Despite this nation’s adamant refusal to address the damaging legacy of 250 years of slavery and another 100 years of Jim Crow apartheid, the issue of reparations has made a decided comeback in American discourse.
The latest jolt of revival began in the Caribbean. On March 10, the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) approved a 10-point plan to demand “reparatory justice for … the victims of Crimes Against Humanity in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading and racial apartheid from former European colonizers.” According to attorney Martyn Day, of Leigh Day, the British human rights legal firm that represents CARICOM, the firm will file a class-action suit in the International Court of Justice if European officials fail to take the plan seriously.
This surprisingly audacious Caribbean demand was followed by an April rally in Chicago intended to rekindle the enthusiasm that 13 years ago fueled a reparations bandwagon that was ultimately knocked off course by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
These efforts seek to make the case for reparative justice and compensation based on the horrific crimes of slavery, its legacy of racial oppression and social exclusion, and the unjust enrichment of whites from the structural misdistribution of resources. Slavery, say CARICOM and its fellow travelers in the United States, casts a long shadow.
But that shadow is getting harder to discern for slavery’s beneficiaries. Many Americans now interpret those sordid annals of slavery and Jim Crow as a narrative of triumph. In their minds, the Civil Rights Movement has expunged America of its original sin. It’s time to move on. After all, we’ve got a black president.