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Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton

 

   
   

 

 

Alfred L. Brophy

 excerpted from: Alfred L. Brophy, The Cultural War over Reparations for Slavery , 53 DePaul Law Review 1181-1213, 1182-1184 (Spring 2004) (116 footnotes)

 

Reparations payments--even apologies--are deeply controversial. When the Mobile Register polled Alabama citizens on the issue of reparations in the summer of 2002, it found that the question of reparations was the most racially divisive issue since it began polling. (See Table 1.) The differences between whites and blacks outstripped even the gap seen during the civil rights struggle over integration. Why is it that only five percent of white Alabamians support reparations for slavery, while sixty-seven percent of black Alabamians support them? Why did some whites become so enraged at the mere suggestion of reparations that they could not complete the survey? Lest one think that Alabama is out-of-step with attitudes in the United States, that racial gap is fairly constant nationwide. According to a study by Harvard University and the University of Chicago that researchers reported in the spring of 2003, only four percent of whites support reparations payments. (See Table 2.)

The opposition even to apologies, which are free from financial obligation, suggests that something very important is at stake--it is how we view ourselves and our place in the world. It is, in short, about what is known as the culture wars--a conflict between liberals and conservatives over how they view issues as diverse as abortion, religion's role in public life, affirmative action, and the United States's culpability for racism. Reparations touch on these issues in several places. Reparations relate to how we view the United States's history--is it a narrative of the United States as a place of opportunity or oppression? They also relate to how we view the legacy of slavery and what we should do about it now. Is there continuing culpability? Do we need to do something to repair past harms? Do ideas of personal culpability free current taxpayers from liability?

 

Table 1: Alabamians' Attitudes Toward Apologies and Reparations

Should there be:

Blacks

Whites

Apology for slavery

73%

24%

Corporations that benefitted apologize

76%

31%

Corporations that benefitted from slavery establish scholarship funds for descendants of slaves

87%

34%

Corporations that benefitted from slavery pay descendants of slaves

69%

15%

Reparations payments from the government

67%

5%

 

 

 

Table 2. Attitudes of Blacks and Whites Toward Apologies and

Reparations

Should the government

Blacks

Whites

Apologize for internment of Japanese Americans during World War II

75%

43%

Pay compensation to those interned

59%

26%

Apologize for slavery

79%

30%

Pay compensation for slavery

67%

4%

A central feature of the culture war is how we view American history. There is something more at stake with reparations. Reparations are more controversial--that is, more people oppose them--than most issues in the culture war. There is some basic parity in many issues relating to the culture war. With reparations, at least judging by public opinion right now, there is little parity. Reparations are simply viewed with disdain by many. What else is it? It is a conflict that appears frequently when race enters political discussion--of fear of issues of group identity and group liability. So frequently, group members see themselves as being asked to pay more than their fair share. And group members think that they are receiving less than they deserve. Those sentiments are heightened when one deals with racial group identity.

 

 

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The Controversial Nature of Reparations
What's at Stake? Why Are Reparations Controversial?
The Arguments Against Reparations
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Same level:
[ The Controversial Nature of Reparations ] What's at Stake? Why Are Reparations Controversial? ] The Arguments Against Reparations ] The Utility and Disadvantages of Reparations ]
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A Moral Justification For Affirmative Action and Reparations ] African American Middle Class and the Cost of Discrimination ] Black America and Reparations ] Developing Legal Strategies to Advance Reparations ] Does a Prima Facie Case For Reparations Exist? ] Dominant Perspectives on Reparations ] Governmental Reparations for Slavery ] JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank and Slavery ] Political Autonomy as a Form of Reparations ] The Role of the Federal Government in Slavery and Jim Crow ] Slavery and Tort Law ] Reparations and the Failure of the Constitutional Amendments ] Reparations as Redistribution ] Slavery Segregation and Reparation ] Slavery Segregation and Reparations ] The Mass Tort Analogy and African American Reparations ] The Case Against Black Reparations ] Unjust Enrichment and Reparations for Slavery ] The Cultural War over Reparations for Slavery ] The Case for Black Reparations Redux ] The Case for Black Reparations ] The Origins of the Tulsa Riot and its Damage ] The Race-Skewed Notion of Victimhood ] Transforming Public Perceptions of Reparations ] Uncivil Wars and Reparation ] WCAR-New Avenues for Slavery Reparations ] White America and Reparations ] Slavery, Reproductive Abuse, and Reparations ] Statutes of Limitations and Reparations ] Takings Clause Solution to Reparations ]
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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
Race, Racism and American Law
(1993).