Alonzo Weston

In the early phases of the 2020 presidential campaign, the conversation for reparations for black Americans whose ancestors suffered under slavery and other forms of racial injustice has resurfaced.

A few Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey and former HUD secretary Julian Castro, have declared their support for the measure.

Advocates for reparations say that it is restitution for slavery, Jim Crow and other discriminatory practices against black Americans. They point to these inequalities as reasons for current gaps between white and black Americans in income, housing, health care and incarceration rates.

A 2016 Marist poll found that 58 percent of black Americans were in favor of reparations while 81 percent of white Americans opposed it. A 2018 Data for Progress survey found reparations are unpopular among the general public.

One argument against reparations is that it will build walls between Americans. For some black activists, reparations seems an unreasonable task.

Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington, called reparations a “ridiculous idea.” He said a payout would demean the integrity of blacks and exploit white guilt.

“It is insulting to negroes to offer them reparations for past generations for suffering, as if the balance of an irreparable past could be set straight with a handout,” Rustin said as quoted in a BBC.com article.

I somewhat agree. How can you put a price on misery? What would be that price? If someone wants to give me money for just standing around being black, I’d be a fool not to take it. But before some of us stick our hand out, we must consider if cash in hand means that the debt is paid in full and there won’t be any more instances of inequality. Can we claim discrimination or police brutality ever again if the debt is supposedly paid in full? Will it let Klan members and other bigots have free run without guilt?

There have been reparations before. Japanese Americans unjustly forced into internment camps during World War II in America were paid reparations and given an apology in 1988. Germany has paid billions in reparations to Holocaust survivors since the end of that war.

“For the United States to do the same for the descendants of slaves would be to imply that afterward we will be going our separate ways, with no special obligations on either side,” argued Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle. “A one-time payment and then nothing more owed. That is the only conception of reparations that could possibly be politically viable. It would be utterly toxic, ultimately widening divisions that we’re trying to shrink.”

Cash in hand won’t end inequality and discrimination. Some people would spend the money foolishly, like Dave Chappelle satirized in a skit with a character who bought a truckload of menthol cigarettes with his reparations money. No equality gained there.

Many things can be righted by doing the right thing now. What’s done is done. What we can do now is combat inequality and discrimination as it exists today.

Equality will not be obtained by reparations. Equality comes by changing the discriminatory mindset through education and insuring equal opportunities for all people.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.