The Controversial Topic of African American Reparations Throughout the History of the United States

Reparations hashavehas have been a hot topic in America for many years, especially for minorities who have been brutalized, forced relocatsavedensl,saved, etc. Whether that be reparations for the Japanese for the past injustice of keeping them in internment camps back in 1942 under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt or the Great Sioux Nation being rewarded a reparation settlement for land that was once illegally appropriated back in 1877. Other minorities have been granted some form of reparations from the U.S. government for an inhumane injustice from the past that still affects them today.

African Americans however, have not been granted a formal form of reparation from the U.S. government for the many years of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc. Just like the minorities previously mentioned who have been granted formal reparations for past injustices, African Americans should be granted formal reparations as well from the U.S for the many years of constant oppression and brutalization.

A minority group that has been oppressed for centuries and seeks to have their struggles acknowledged by the very government or entity that they are under often calls for reparations so that they can receive proper compensation and apology from their oppressors: “To commit human injustice is to violate or suppress people’s rights or fundamental freedoms as recognized by international law.

Unfortunately, many instances of injustice can be tied to policies either condoned or consciously chosen by active governments. These state-sponsored human rights violations include genocide, slavery, torture, arbitrary detention, rape, and systematic discrimination.

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Such violations cause serious damage to the physical and moral integrity of individuals and the very existence of groups, communities, and peoples.

Although these harms are often irreparable, international and national courts have required states to pay victims compensation for both material and psychological injury sustained as a direct result of their actions or policies. This serves both to acknowledge the violation and to sanction the state in question. A society that once tolerated human rights abuses must come to terms with the past, accept responsibility, and try to make amends.”(1) To have past oppressions acknowledged and compensated for is the prime reason for the oppressed to receive reparations. Many other minorities like the Japanese and Native Americans have been granted some form of reparations from the U.S. government for internments camps, forced relocations, and appropriated land as stated, “Since the 1970s, the United States has seen a growing number of large settlements to people who have suffered from prejudice and racism.

In 1980, the Great Sioux Nation was awarded a reparations settlement stemming from a 1922 lawsuit over tribal lands that had been illegally appropriated in 1877. By 2002, this settlement, held in trust by the U.S. government, was valued at $712.4 million….. In 1999, a federal court settlement was approved that provided $1.6 billion in reparations to interned Japanese Americans and their heirs for the placing of Japanese people in U.S. concentration camps during World War II. The reparations to Japanese Americans came after decades of petitioning for an apology and reimbursement to Japanese Americans for their treatment during World War II. In 1988, Congress and President Ronald Reagan signed an official apology for the mass internment.”(2) Meanwhile, African Americans are either given a program from the U.S. government as a poor attempt to brush off the past injustices made to them and their ancestors, or nothing is given at all to make amends. “On the other hand, many opponents argue that because racial discrimination is currently illegal, there is no need for financial remuneration for past crimes. Opponents also argue that race-focused policy solutions are too divisive. John H. McWhorter of the conservative Manhattan Institute argues that social programs such as welfare and affirmative action were all the reparations necessary for any past injustices against African-Americans. Finally, about historic racial acts (particularly slavery) opponents argue that if neither the victims nor the oppressors are still currently alive, reparations for such a dated crime would be unjust.” (2) Racial discrimination may be illegal but yet it still happens regardless and is even brushed under the rug for the corporation to save face in the public eye. Having race focraceaboutforce-focuses given to a minority who hasn’t been on the same level playing field isn’t ‘too divisive since America in itself has always been divisive when it comes to race when looking back at slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc. “The United States of America, “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” began as a slave society. What can rightly be called the “original sin” slavery has left an indelible imprint on our nation’s soul. A terrible price had to be paid, in a tragic, calamitous civil war, before this new democracy could be rid of that most undemocratic institution.”(3) Social programs like welfare and affirmative action are only band-aids to a deep 240+ year wound.

The 240+-year-old wound of slavery and many other racists and divisive ideologies/policies has had a very profound effect on African Americans today like the effects of racism, colorism, mass incarceration, etc. Colorism, for one, is a remnant of slavery that still gravely affects African Americans up to this very day. “Lighter-skinned people of color enjoy substantial privileges that are still unattainable to their darker-skinned brothers and sisters. themselves gaveL themselves gave Light-skinned-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity”(4) Racism and colorism both work hand in hand to disadvantage and oppress those who aren’t white or light-skinned. The two systems are connected:

“How does colorism operate? Systems of racial discrimination operate on at least two levels: race and color. The first system of discrimination is the level of racial category, (i.e. black, Asian, Latino, etc.). Regardless of physical appearance, African Americans of all skin tones are subject to certain kinds of discrimination, denigration, and second-class citizenship, simply because they are African American. Racism in this form is systemic and has both ideological and material consequences. The second system of discrimination, what I am calling colorism, is at the level of skin tone: darker skin or lighter skin. Although all blacks experience discrimination as blacks, the intensity of that discrimination, the frequency, and the outcomes of that discrimination will differ dramatically by skin tone. Darker-skinned African Americans may earn less money than lighter-skinned African Americans, although both earn less than whites. These two systems of discrimination (race and color) work in concert. The two systems are distinct but inextricably connected… Many people are unaware of their preferences for lighter skin because that dominant aesthetic is so deeply ingrained in our culture. In the USA, for example, we are bombarded with images of white and light skin and Anglo facial features. White beauty is the standard and the ideal (Kilbourne 1999)… The maintenance of white supremacy (aesthetic, ideological, and material) is predicated on the notion that dark skin represents savagery, irrationality, ugliness, and inferiority. White skin, and, thus, whiteness itself, is defined by the opposite: civility, rationality, beauty, and superiority. These contrasting definitions are the foundation for colorism.”(4)

Racism and colorism for African-Americans stemmed from slavery. When white racism stops in our contemporary society, then colorism will also diminish. “A similar color hierarchy developed in the USA during slavery and afterward. Slave owners typically used skin tone as a dimension of hierarchy on the plantation (Horowitz 1973). White slave owners sometimes gave lighter-skinned African slaves some additional privileges, such as working in the house as opposed to the fields, the occasional opportunity to learn to read, and the rare chance for manumission (Davis 1991). During slavery, a small, but elite class of freedmen was established. These disproportionately light-skinned men and women were early business leaders, clergy, teachers, and artisans, who became economic and community leaders in the early African American community… Racism is a larger, systemic, social process and colorism is one manifestation of it. Discussing colorism is nodistractionion’ from the important issue of racial discriminatiUnderstandingding colorism helps us better understand how racism works in our contemporary society. Colorism is one manifestation of a larger ‘racial project that communicates meaning and status about race in the USA…As long as the structure of white racism remains intact, colorism will continue to operate.”(4)

Mass incarceration also negatively affects African Americans and is a remnant of slavery and Jim Crow as stateroom Ohio professor and author Michelle Alexandeinom her book ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of colorblindness: “I thought my job as rights stillhtsstill are lawyer was to join with allies of racial progress to resist attacks on affirmative action and to eliminate the vestiges of Jim Crow segregation, including our still separate and unequal system of education. I understood the problems plaguing communities of color, including problems associated with crime and rising incarceration rates, to be a function of poverty and lack of access to quality education—the continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow…Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States ht, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow. Once they [people who were incarcerated) are released, they are often denied the right, excluded from juries, and relegated to a racially segregated and subordinated existence… They are legally denied the ability to obtain employment, housing, and public benefits—much as African Americans were once forced into segregated, second-class citizenship in the Jim Crow era.”(5)

The War on Drugs also contributed to the negative stereotyping and mass incarceration of African Americans as stated below: “Most people assume the War on Drugs was launched in response to the crisis caused by crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods. This view holds that the racial disparities in drug convictions and sentences, as well as the rapid explosion of the prison population, reflect nothing more than the government’s zealous—but benign—efforts to address rampant drug crime in poor, minority neighborhoods. This view, while understandable, given the sensational media coverage of crack in the 1980s and 1990s, is simply wrong….. President Ronald Reagan officially announced the current drug war in 1982, before crack became an issue in the media or the crisis in poor black neighborhoods. A few years after the drug war was declared, crack began to spread rapidly in the poor black neighborhoods of Los Angeles and later emerged in cities across the country…Almost overnight, the media was saturated with images of black “crack whores”, “crack dealers”, and “crack babies”— images that seemed to confirm the worst negative racial stereotypes about impoverished inner-city residents. The media bonanza surrounding the new “demon drug” helped to catapult the War on Drugs from an ambitious federal policy to an actual war.”(5)

This in turn, drastically increased the U.S.’s incarceration rate immensely: “The impact of the drug war has been astounding. In less than thirty years, the U.S. penal population exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. The racial dimension is the most striking feature. No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black populations than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.”

Slavery has had a tremendous and devastating effect on Africans and their descendants. Centuries of constant brutalization and injustice still ar themselves gave prominent to this day in America: “Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still, we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”(6)

In the South, slave reparations were given but not to the slaves. Reparations wally gavgiven givento the slave-owners instead: “After the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the U.S., London reimbursed southern planters more than a million dollars for having encouraged their slaves to run away in wartime. Within the United Kingdom, the British government also paid a small fortune to British slave owners, including the ancestors of Britain’s current Prime Minister, David Cameron, to compensate for abolition (which Adam Hochschild calculated in his 2005 book ‘Bury the Chains’ to be “an amount equal to roughly 40 percent of the national budget then and to about $2.2 billion today”)…Advocates of reparations — made to the descendants of enslaved peoples, not to their owners — tend to calculate the amount due based on the negative impact of slavery. They want to redress either unpaid wages during the slave period or injustices that took place after formal abolition (including debt servitude and exclusion from the benefits extended to the white working-class by the New Deal). According to one estimate(7), for instance, 222,505,049 hours of forced labor were performed by slaves between 1619 and 1865, when slavery was ended. Compounded at interest and calculated in today’s currency, this adds up to trillions of dollars. But back pay is, in reality, the least of it.

The modern world owes its very existence to slavery.”(8) Yet, many still believe that the downfall of African Americans and their communities is due to their failures instead of the policies and circumstances that got them there in the first place: “…The South paid no reparations to blacks for the consequences of state-supported segregation and racial underdevelopment…..As it is, Americans have yet to come to grips with the past racial crimes of such states as Mississippi and South Carolina, yet when contemporary commentators discuss the origins of contemporary urban black poverty, they make it appear as though blacks invented the poverty while living in the South.”(9) Many people feel that African Americans have already gotten the reparations they asked for.

People who have this opinion usually hold conservative views in America. They typically state that African Americans have social programs from the government like affirmative action and welfare but these programs are just scratching the surface of remedying the damage done by past injustices. People who hold this view also typically blame African Americans or derail the conversation about obvious inequalities in America and discuss black-on-black crime, black culture, etc.: “Affirmative action, however prudently employed, can never be anything more than a marginal instrument for addressing the nation’s unfinished racial business… They make a totem of ignoring race, even as the social isolation of the urban black poor reveals how important “color” continues to be in American society. The argument about the legality of the government’s use of race only scratches the surface, because it fails to deal with the manifest significance of race in the private lives of Americans, black and white… The problem with talking about black culture, black crime, and black illegitimacy, as explanatory categories in the hands of the morally obtuse, is that it becomes an exculpatory device as a way of avoiding a discussion of mutual obligation. It is a distressing fact about contemporary American politics that simply to make this point is to risk being dismissed as an apologist for the inexcusable behavior of the poor… The conservatives deny this. They rationalize the nasty, brutish, and short lives of a sizable minority of the black population as reflecting blacks’ deficiencies, rather than revealing any flaw in “our way of life.” Nowhere is the ideological character of this stance more clearly revealed than in the conservatives’ celebration of immigrant success, over and against native black failure. That nonwhite immigrants succeed is taken as a vindication of the system; that blacks fail is said to be due entirely to their inadequacies.

This is obscenely ahistorical.”(3) Affirmative action and other social programs that the government gives aren’t enough for reparations toward African Americans. The working group chairman of the Philippines, Robert A. Sunga has stated that America can start by using several models of giving reparations which include “elements of apology” and a form of “debt relief” to the descendants of enslaved people. (gavegaGavave Gav prominent themselves 10) The UN has a list of various norms in giving minority groups/oppressed groups proper reparations: Victims should be informed of their rights in seeking redress.

Offenders or third parties should make fair restitution to victims or their families. This includes “the return of property or payment for the harm or loss suffered, reimbursement of expenses incurred as a result of victimization, the provision of services, and the restoration of rights.

When compensation is not fully available from the direct offender, states should endeavor to provide financial compensation. Victims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological, and social assistance,  and support. (1) Unfortunately, despite the many calls for reparations since the 19th century, African Americans still never received any kind of formal apology or formal reparations from the U.S. government. African Americans should receive proper and formal reparations from the U.S. government like other minorities/oppressed groups have. But time and time again, when reparations were being discussed and were about to be given to Afro-Americans, it either gets taken away, vetoed, or forgotten about. As Martin Luther King said before, “There has never been a solid, unified,d and determined thrust to make justice a reality for Afro-Americans.”(2)

Works Cited

  1. Malaise, Michelle. “Compensation And Reparations | Beyond Intractability”: Beyondintractability.Org, 2003,
  2. Dedrick, Muhammad. “Making Amends For Slavery | Traces Of The Trade | POV | PBS”.
  3. POV|American Documentary Inc., 2008, amends-for-slavery.
  4. Loury, Glenn. “An American Tragedy: The Legacy Of Slavery Lingers In Our Cities’ Ghettos | Brookings Institution”. Brookings, 1998,
  5. Hunter, Margaret. “The Persistent Problem Of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, And Inequality”.
  6. Sociology Compass, vol 1, no. 1, 2007, pp. 237-254. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.17519020.2007.00006.x.
  7. Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness. 1st ed., New York, The New Press, 2010,
  8. Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case For Reparations”. The Atlantic, 2014,
  9. Munford, Clarence J. Rac,e light gave And Reparations: A Black Perspective For The 21st Century. 1st ed., Trenton, NJ, Africa World Press, 1996,
  10. Grandin, Greg. “Once Upon A Time Governments Paid Slave Reparations … To Slaveowners”. Historynewsnetwork.Org, 2014,
  11. Cross Jr, W. E. (1998). Black psychological functioning and the legacy of slavery. In International handbook of multigenerational legacies of trauma (pp. 387-400). Springer US.
  12. UN says the US should give African-Americans reparations for slavery. (2016). New York Post. Retrieved 29 October 2016, from

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The Controversial Topic of African American Reparations Throughout the History of the United States. (2022, Jun 15). Retrieved from

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