Discharging A Debt

By Ellis Cose

of the day, what determines whether or not we get paid is whether there is a political consensus for [the government] to pay it. There is a huge distance between black and white Americans when it comes to the issue of whether there should be reparations.”

The legal case for reparations by survivors of some 120,000 Japanese Americans arrested in 1942 during World War II and held in concentration camps under the guise of national interest was a much easier argument for reparations to win. It was a small group, dealing with people who were still alive.

“But even when you put that aside, white folks get upset about the issue of reparations for black folks.”

Cose explains that reparations for smaller, lesser-known atrocities will have more of a legal leg to stand on than reparations for something as broad as slavery. For instance, the 1921 race riots of Tulsa, Oklahoma, would be an easier case to win (see Once Upon A Time on Wall Street, July 2002); it’s much more comparable to the Japanese American case. In both cases, people were still alive; there were clear property claims; and the government — if they didn’t cause the riots — certainly aided and abetted the riots.

So don’t look to the government as the place to debate reparations. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has been trying to initiate a congressional study on the issue for years.

“And he isn’t asking for reparations; he’s asking for a study,” Cose adds. “Reparations is about repair, and repair is only necessary if you have damages that still exist.”

Today, the damage of slavery still exists. “Just look at the economic disparity, the lack of access to education, and the greater likelihood of black men going to prison. These are current issues, and ultimately the debate on reparations is going to take place regarding how to deal with these current issues. Slavery is just a background. At some point, we will either deal with some of these issues or we’re going to implode as a society.”
– Kenneth Meeks

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