Category: Reparations


Emory’s slave history: One step forward, three-fifths of a step back?

Among the many institutions tainted by historical association with slavery are a number of universities, including Emory. This is clear from the historical record; both the University itself and many of its employees used slave labor, while the school also served as a focal point for important intellectual defenses of slavery.

In recent years, the University has taken steps to recognize and take responsibility for this history and move forward in positive ways. The school issued an official statement of regret for its involvement in slavery; launched the Transforming Community Project; and held a fantastic conference on Slavery and the University which focused on groundbreaking work from Mark Auslander, Al Brophy, and other scholars. (Full disclosure: I was a speaker at this event.)

All in all, Emory has been moving in a very positive direction over the past few years. Which makes the latest column from University President James Wagner such a head-scratcher. Read More


Making Sure Women Have a Seat at the Table in Transitional Societies

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used her speech at the International Women of Courage Awards to call for women to be included in the processes of transition underway in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East.  According to Secretary Clinton, despite the fact that women played a prominent role in recent popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, no women were invited to “join in drafting constitutional amendments for the transition to democracy [in Egypt].”  Clinton rightly expressed her concerns with this state of affairs, pointing out both that “women . . . deserve to be at that table making those choices that will affect their lives and the lives of their daughters and theirs sons” and that “[n]o government can succeed if it excludes half of its people from important decisions.” 

The experiences of women in abusive societies and the roles and rights of women in times of transition are topics of considerable interest for transitional justice scholars.  Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Ruth Rubio Marin, Christine Bell, and Catherine O’Rourke deserve particular credit for pressing these issues in recent articles and collected editions.  The central messages of their important scholarship are: 1) that women’s experiences as victims are unique both because women are more frequently subjected to sexual violence and because women often bear much of the economic and social burdens of family survival; 2) that women are uniquely vulnerable during and after transition and are at risk of remaining victims of oppression and targeted violence even as the rest of society is liberalized; 3) that democratic commitments core to most transitional movements entitle women to a “seat at the table” during transition; and 4) that by including women in transitional and transitional justice processes, transitioning societies will be in a better position to achieve lasting peace while making good on their core commitments to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.  While hard to argue, these claims on justice have yet to gain much traction in actual transitions.  Secretary Clinton’s comments are therefore welcome and well-timed.


Reparations and Gates-keeping

Henry Louis Gates writes in the New York Times that reparations discussion should include a focus on culpability of Black slave traders in Africa — a move which ultimately serves to weaken many reparations arguments. Why is the President’s advisor making these kinds of arguments — and why now? I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that it relates to the existing political environment.

A number of right wing critics have recently claimed that President Obama is seeking reparations. This includes Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who have both repeatedly called health care reform a form of stealth reparations. The apparent reasoning is that health care reform will proportionately benefit Blacks as a group more than whites, because Blacks have a higher rate of uninsured individuals.

The underlying insurance statistics are clear enough — Black individuals lacking insurance make up about 19% of the group population, while the comparable percent for whites is about 10%. In fact a number of advocates (including me) have argued that this and other major statistical gaps are reasons to support reparations, because they show how slavery and Jim Crow inflict continuing harm today.

Beck and Limbaugh have flipped the argument around. Read More


Apology Lite

Earlier this week, the Connecticut Law Review CONNtemplations published my short article, Apology Lite: Truths, Doubts, and Reconciliations in the Senate’s Guarded Apology for Slavery. The article’s abstract is:

The United States Senate recently offered an apology for slavery, which contained an unusual disclaimer prohibiting its use in any claim for monetary reparations. This Essay examines the legal and moral effects of that apology. It analyzes the role of apology within the slavery reparations debate generally as well as the question of whether a stand-alone apology can be a valid form of reparations. It then examines the moral and symbolic effects of the Senate disclaimer, and offers suggestions for bolstering the apology and furthering the restorative justice goals of reparations.

If you’re interested in the topic, please take a moment to read the article; it’s not particularly long. If you’ve read the piece, I’m curious as to your thoughts about the Senate’s guarded apology. How serious are the concerns set out in Apology Lite? Can a lite apology be effective? Is it better than no apology? And, what do you think about my suggestions for bolstering the Senate apology?


Reparations and Net Benefit

As reported in outlets like the National Law Journal, Connecticut professor Robert L. Birmingham has taken a leave of absence following a strange incident in which he apparently showed the class a racy video clip — complete with scantily clad strippers — as part of an in-class argument against reparations for slavery. Some commenters have suggested that this case raises potential questions of academic freedom. Let’s set aside those issues, to focus on the substance of Birmingham’s argument as reported in the NLJ.

The NLJ summarizes Birmingham’s argument as: “The sometimes controversial professor asked students to make a case for slavery reparations in light of the fact that much of Africa is beset by war, famine and AIDS.” later summarizes:

In an e-mail, one student in the remedies class characterized Birmingham’s classroom exercise as a “syllogistically perfect” argument that the students, try as they might, were not able to disprove in 15 minutes of discussion. The professor questioned whether reparations are logically due for American descendants of slaves, who generally enjoy a much better standard of living than modern West Africans whose ancestors were not enslaved,” the student wrote.

Of course, this basic argument isn’t limited to Birmingham, and is quite familiar to reparationists. It’s a point often raised by reparations critics like David Horowitz.

Is this really a syllogistically perfect (or otherwise convincing) argument against reparations for slavery?

Read More


The World Conference on Japanese Military Sexual Slavery

The World Conference on Japanese Military Sexual Slavery is going on right now at UCLA. I remember taking a class on the rhetoric of the law of war as an undergraduate student and some of the issues we studied come up here. Where does the law fit? How accurate is the history? How does one attain justice and still have room for atonement and a way to move forward as a society? As Beth Van Schaack explains regarding the panel about comfort women “A perfect storm of legal doctrines, foreign policy objectives, treaty provisions waiving claims for reparations, failures of political will, and Japanese intransigence has left the ‘comfort women’ with little in the way of legal options at this point.” For those interested in the specific topic or the general area of reparations, Beth’s post notes the historical context and the trouble one faces in trying to apply law to the issues. In short, it is an interesting read.


Lots Worth Reading At Is That Legal

Eric Mulller, over at Is That Legal, has been very busy for the last few days. First he offered a trenchant critique of Pope Benedict’s talk at Auschwitz last week. (“The Pope’s Disasterous Speech At Auschwitz.”) Then he engaged Dean Esmay over what he frames as Esmay’s propogation of ” the revisionist myth of a terrorized German populace whose will was overborne.” You know the world is topsy-turvy when John Leo is citing Eric approvingly.

Now Eric’s writing about an interesting development in Wilmington, North Carolina: a legistlatively authorized commission has concluded that an 1898 race riot there was a political coup d’etat that reversed the fortunes of the city’s African-American community for years to follow. The committee offered recommendations “to repair the moral, economic, civic and political damage wrought by the violence and discrimination resulting from a conspiracy to re-take control of city, county, and state governments by the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaign.” The executive summary is here.

This report will presumably be of great interest to Al Brophy, who served as counsel to the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. You can find a number of links to Tulsa Race Riot materials here.

On a more self-interested note, we’re very excited that Eric will be visiting with us here at Co-Op starting in a couple of weeks!