The Washington Post

By William A. Darity Jr.


Once a political hot potato, the label “reparations” suddenly is being applied to a variety of acts of individual and community atonement. But we continue to await the serious effort needed to make full restitution for Black American descendants of slavery in the United States.

On March 22, the Evanston, Ill., City Council approved what it terms a “Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program” meant to compensate for discriminatory policies and practices in the city’s past. Under the program — touted in the media as historic — qualifying Black residents can receive up to $25,000 grants for repairs or down payments on homes.

That’s a good step for the city to take, but let’s be clear: This is a housing voucher program, not reparations — and calling it that does more harm than good.

The cause of justice demands proprietariness about the meaning of “reparations,” and we object to these kinds of piecemeal and misleading labels. True reparations only can come from a full-scale program of acknowledgment, redress and closure for a grievous injustice.

Where African Americans are concerned, the grievous injustices that make the case for reparations include slavery, legal segregation (Jim Crow), and ongoing discrimination and stigmatization. What would get us there? We believe that four features are essential to a true Black reparations plan.

First, the plan must carefully delineate eligibility. Two conditions are critical: Eligible recipients must have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States. These are the individuals who bear the burden of the cumulative intergenerational effects of all three periods of racial atrocities. Recipients also must show that they self-identified as Black, Negro or an equivalent designation on an official document for at least 12 years before a reparations program was set in motion.