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The Complicated Road to Slavery Reparations — and the Need for An Apology

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

When “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah opened his nightly monologue with “Let’s talk about slavery” a couple of years ago, he immediately followed with alarm, “No, white people, come ba-a-a-ack.”

Right. That’s the voice I hear whenever I consider writing about slavery reparations. Nothing in my many years of punditry triggers voices of rage and resentment like the R-word — whether from voices on the far right or far left.

If anything, I find it ironic that some of the same people who vigorously defend the preservation of statues honoring the Confederacy tell the descendants of slavery to just “Get over it.” History does matter.

Yet, I also have taken plenty of heat from progressives for agreeing, however begrudgingly, with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky that there’s really no way — politically or practically — to adequately compensate all of today’s African Americans for the enslavement of our ancestors so long ago.

Yet, two years later, the issue has taken on new life in places such as Evanston, Ill., which in March became what is believed to be the nation’s first city to offer reparations to Black residents who have suffered housing discrimination.

The modest but historic resolution directs initial funding of $400,000 from the city’s Local Reparations Fund, funded mostly by a new tax on legal marijuana. The fund will award up to $25,000 to 16 eligible households to help with a home purchase, repairs or improvements.

 

Applicants must have been Black residents between 1919 and 1969 or a direct descendant. They also may qualify if they experienced housing discrimination because of the city’s policies or practices after 1969, the resolution says.

Other cities have taken a similarly targeted approach to reparations in the era of racial reckoning following the George Floyd murder.

For example, the Asheville, N.C., City Council voted unanimously in July for reparations that would take the form of helping businesses and providing housing and health care. Other local governments considering reparations in some form include Amherst, Mass., Providence, R.I., and Iowa City, Iowa.

In California, elected officials in Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County announced a bill to restore property now known as Bruce’s Beach to the Black family whose resort on that oceanside property was wrongly seized by city officials in 1924.

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