Benefits of Reframing “Reparations”

Many Democratic candidates for president have addressed questions about whether the US should make “reparations” for slavery (and other social injustices).  Unfortunately, that term is confusing and scary for some people (including some of the candidates) who conceive of it simply as making cash payments to certain individuals.

In fact, the proponents are suggesting something like a truth and reconciliation commission.  The main proposal is H.R. 40, a bill establishing a “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.”

A Washington Post article reviewed the positions of the candidates and found that many supported various ideas to remedy past injustices, but “no major contenders are explicitly promising financial payments to the descendants of slaves.”

Reframing “reparations” as “truth and reconciliation” would have several benefits.

First, it would be a more accurate description of what people are proposing.

Second, it would avoid the implication of cash payouts to individuals, which is problematic for some people who are concerned about fairness and fiscal consequences.  A commission would produce proposals for consideration, not any immediate or specific action.

Third, after a period of extreme deceit and polarization, many people hunger for  a credible and fair effort to promote truth and reconciliation.

I’m not holding my breath that politicians and opinion leaders will change their language, but it would be good if they do.

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