The Politics of Reparations

This week, Michael and Stephanie talk about reparations (and more) with UC Berkeley professor emeritus, Charles Henry, who is also the former president of the National Council for Black Studies and former chair of Amnesty International USA. In 2007, years ahead of his time, Professor Henry wrote a book on the issue of reparations, Long Overdue. The Politics of Racial Reparations. Reparation, Professor Henry reminds us, is about repairing and thus is far more than a financial transaction; it cannot be tidily achieved with a one-off check intended to close definitively the chapter on hundreds of years of slavery and discrimination. Rather, reparation is intimately linked to restorative justice — the need to recognize a wrong done, to listen to voices expressing pain and anger and suffering, to atone and finally to find a sense of closure that all parties can feel. Ultimately, Professor Henry says, reparations can lead to rebuilding of community in such a way that the desire for vengeance is diminished and fear can be replaced by hope for a more just and loving community, one where people know they belong:

Instead of retribution what we want is restorative justice. It’s the kind of thing that Martin Luther King talked about when he was asked about violence, and when you’d have discussions of KAMU and others. Vengeance or retribution only leads to more violence. King, when he talked about colonialism, he would say, the objective of African Americans is not to separate in a separate colony or to kick whites out of the country as in colonial Africa, but to live in the same country. To reconcile with white Americans — and to have that, you need restorative justice not retribution.

If we think, as Professor Henry suggests, of reparations as a process instead of a payment, it can become the basis for an ongoing, dynamic, harmonious relationship with our history and with each other.

Find the transcript at Waging Nonviolence

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