A Case for Reparations

Updated: May 21

Paying people for unpaid labor seems like a no-brainer, except for the facts of the case, then things get complicated. From the perspective of this blog—the climate of justice project—the basic standard is clear: “Does a particular reparation policy promote a climate of justice?”

A climate of justice is about more than just money. Money is the easy part. After seeing the government spend billions, or was it trillions, in the past year, we can assume that money is available whenever the government wants to create it. Money certainly is part of the picture, but we need to see the picture first.

Reparation involves a “repair,” and what needs repair are the social relationships among us. Currently, the social relationships among people of privilege and people of color are unjust.

One problem is that some of us have taken this climate of injustice as “normal,” which easily makes any reparations for specific groups seem like discrimination—favoring one group over another—rather than changing an unjust situation to a more just one.

If all things were equal, of course, there would not be a reason for reparation. That’s not the case, as study after study shows. If the inequalities were “natural,” reparations would also have a hard time gaining acceptance. If the inequalities were intentional, on the other hand, then it’s a different story. If they were intentional, then they are a crime: a crime against humanity.

Our settler ancestors intended the social worlds in which we live today, and these social worlds continue in a climate of injustice. This social climate of injustice blocks not only the repair of broken social relationships but also the repair and protection of the planet. All the debates about reparations are not only worthwhile but also even necessary, in other words, if we want to pass on to all our children an inhabitable earth.

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