Growing interest in reparations for African Americans has prompted a range of responses, from lawsuits against major corporations and a march in Washington to an anti-reparations ad campaign. As a result, the link between slavery and contemporary race relations is more potent and obvious than ever. Grassroots organizers, lawmakers, and distinguished academics have embraced the idea that reparations should be pursued vigorously in the courts and legislature. But others ask, Who should pay? And could reparations help heal the wounds of the past?
This comprehensive collection -- the only of its kind -- gathers together the seminal essays and key participants in the debate. Pro-reparations essays, including contributions by Congressman John Conyers Jr., Christopher Hitchens, and Professor Molefi Asante, are countered with arguments by Shelby Steele, Armstrong Williams, and John McWhorter, among others. Also featured are important documents, such as the First Congressional Reparations Bill of 1867 and the Dakar Declaration of 2001, as well as a new chapter on the current status and future direction of the movement.
Winbush, the director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University and an editorial board member of the Journal of Black Studies,oversees a gathering of scholars, attorneys and grassroots activists who offer a smorgasbord of compelling arguments, most of which explain why reparations are necessary for rectifying present damage done by the U.S.'s slave-holding past. For many of the contributors, reparations do not merely involve individual African-Americans receiving a cash payment. Rather, it's about recognizing that the legacies of slavery continue to be manifest in negative cultural attitudes and inferior socio-economic conditions. Law professor Robert Westley delves into the relatively fragile circumstances of middle-class African-Americans and compares them with the cases in which European Jews and Japanese-Americans received reparations after WWII. Winbush details the forgotten practice of "whitecapping," where black rural landowners were permanently driven off their land by whites in the early 2oth century. And journalist Molly Secours confronts her own white privilege. With passages that detail slaveholder atrocities and resulting governmental benefits, the text is generally sobering and direct, though activist Tim Wise gets points for metaphoric ingenuity by referring to racism's legacy as a type of "historical herpes" that's infected Americans. Winbush also includes three essays that are anti-reparations, but John McWhorter offers the group's only comprehensive rebuttal. Beyond pro or con, most of the pieces here are more deeply concerned with having its readers confront their notions of accountability by looking at our collective past and present.