On Monday night the city of Evanston, Illinois approved the nation’s first government-run reparations program that would make funds available to Black families for homeownership and mortgage assistance.
Olúfémi Táíwò, professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, is authoring a forthcoming book entitled “Does the United States Need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?” He says while Evanston’s initiative is commendable, it threatens national efforts to address the root of racial injustice.
“No doubt, the initiative by the Evanston City Council to address the issue of reparations for Black Americans for past discrimination against them must be welcomed. It acknowledges that something happened in the past that ought not to have happened, and the victims of which have not deserved what was done to them.
“The fact that movement in this direction in other parts of the country is growing is, however, a cause for concern. The legacy of anti-Black racism was and is not a local affair; it was a national affair. Local reparations risk the fate of affirmative action initiatives dating back to the ‘70s of the last century that began to be rolled back in the early decades of this century.
“What is lacking is an educational program to remind Americans of the legacy that is being redressed. Such knowledge in other societies that have confronted similar hurt done to segments of their population by their fellow citizens have been curated by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Movements for reparations without first creating a knowledge base for why reparations are warranted at all risk substituting solutions that do not go to the root of the problem.”
Noliwe Rooks is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor in Africana studies and director of the American Studies Program in A&S, and is an expert on the role of segregation in American society, particularly in education and the economy. She says the Evanston legislation is a ‘first tiny step’ toward addressing long-standing ill effects of housing segregation.
“Government policies that enforced housing segregation based on skin color is a longstanding practice that has led to generations of clear economic winners and losers in the United States.
“From the creation of reservations where indigenous nations were forced to live, to the cyclical dispossession of land from Black people through taxes and violence, and then consigning them to live in urban neighborhoods that were expensive, subpar, unhealthy and crowded, battling the ill effects of housing and neighborhood segregation remains among the most intractable problems and barriers to economic and political equality and equity.
“Land and housing has always been a central aspect of power and wealth and the creation and accumulation of both in the United States, and so it is important that this legislation proposes to take seriously and attempt to provide recompense for what it meant to generations of residents who were forced to accept diluted forms of democracy and citizenship. It may not repair all that is broken, but the acknowledgement is a first tiny step in what I hope will be a far-ranging journey in the right direction.”
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