Why we’re not ready for reparations

Jemar Tisby

Jemar Tisby
February 8, 2016

The problem with reparations for Christians is not that it goes too far, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

February 8, 2016

If we are going to talk about reparations, we should talk not just about african americans, but about native americans. Institutional racism still exists and the disadvantage embedded in our system is huge across economic strata. Maybe we should have a year of jubilee. What would fix the situation? If reparations were made, would it actually fix anything? Or would it only make things worse? H

Bill Wald
February 8, 2016

In modern times, the first ghetto was invented by Italians to contain Jews. Should reparations be paid to Jews by this century's Italy? There should be an international statute of limitations for historical events.

February 8, 2016

I'm in support of social reparations, in principle. But I question whether a mechanical, involuntary implementation undermines their effectiveness.

It seems to me that the very concept of reparation presupposes the self-conscious desire of the offender to repair--as far as is meaningfully possible--the damage he or she has unjustly inflicted upon another. Reparations should reflect both this desire as well as a concrete improvement of the adversity created by the offense, in other words. While most of us are squabbling over the latter concern--what would an effective reparation look like?--I think the bigger concern is with the former part. Where contrition and self-conscious desire to make amends are absent--that is, where reparations are involuntarily opposed on the offender by another--you're not really talking about reparations anymore. You're talking about punishment. And if that's what this is about, then the rhetoric should reflect that. For some, the sanctions would be perceived as reparations; for others, as punishment.

Likewise, for some individuals the action would be perceived as their way of taking ownership over and "righting" the wrongs committed by their forbears. And for others, it would feel like they were being unjustly punished for the sins of their fathers, as it were. In some ways, both groups are right.

But Jemar is also so very right: justice is about so much more than mere reparations. The biblical concept of shalom surely includes this concept, but it hardly stops there.

Lambert Sikkema
February 11, 2016

I would contend that the American Civil War was the crucible of justice by which the wickedness of slavery was ended. Abolitionists were instrumental to righting the wrong of slavery by ended it by all means necessary.

What the modern-day reparations movement is really all about is "income redistribution", which is not about justice but political power. It's rooted in an eye-for-eye view of justice. There is no end to the list of those who need to be paid back for something or other.

Poverty is rooted in bad politics and perverted religion. The cure for prejudice, racism, injustice and oppression is the gospel and the freedom and dignity it brings into the human experience.

Doug Vande Griend
February 11, 2016

The last thing Bernie Sanders can be accused of is being too practical, as this article does. That should suggest how bad an idea it is to advocate for the kind of reparations this article advocates.

Zacchaes decided to do justice to those he had done injustice to, and to have mercy using wealth that was his. Anyone can still do that, even the author of this article if he chooses.

But a national reparations proposal would neccarily wield the power of the sword to force an entire population, mostly immigrants frankly that come to the US post civil war and their descendants several generations into the future, to transfer their mortgage payment money to people who are, at best, almost impossible to define, none of whom are even within several generations of slavery.

Should Barak Obama receive a reparations payment? Condi Rice? Ben Carson? How about Tiger Woods? How about those who are great-great-grandchildren of slave owner and slave. Should their blood earn them guilt/penalty or victim/get-money status? A list of even more "difficult" candidates could go on for the length of several books.

The proposal of reparations to descendants of black slaves (note, not Irish slaves, or maybe them too?), by whatever percentage of descendancy, is well beyond impractical. Indeed, it would be the worse thing the US government could do for both reparations payors and payees ("helping more than hurting") since Lynden Johnson's Great Society initiative.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 12, 2016

In Reply to Doug Vande Griend (comment #27874)
Perhaps, Doug, but as Jemar writes at the start of his post, "Conversations about reparations usually begin and end with practicality." What do you make of his larger point, that "Christians are called to an even higher standard for reconciliation than the ones posed by those advocating for reparations."

Doug Vande Griend
February 12, 2016

I can certainly agree that Christians are, as you quote, Josh, "called to an even higher standard for reconciliation than the ones posed by those advocating for reparations," but there is an apples/oranges thing going on here. The reparations called for is from a government; reconciliation, as described in scripture, is almost always person to person, and even then rarely cross-generational, and especially not this many generations, and with this level of ambiguity.

So if a man burglarized my house, destroyed my property, and badly injured me, would it make sense for me to demand damages from his grandson, or more to the point of the reparations movement, from all the inhabitants of the town the criminal grandfather was from, including those that didn't even live in the town when my house was burglarized and I was maimed?

Would I be tempted to claim a right to damages from everyone in that town? Maybe, but if so it would be because of my own yet-to-be-dealt-with anger, not because it made any sense. In the same wsy, the national reparations sentiment is understandable, but no more sensible.

One of my neighbors (white) had the history of being raped by a black man. Her response was to hate, with deep passion, all black people. Understandable I suppose, but still not sensible.

National reparations for slavery is more harmful than just not making sense. It affirmatively assigns blame unjustly; it sterotypes, classifies, and, yes, segregates people by color; it urges thousands and millions of people to blame what is bad in their lives on others around them, most of whom had nothing to do with the hurt in their lives; it discourages dealing with hate and hurt, and encourages the stoking of both; it creates a political race for the class based (defined by color only) title of the biggest victim; it appropriates the injustice done to the ancestors of some for the sake of present lives, and then again defined purely by skin color.

Now if I were the present day owner of a Mississippi factory that was built on back of slavery, I would certainly conclude that my Christian faith demanded that I do something, a lot probably, to reconcile, regardless of any statute of limitations, but even then it would be hard to know exactly how. And I'm quite sure that sort of thing has happened, all the way from pre-civil war to the present. Has it happened enough? Probably not if evaluated in a macro kind of way, but to the extent it happens in individuals, in a micro kind of way, it is good, and yes even responsive to the call of scripture.

What if I and my ancestors have done nothing to promote slavery, or even have a history of working against it? There we are called to "love mercy," which potentially has no bounds. But that love of mercy is a separate consideration from the mandate to DO justice. Among other things, we can't undo injustice with injustice.

Jim Laney
February 23, 2016

In the biblical discussions of care given to widows, practical considerations are given. What I take from that is that practical considerations have their place and should not be rejected out of hand.

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