U.S. Cities and States are Discussing Reparations for Black Americans. Here’s What’s KeyBreaking News
tags: slavery, racism, African American history, reparations
As Black Lives Matter protests have surged across the United States, several cities and at least one state have taken significant steps toward offering reparations for slavery and its legacy of systemic racism, including Evanston, Ill.; Asheville, N.C.; Burlington, Vt.; Providence, R.I.; and California. Discussions about U.S. reparations for Black people have been underway for years, but the momentum “feels different this time,” as New York Times journalist (and “1619 Project” leader) Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in June.
These efforts are likely to struggle with the challenges that have hindered reparations programs globally for decades. In particular, the line can blur between social policies offered to people because they are in need — or simply because they are citizens — and reparations for those whose rights have been violated. Such blurring reduces the potency of reparation as a material and symbolic act of justice.
Reparation or relief?
Reparations programs generally fall into two categories: judicial reparations, ordered by a court; and administrative reparations, provided by a government through legislation. Reparation and relief blur far more easily in the latter.
As the United Nations outlined in its 2005 Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, reparation means more than financial compensation. Reparations measures are intended to be an act of justice that not only addresses harm but also recognizes that recipients’ rights were violated. Along with several key differences, this separates reparation from social policies like welfare and from international humanitarian assistance and development aid.
Relief, assistance and aid are clearly important in contexts where poverty, inequality and violence are linked. Scholars and practitioners have argued for blended approaches. But it’s problematic when the two are indistinguishable or when relief replaces reparation. Countries where the line has blurred, all through administrative programs, include South Africa, Indonesia, Nepal, Peru and Colombia.
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