OAH takes up question of slavery reparations

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Scholars who gathered Thursday to discuss the idea of reparations to African Americans are under no illusion that such payments are about to happen. Even those who were most sympathetic to the idea acknowledged that there was no political will in the United States to make such payments.

But the reason members of the Organization of American Historians held an open forum on reparations as part of the group’s annual meeting is that many scholars consider this an issue that won’t go away — and that poses particular challenges to their discipline. So many delicate issues in history and public policy — defining who is black, defining who should feel either guilt or complicity for slavery, the relative evil done to groups like slaves, Holocaust victims or Native Americans — relate in some way or another to the reparations debate. And many were in evidence Thursday.

Participants said that the while the issue isn’t exactly capturing attention from Congressional leaders, it is getting attention in scholarship and in classrooms. “Most white Americans view the idea of reparations as a new or strange idea, but in fact it isn’t new or strange,” said Ray Finkenbine, a professor of history and director of the Black Abolitionist Archives at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Finkenbine traced the history of the reparations idea back to before the United States was a country, when the topic was discussed in colonial circles. The main reason the idea has seemed so “fringe” to white people recently is that, after the Civil War, the reparations movement changed from one with interracial support to one that was taken seriously only by black people. He added that historians today have a responsibility — and one he said that they are starting to fulfill — to fight this “racial amnesia” in white America....

Read entire article at Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed

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Chris Osborne - 4/22/2006

I don't think Whites have actual amnesia about antebellum slavery having existed in this country. The main political problems faced by reparations advocates are that Whites question the relevance of slavery to today's society 141 years after abolition, that they will point to the existence of a Black bourgeoisie as "proof" that reparations aren't necessary, and that Whites with a conservative majority disapprove of redistributive economics and new government domestic initiatives in general--particularly one which would aim to close income and assets gaps between average White and Black family units.

Rusty G. - 4/22/2006

Amnesia as in some how forgetting slavery and it's effects on this country? Whenever there is talk of reparations the first thing to establish is what would it hope to change. The past can not be changed but the present can be. If reparations where to happen would that then finish the issue? How about present issues like illegal immigration? How like slavery it must be. Indentured servitude to what ever whim and will the master of fake documents and no legal right to work imposes. To stay in the shadows of a cash underground where one must not bring too much attention or risk deportation. The pay masters that keep wages low and illegitimate enterprise from fair competition are who need the wrath of slavery's past. How like the South's plantation elite does the current illegal's situation seem to parrot with an underclass that has no rights by there very status as unwelcome and undocumented interlopers. Perhaps Amnesty for one of todays problems should act as reparation for a past one.