What Reparations Can Look LikeRoundup
tags: slavery, African American history, reparations
Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History and the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
Many people in the United States wonder, why reparations? I did not own slaves, and maybe my family didn’t own slaves, and I love everyone. Today is part of that answer. — Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton
At Hard Histories, our work focuses on recovering those facets of our past at Johns Hopkins that are difficult to admit, forgotten by neglect and by design, and suppressed in the interest of burnishing our image. We term this work reckoning, aiming to be part of efforts that looks unflinchingly at where we’ve come from and how we’ve arrived here.
Many of you have asked us what comes next: Shouldn’t reconciliation, repair, and reparations follow on the heels of what we learn about how our present was built upon racism and the resulting injustices. While our work doesn’t expressly craft those solutions, we know that our community needs to meaningfully act in the interest of a future that is equitable, transformative, and just.
We’ve been following the reparations project developed by the Maryland Diocese of the Episcopal Church. And just two weeks ago, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton announced the first cash awards (six of them at $30,000 each) being paid to “nonprofits,” church-affiliated initiatives and youth centers” committed to the well-being of Black children and their families.
Reactions to announcement of the grants have been varied, with some praising the church for taking this substantive step forward with high expectations for the justice that a $1 million fund can make possible. Others note that the church began this work years ago now, and suggest that these grants are too little and perhaps too late. (Yes, we do read the comment section!)
Whatever its merits, the approach of Maryland’s Episcopal Church provides one example of how institutions can learn their own history and then act to atone for it. Other examples include the plan for truth and reconciliation at Georgetown University and Evanston, Illinois’s $10 million fund which aims to make reparations for the city’s historic housing discrimination. Reparations for slavery and discrimination are the subject of a global discussion. Among the most recent advocates to place the issue on the world stage was the New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, who spoke to the United Nation’s General Assembly on reparations for slavery this spring.