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The Politics of Racial Reparations by Charles P. Henry

Essay by   •  October 10, 2018  •  Article Review  •  687 Words (3 Pages)  •  71 Views

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        Charles P. Henry examines why reparations for Blacks are a constant topic of debate, how it is still relevant today, and what can be done to solve the issue. In order to do this, the article uses examples of historic events that have acted as a catalyst in the fight for Black reparations. The thesis for The Politics of Racial Reparations by Charles P. Henry claims that both the theoretical and political are actions necessary to make amends for the treatment of African Americans. Additionally, it states that an overall centralized analysis of the entire history of African Americans is required to solve this issue, not just a look into slavery.

        Henry approaches this topic by using historical data to provide the reader with an understanding for the constant rise in action demanded out of lawmakers when it comes to Black reparations. He acknowledges that the governments unwillingness to apologize for its actions against African Americans, even when it has done so for many other groups. The reason stated for this is that it would “undermine American Exceptionalism” (Henry 132). American exceptionalism is the ideology the United States hold to represent itself as a unique and prosperous nation, and does so with respect to the ideas of democracy and freedom. This statement made in the article is claiming that to apologize would mean the governments acknowledgement a horrible action that is the opposite of what the country stands for, and so instead the government has decided it best to “erase slavery from the national conscience” (132).

        The author then goes on to speak of two of the greatest reasons for why reparations for Blacks has risen once again. The second, and a larger reference used thought the article, is the Passage of Civil Liberties Act (1988). This act gave reparations to Japanese Americans after the WWII. In summary, Japanese Americans were compensated for “their internment during the Second World War, [which] provided a model for a badly demoralized community of Black political activists” (135). Essentially, this gave activists hope that the black community would receive fair compensation for the neglect against an entire community, in some way whether it be monetary or other. The issue with this is explained in the article as well. In short, the Japanese Americans had documented grievances, little opposition, sympathetic legislators in office, and most importantly, “was framed as a constitutional issue rather than a racial issue” (137).

        Given the evidence provided, Henry explains the differences between the Japanese Americans and African Americans situations. Firstly, there’s a lack of identifiable victims, and therefore it is difficult to give a monetary compensation to the right people. If compensation would be given to every individual claiming to be affected by this injustice, the estimated value would be $1.5 trillion (146). The claim is then made to give the money to a group or collective organization. Overall, the author’s methodology leads to a requirement of an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. As he states at the beginning, they are doing this to preserve American Exceptionalism. Through this denial, “Whites believe race discrimination is declining whereas Blacks believe the opposite” (144). The evidence used above supports the claim that “it is difficult to imagine governmental agreement for substantive compensation without first acknowledging some moral guilt” (149). These all support his thesis is arguing that change can only occur through a centralized, uniform plan of action.

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