Monday, September 18, 2006

Reparations Pro and Con

This post is about money and law (and some other stuff as well)--though not the usual subject for MoneyLaw. It's about Reparations Pro and Con, which is now out; so I thought I'd post a little about it. It's a book I struggled with for a number of years and the more I think about reparations, the more complex they seem to become. Reparations talk involves lots of issues central to American history and to law. It reminds me of the statement of Joe Strummer, formerly of The Clash, which was widely publicized at the time of his death in December 2002, that "If you ain't thinkin' about [hu]man[s] and God and law, then you ain't thinkin' about nothin'." Reparations talk combines all three of those and a lot more.

My favorite parts of Reparations Pro and Con are the beginning and the end--because the beginning sets up many of the issues at stake in reparations talk and the end pulls the strings together and tries to guess where this is all going. It's about the gap between white and black wealth and about how we view American history: as a place of opportunity or oppression? And how we think about opportunities today, as well. There's a lot of other stuff in between--like what role, if any, the government should play in correcting for past injustices and whether it is fair to ask those who did not commit racial crimes to help correct the vestiges of them now. For propertyprofs, there are some great meta-issues, like the judiciary's role in taking land away from Native Americans.

I think the reparations movement is moving in the direction of talking about the past, rather then asking for any kind of payments. So I'm predicting we're going to see more in the way of truth commissions, like the 1898 Wilmington Riot Commission and the Tulsa Riot Commission. Some of this may happen through the work of individual historians (like Reconstructing the Dreamland). And I think we're going to see more in the way of businesses and colleges investigating their past (like Brown University's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice and the discussion at the University of Virginia about slavery on its campus).

Of course, there's a lot more in the book, including a chapter on the case against reparations and a little bit on cemeteries and monuments. I hope you'll take a look at it and recommend it to your local library. Here is some more on the book at Oxford's website.

Alfred L. Brophy


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