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Experts Discuss Reparations, Challenges at BC Law Event

Jeffery Robinson, the founder and executive director of “The Who We Are Project,” quoted William Darity Jr., an economist, who said reparations must be generated at a federal level. 

“I think what we have to do is, despite good intentions, move away from thinking about reparations as something that can be conducted on a state or local level,” Robinson said, quoting Darity. “It simply can’t, It has to be a federal project.”

Robinson and others presented on reparations and where they should start at “Reparations: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities.” The Boston College Law School and the BC Law Black Law Students Association hosted the Zoom event on Sept. 9, as part of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy Webinar Series.

Robin Rue Simmons, a former alderperson of Evanston, Ill., a northern Chicago suburb, also spoke at the event. Evanston made news in March for launching the nation’s first government reparations program. 

Simmons discussed her experiences in Evanston to respond to Darity’s ideas. Local reparations efforts are not done at the expense of federal efforts, Simmons said, but rather act as an initial step for greater national reparations projects.

“Our city stands in strong support of HR 40 passing today, but it was appropriate we show our commitment through legislation and maybe be an example to other cities in taking our first small local step,” Simmons said.

Nkechi Taifa, a senior fellow at the Center for Justice at Columbia University and panelist at the event, explained HR 40, a bill originally introduced in 1989 by John Conyers, a former U.S. Representative from Michigan, but passed just this year. 

“HR 40 is a bill that would create a commission to study the issue of reparations and to make specific legislative proposals for reparations,” she said.

Taifa began her social advocacy work in high school. She sat on street corners reading Black Panther newspapers to understand issues of race and government, she said.

 Despite not understanding nuances of institutionalized injustices against Black Americans, Taifa said she advocated for equality on the streets in whatever ways she could. 

“I was very passionate about injustice,” Taifa said. “I felt that the idea of reparations to be reasonable and fair, and so I vowed to talk about the concept whenever and wherever I could.”

In Taifa’s young days of advocacy work, she first learned about the history of reparations in this country, she said.

Taifa learned the story of Isaiah Dickinson who, in the late 1800s, founded the first mass reparations movement. And she also studied the stories of freed black people promised 40 acres of land by government officials following the Civil War.

The topic of reparations is not anything new to Taifa, clearly. Many black Americans, too, and others in the country have long been familiar with reparations, she said. And, actually, the government has actually adopted reparations before.

The United States distributed $1.6 billion to the members of the Japanese-American population, as compensation following World War II Japanese internment camps, according to Taifa.

A lot of the original efforts to organize reparation advocacy within the African American community, Taifa said, mirrored the advocacy work of Japanese-Americans after the war. 

“[Reparations] had just been successful with the Japanese-Americans,” she said. “It will be sheer racism for the country to deny redress to black people.”

Now with HR 40, the topic of reparations is being extensively explored, and the voices of groups long silenced are finally heard, Taifa said. 

“The Commission will have the power to bring in any and every expert needed, who have extensively studied the issues of injury and the various areas of repair,” she said. “The beauty of this commission is that it ensures that those who are most impacted are there and have a voice.”

Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff

September 12, 2021
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