the political arena. Although several legal precedents serve as barriers standing in the way of success in the courts, lawsuits are not, however, without value. One must simply understand their limited value. Lawsuits create the platform for the third, most important and powerful arena: the intellectual challenge to the history of racism. This arena allows us to challenge, to document, to read alternative stories, and to give those stories to our children-stories that help reposition Blacks from economic parasites to economic contributors unfairly deprived of their wealth. The intellectual arena provides an important strategic difference. When we address tired debates such as whether affirmative action is reverse discrimination, a different perspective emerges; reparations offers that positioning. Reparations as an intellectual project is most promising because it engages us all and gives us an opportunity to challenge the idea of racism - to challenge it as an idea that governs the way goods are distributed in society.

Publication Citation

6 Afr.-Am. L. & Pol'y Rep. 21-25 (2004)