Why the issue of reparations for African-Americans has encountered such strong resistance and what can be done to change that.
Henry (African-American Studies/UC-Berkeley; Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other?, 1999) takes the long view, providing first the political and legal background of race relations in the United States and looking at how the demands and tactics of reparation movements and the responses to them have changed over time. He compares two major reparations processes that occurred duringt the same time period, between 1921 and 1923—one in Rosewood, Fla., the other in Tulsa, Okla.—examining the factors that accounted for their different outcomes and considering the lessons to be learned from each. Current reparations movements, Henry notes, have been encouraged by the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and by the success of Japanese Americans in gaining an apology and reparations for their internment during World War II. The author reports that in cities and states that have large and influential African-American populations, a number of reparations bills have been passed. However, an anti-reparations movement opposes such efforts, as exemplified by the provocative advertisement placed in campus newspapers in 2001 by conservative author David Horowitz. Titled Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks Is a Bad Idea for Blacks—and Racist, Too, it is reprinted here in its entirety. (Horowitz offered the ad to some 50 elite universities, the author notes, but only seven ran it.) As further evidence that it is time for the culture and politics of reparations to change, Henry points to the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, to the absence of a national African-American museum in Washington, D.C.—where museums to Native Americans and the Holocaust have been established—and to the continued refusal of the U.S. government to participate in global racism conferences. Proposals about the specific form of possible reparations vary widely, and Henry counsels that the reparations movement must agree on specific goals. In his view, an acceptance of moral guilt in the form of an apology for slavery and its consequences from Congress, the president, or both, would be an important first step.
Not a strident call to arms, but a conscience-stirring scholarly survey by a social historian providing hard data and guidance for activists.