The Moral Mandate For Individual Reparations

The moral mandate for individual reparations. 

I suspect the idea of reparations scares white people. Unlike like the man from the proverb, tossing starfish back into the ocean despite the impossibility of completing the task, white people become paralyzed by the enormity of the moral, physical, and financial debt owed to Black Americans and lash out. 

This lashing out is driven by white fragility, insecurity, and the VERY telling notion that justice means retribution. In fact, a few radical white people are so terrified that they would prefer a race war to reparations. An event which I suspect would be used as the moral justification for attempting to exterminating Black Americans entirely. 

The reparations I want to discuss today is not retribution, but rather restoration. It is an attempt to finally heal the wound this nation inflicted on its own. 

How to do reparations


The damage has been done. The harm has been caused. It takes a massive amount of arrogance to remain indifferent in the face of so much needless death, suffering, and pain. One cannot grieve the pain of another without empathy and deep humility. Indifference to harm caused drives the anti-reparations movement and should be a red flag in any of your interpersonal relationships. On an individual level, someone who is indifferent to the harm inflicted on others is not safe. On a systemic level, a nation which is indifferent to the harm it inflicted on its own people is likely to repeat the pattern of harm again. And again. And again

A begrudging or hostile attitude toward restitution is morally bankrupt. Grief is a necessary starting point for reparations.

Be Consistent

It doesn’t matter what the amount is. Maybe you consistently give $1 a week. Maybe you consistently give half of your quarterly bonus. 

What matters is that you show up consistently. Create a habit. Maybe, if you’re stopped attending church, Sunday can be the day that you hop onto a funding app and send $20 to a BIPOC. Maybe it’s easier to automatically give on the first of the month (if so, here’s the White Homework Patreon!). When you make a commitment to unlearn your racism, don’t be erratic or unpredictable. Anti-racist work is not a one-and-done thing. Just like you can’t throw an apple seed on to the ground and come back to find apples the next day, you can’t toss out a few bucks once or twice and walk away. If you want an actual harvest from your seed, you need to regularly tend the soil. Anti-racism is not much different from gardening. 

I know what you’re saying. Not everyone is able to give cash consistently. Maybe you’ve had a regular reparations practice in the past but your financial circumstances changed. That’s ok. There are plenty of other ways to do reparations. For starters, anyone with internet access and social media or texting is able to share consistently. Once a week, find a black creator, author, speaker, inventor, or business and write a post promoting them. Take an extra 2-3 minutes and send it directly to friends you think would be interested. 

Why Should You Invest in Individual Reparations

It’s not yours

To paraphrase Ijeoma Oluo, if I stole from you your entire life, it’s not enough for me to stop stealing. I must return what I took from you (with interest, probably).

Black labor as well as white turned this country into a superpower, but only white people benefited from America’s meteoric rise or got paid for their labor. 

Black tax dollars as well as white paid for the GI Bill and mortgage assistance for veterans, but only white people got to take advantage of this government handout. The Fair Housing Act did not retroactively provide the homes that black families desperately needed to be able to secure a place in America’s middle class.  

The state is slow and the law is partial

The law did not create retroactive justice. The law did not renew the ghettos that cities created to quarantine black people away from economic mobility. The law did not require cities to update the infrastructure they intentionally neglected in black neighborhoods. The law did not return homes stolen by white loan sharks who left black children sleeping on the streets. 

Desegregation did not improve my great grandparents’ educational experiences. The millions of Black children who have attended underfunded schools did not get a chance to rectify that because the law was changed. 

The law did not go back in time and provide qualified black applicants to medical school the opportunity that they were denied merely on the basis of skin color. 

When my grandfather was “strongly discouraged” from applying for an VA loan as a veteran, the Fair Housing Act did not provide him that loan. It only said he couldn’t be denied housing going forward if he had money and the means to both prove and fight any discrimination in court, if he had access to the resources necessary to do so. 

The law, written by white people seeking to circumvent their moral debt, decided that the past harm was irrelevant and what mattered now was how to move forward. 

The law has failed to mete out justice to Black Americans in any statistically meaningful sense. Race disparities run rampant in every corner of society we chose to measure.  

The law is only the law if someone is willing to enforce it on your behalf.

We know from boatloads of data collected over the last half a century that the law is anti-black in execution, not in language. Because anti-black racial bias is unavoidable in western society  and the people ostensibly upholding these laws were hand selected and groomed for their positions by avowed segregationists, the law has been applied in a racially unjust way. 

To understand how revolting this bias truly is, Bryan Stevenson makes the comparison to Germany executing Jewish people at twice the rate of non-Jewish people despite them being a very small percentage of the population. Would you find that acceptable? Yet, that’s exactly what white Americans, who make up a severely outsized portion of judicial and police positions, do with Black Americans. 

It’s Good For You

Giving is good for you. According some studies, it even increases the length of your life (?!?!?). There are plenty of moral reasons to give back what was stolen from my ancestors and passed down to you, but the fact is, restitution in the form of individual reparations is good for the giver. Granted, given back what was stolen and is not actually yours may not precisely qualify, but hey, you’re on the right track by doing it.

Hi there, thank you so much for taking the time to read this essay. You support means the world to me. If you’re able and you find my work valuable, please consider making a small donation to help me continue to share and educate. You can give instantly on any of your normal apps or better yet, join White Homework and become a patron. Whether or not you can give, would you take one minute to share this post with your friends, family, and colleagues? Thanks again.
Xx, Tori

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