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A Reparations Roadmap For 21st Century Black Americans

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There is an ongoing, emotionally charged debate about if and how the U.S. government should make economic amends to black American descendants of slaves, both for slavery itself and other government-sanctioned racial injustices. 

Reparations are compensation given to a specific group, either in monetary form or through otherwise helpful actions, as reimbursement for past wrongdoings. Even after slavery was abolished, racially-motivated policies and practices in the United States continued to limit economic growth and prosperity for African Americans.

A bill to study and develop a reparations plan was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 by Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. It proposed a commission to evaluate the effects of slavery and identify an appropriate solution to make amends for the nation's past transgressions.

Numerous economists have theories about what should be paid and how to divvy it up, but there is no consensus about what specific amount to give, where to allocate monies, or who qualifies to receive it. Reparations could be a single check to descendants, or follow an atonement model to build generational wealth through investments in housing, education, etc.

What would a 21st-century reparations program look like? Who would qualify and how would it be implemented? Where would the money come from? Who decides where and how it should be allocated?

Could financial reparations reduce the racial wealth gap? What else could the United States government do to make amends to black Americans for the crimes of slavery and subsequent injustices?

Guests:

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 210-614-8980, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, February 12.

Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.