It is estimated that the U.S. owes between $5 trillion and $11.5 trillion in reparations, depending on the interest rate, for Black descendents of enslaved people. America’s history of virulent racism has left a swath of impoverished and ethnic groups traumatized as they fend for themselves in a turbulent landscape.
The economic gap between Black people and white people is vast; the average white family’s net worth is ten times greater than the average Black family’s net worth.
Monetary reparations are necessary to address America’s violently racist past and to bridge this wealth gap. However, it is not enough to give money to families without addressing the factors that exacerbated inequality amongst diverse groups.
The emotional and psychological toll of systemic racism will not be addressed let alone be solved by giving back what was rightfully theirs in monetary reparations.
While reparations in the form of personal checks are part of the solution to address and acknowledge systemic racism, they should not constitute a whole apology. Money should not be the answer to such a complex problem.
The legacy of generational trauma and lost generational wealth cannot be solved with a simple check. Generational trauma manifests in the form of abuse, crime and addiction. Monetary reparations could be used to ease the effects of poor mental health, but no amount of money could ever equate to years of trauma and negative coping mechanisms.
Additionally, for many ethnic groups, some thousands of dollars is not enough to uplift families into economic security. Land ownership and home ownership have consistently been seen as sinks of generational wealth. For impoverished families, monetary reparations is not enough to end the cycle of poverty.
As history has shown, monetary reparations also do not ensure that the people who receive it can even have control over how the money is spent. After World War II, Congress gave monetary reparations to any federally recognized tribe for land that was taken by the U.S. However, less than $1,000 were given to each Native American and the government did not give them direct control of the funds.
In order to prevent trivial legislation that stymies equitable economic growth, monetary reparations should not be solely considered in the U.S.’s plight to correct historic wrongdoings.
Non-monetary reparations are not a new idea. Chicago gave $5.5 million dollars to 57 African Americans who had been brutalized by Chicago police. In addition to financial compensation, they also received a public memorial and ensured that lessons about police abuse would be taught in public schools’ history classes.
There are many other forms of reparations that could be offered to ethnic groups who have been affected by inequality. According to Business Insider, some examples include education grants and job training, startup capital, stock options and homeownership and land grants. Help for psychiatric disorders, addiction and other mental health issues could also be offered to ethnic groups that have experienced generational trauma.
Reparations are about acknowledging that the government has done or facilitated terrible injustices toward minority groups. However, recognizing past infractions does not prevent new ones from occurring. Frankly, monetary reparations are an apology without a commitment to do better in the future.
Correcting past failures cannot be resolved with reparations. Instead, people must tear down the structures and systems that created a need for reparations to begin with. Tuition-free colleges and universities, accessible mental health services and universal basic income could be some ways to correct the wrongs of the past and ensure that future generations do not need reparations.
Monetary reparations are not a promise for an equitable future, but activists’ drive to create that ideal can ensure that reparations are not the only compensation for future generations of ethnic groups.