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A discussion of reparations

By Guest Columnist RICHARD ROSE, president, Atlanta Branch of the NAACP

America’s enduring human tragedy is racism that started with Columbus’ miscalculated arrival in the Caribbean. The failure to successfully enslave Indigenous people led to the importation by force of sub-Sahara Africans in 1619 that was justified by Christianity.

Richard Rose

In my opinion, the concept of monetary reparations is both incalculable and insufficient, given the timeframe that has embedded discrimination into all societal systems. The dual objectives of oppression, deprivation and denigration, must be factored into any and all efforts to repair the effects of 246 years of institutional enslavement followed by 156 years of targeted racism ingrained in American law, policies, practices and extra-judicial bullying.

The NAACP’s initial focal issues were education, voting rights, equal justice and economic opportunity. A random selection of 10 whites and 10 Blacks will still reveal significant differentials in each of these owing to a legacy of privilege that continues to victimize newborn Black babies and empower the dullest of white youth. There are success stories of non-superstar athletes, musicians and scholars but data confirms that opportunities are still skewed by race.

Discrimination has been so complete that each of Georgia’s private Historically Black Colleges and Universities was founded before Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington, Georgia’s first public high school for Black students, was opened in 1924. This year, the Georgia Legislature stepped back into the 1950’s with voting rights legislation, Senate Bill 202, that targeted the most populous counties where Black voters fled from small-town justice. Branding Black men as lazy, dishonest, shiftless and oversexed has created both the suspicion of illegal behavior and the fear of retaliation that results in the execution of unarmed Black citizens running away or cowering in a closet with raised hands of surrender. Black men and women are still the last to be hired and first to be furloughed or laid off. Black businesses are automatically branded as second tier by consumers, investors and banking. Less than 2% of state of Georgia contracts go to Black-owned businesses.

More monuments to the Confederacy should be removed, the author contends, as was the 112-year-old monument that was removed from the Decatur Square in 2020. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Like the campaign of oppression against Black Americans that included violence and psychological symbolism, a campaign of reparations must be multi-faceted and long-term, not to disenfranchise or subjugate anyone else but to offset the lack of equity long denied. It must start with the removal of the psychological symbolism of Confederate monuments. No monument is “history;” rather, they are political statements of the time and place. These statements set in stone and metal declare and encourage white supremacy and racist policies. Germany banned the symbolism of anti-Semitism while not forgetting its horror. America can do likewise.

K-12 education must be improved with a focus on each student. Instead of identifying “failing schools” for takeover, the emphasis must be on failing students to bring each up to grade level expectations. The elite private schools provide tutorial assistance in each class daily. Public schools must offer the same services. The long-term societal cost of allowing Black students to fall behind because of the lack of resources at home lasts a lifetime. The cost of incarceration exceeds the annual cost of college or trade school. School is temporary while incarceration can last a lifetime.

After high school, there is now the opportunity for non-superstars to take on a mountain of debt. A 1960’s Black college student could work a minimum wage job and afford the tuition, fees and books at either school in the Atlanta University Center. Tuition now exceeds two full-time minimum wage earnings. Non-superstar (sports, music, academics) must now assume a mountain of debt unless their Black parents have been able to pay off their student loans and fund cost of $100,000 to $250,000 for a four-year degree. Black students deserve grants for trade or liberal arts programs equal to the cost of matriculation of a state’s flagship university for at least the next 156 years to counter the policy of education apartheid. Exceptions can be made for students of well-to-do households, but current terms are oppressive and another form of economic enslavement.

Carceral reform must be part of the reparations discussion, the author contends. The closure of Atlanta’s detention center has been the subject of demonstrations for years. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Even a cursory review of arrest, prosecution and incarceration policies confirm the policy of unequal justice for non-white citizens. Despite the claim of “a few bad apples,” the entire system of policing is racist, having been evolved from slave-catching patrols and the practice of fulfilling convict leasing quotas, especially in the states of the former Confederacy. Each prosecution and sentencing of every Black defendant should be reviewed by an outside body with the power to reduce or overturn unfair sentencing. Public safety must include mental health and social work professionals and exclude both uneducated and biased officers.

America has become car-dependent and that dependency affects access to the basic services we all need: medical, education and workplace access. The expense of a car is prohibitive for so many Black families. Beyond the purchase price is the cost of insurance, licensing, maintenance and operating costs. This barrier can be offset with effective and available public transportation, but racial considerations again trump humanity. Southern states are the last to embrace public transportation for the public good.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Atlanta’s requirements for female and minority owned businesses to participate in construction at Atlanta’s airport has benefited the private and public sectors, the author contends. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The success of the City of Atlanta’s Black business participation goals should demonstrate its propriety and equity. The State of Georgia should adopt a similar program with tools and policies to both encourage and assist participation. Blacks are about 33% of Georgians and have been deliberately excluded from commerce opportunities. Funding for recruitment, training and a program of mentorship are easy solutions that will likely reduce the overall cost of services by expanding competition.

Voting should be made easier instead of more difficult. Too many Black men and women see no payoff in casting their vote. They feel discarded and ignored. Economic and educational advancement can overcome the apathy of poverty and make for a better America for all of us. At America’s birth, voting was only for the landed gentry. There is no functional reason that a resident of a county could not cast his or her vote in any precinct in that county. We do it in the early voting period. Why not?

None alive today created the all-encompassing system of racism that exists in America. We are all victims, some more than others. The system is at fault, but we are at fault if we fail to recognize that the fears that consume us today were planted in years past. The system enslaves us all unless we free ourselves from the selfishness and envy of racism and embrace the freedom and promise of America. That all men (and women) are created equal and should be accorded the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Note to readers: The proposal to establish a federal Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and a vote is pending in the full House. House Resolution 40 was first introduced in 1989 by the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), who described it in this statement. HR 40 has been re-introduced in every Congress since 1989.





  1. Joe Beasley July 4, 2021 7:28 pm

    Thank you Mr. Rose for a history lesson and a direction for the future if we are to survive as a nation.Report

  2. Charlie Wright July 5, 2021 9:29 am

    Excellent blueprint for our future.Report

  3. Robert Peppel July 6, 2021 10:17 am

    I have no problem with repatations; however, reparations must start with the original seller and not the end user, I think the end user should only be responsible for matching whatever is collected from the original seller. Once that is determined and collected, then we can start with the matching fundsReport

  4. Steve Hagen in Tucker July 6, 2021 12:27 pm

    Thank you. Indeed wages in the 60s and 70s allowed me to graduate university debt free. I agree with your ideas. I never thought of the reason for Conyers choosing 40 for the House Bill number. I would like to see much more assistance in expanding the number of home owners as ownership is a huge key to creating generational wealth. Habitat for Humanity touches on this but in my view we need massive private and pubic assistance in this area. Older people of all backgrounds who have enough funds to live their lives really should consider assisting with home down payments but we need a model and make it a national priority.Report

    1. Bernard Scott Jr November 25, 2022 3:19 pm

      Home ownership is NOT the problem today sir. The fact is that redlining and continued discrimination in appraisals(as well as zoning laws that coincided with redlining that pretty much put all the failure and mess in our communities that drive values downward and disincentivize “good” development) means that a black or ADOS (American descendant of slavery) don’t have homes that improve much in value over time and this is especially the case for neighborhoods that are primarily African American often no matter the quality of the homes and upkeep of the neighborhood. You need to really think about this a bit more sir.

      This home ownership thing would be more relevant if the Fair Housing Act was enforced with a seriousness, but that didn’t really happen. There are just too many remaining structural forces that make home ownership wholesale insufficient and until those issues can be fixed reparations SHOULD include direct wealth transfers (monetary payments) and additional infrastructural investments and protections geared towards African American communities. Rose’s proposal is hardly “reparations” and is mostly race neutral policies that would help black folks. It should be viewed more as standard black agenda items than “reparations”.

      This sentence is highly problematic and dismissive of the impact of a wealth transfer in an expensive country where blacks have essentially 0 wealth: “In my opinion, the concept of monetary reparations is both incalculable and insufficient, given the timeframe that has embedded discrimination into all societal systems. ” and it seems like black folks say this to appear “moderate” to white people who get upset about us getting “handouts”(when their whole middle class is mostly built on New Deal “handouts” that we were excluded from in high numbers). But he should have at least said it was neccessary but insufficient. Instead he dodged the truth like many others do.Report


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