California’s Reparations Task Force recently released their recommendations on how to address America’s past sins of slavery and Jim Crow. Their answer is to pay every qualified black California resident up to $1.2 million in reparations. While this recommendation is simply unreasonable, as it would cost about $700 billion dollars to implement, it’s also insufficient. Reparations fall short of addressing America’s past offenses for 3 main reasons: they disrespect the victims of the past, they fail to acknowledge America’s progress, and they are unjust.
First, reparations diminish the wrongs of the past. When America was founded, the worldwide institution of slavery was legal. Slaves played a major role in building this country, especially in the South. They were a huge part of the Southern economy until the end of the Civil War. Despite the work they did, they were considered property and treated as such.
Shortly after slavery ended, Jim Crow laws were established. Blacks weren’t allowed to mingle with whites. In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson gave these laws a constitutional backing, and segregation was legal until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From the founding of America in 1776 until the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, black people were not seen or treated as equal to white people.
This is a dark stain in America’s history, but how does writing a check to people who were never victims of these wrongs make up for them? Paying reparations already implies that there’s an amount of money that can be paid to rectify the past, which is wrong, but paying reparations to people who never experienced these injustices is an extortion of the past for personal gain. Instead of honoring the victims and respecting their legacy, reparationists use their stories for financial gain.
Reparations also fail to acknowledge America’s progress. Those who support reparations claim that America is still the same as it was back then. Blacks, they say, are still treated like second-class citizens. But this isn’t true, and I’m a living example of that progress.
I’m half black and half white. 160 years ago, I would have been born into slavery or killed because of my mixed race. I’m also married to a white woman. Until 1964 I would’ve been considered a second-class citizen. Marrying my wife would’ve been illegal and I could have been hung by Klan members. While racism isn’t eradicated, it definitely is not the problem it was during the times of slavery and Jim Crow. Instead of conflating the past and the present, we should rejoice in America’s racial progress.
Lastly, reparations are unjust. This is the core issue with reparations. They punish people for a crime they never committed and reward people for an injustice they never experienced. Every single slave owner in America is dead, and has been dead for a while. Every single slave in America, likewise, is dead and has been dead for a while.
While there are people alive who experienced Jim Crow, and others who played a role in enforcing Jim Crow, my first point applies here. Paying money will not rectify the injustices done to them. So then, how do we rectify the past? We trust the One who judges justly.
This is one of the joys of being a Christian. We understand that perfect justice will never be accomplished in this world, but we know that there is One whom every single human will have to answer to one day. He is the One who will exercise true justice and render to each according to their work (Romans 2:6). For those who have put their faith in Christ, God poured out his just wrath on Christ on their behalf. For those who haven’t put their faith in Christ, God will pour out his just wrath on them in Hell. Either way, every injustice ever committed since the beginning of humanity will be rectified.
So then, the answer to the dark stains in America’s past is not to conflate the past and present and distort justice by paying reparations. The answer is to remember the past, acknowledge the progress made in the present, and cast a better vision for the future knowing there will be a day where these injustices will truly be rectified by God.