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Several Democratic candidates have been quick to accept reparations recently. Bernie Sanders is more careful.
On Monday, at a CNN public meeting, a woman asked Sanders what his views were on repairs, and he first talked about trying to "devote resources to communities in distress and to improve the lives of those who have been victims of slavery. "
Moderator Wolf Blitzer pushed for a more direct response, noting that several presidential candidates have said they support the repairs. Sanders answered the question with his own question – a question that is now pressing the field of democracy 2020:
"What does it mean? What do they mean? I'm not sure anyone is very clear," Sanders said.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Senator of New Jersey, Cory Booker, Senator of California, Kamala Harris and author Marianne Williamson all have somehow said to be in favor of reparations for African Americans. to people affected by discriminatory policies such as slavery, Jim Crow's laws and redlining.
Warren added that Native Americans should also be part of the conversation.
But while many candidates have quickly stated that they support politics, they are now faced with both the difficult question of what this type of policy should look like and the fundamental question of whether their proposed plans meet even to the definition of "repairs". "
"Baby bonds" and tax credits in repair
Williamson has the most direct approach, saying it would allocate up to $ 500 billion to address a range of discriminatory policies.
"If you kick someone on the ground, you have to do more than stop kicking," she told Hot 97 radio station. of New York earlier this month. "You owe them to say: Here: let me help you up."
Other candidates tout their existing safety net programs as part of the reparations debate.
Booker, for example, is promoting his "Baby Bond" program, which would put money into savings accounts for all American children. However, much more money would go to poor children – who are disproportionately black – to middle class children.
"It is absolutely right to see the Baby Bond Act as a form of redress through this perspective," said Booker spokesman Michael Tyler.
Similarly, when a reporter from The Grio's website questioned Harris about his support for the repairs, she promoted her "LIFT Act," a tax credit plan that would disproportionately help the most vulnerable families. poor.
"We must recognize that not everyone has started on an equal footing in this country, and especially Blacks have not done it," she said. "And so we have to recognize that, do something about it and give people a boost."
Booker and Harris's policies tackle the major racial economic divides at the heart of the reparations debate. Reparations advocates often point to the huge gap in racial wealth in America. According to the Federal Reserve, in 2016, the median white family had a net worth of $ 171,000. The average black family had about $ 17,000, a tenth more.
But while Booker and Harris's projects would probably help black families more than whites, none of their programs are based on race.
This blurs the debate over reparations, said Darrick Hamilton, executive director of the Kirwan Institute of Race and Ethnicity Studies at the State University of l & # 39; Ohio.
"Something that is economically inclusive but has a racial bias – it may or may not be good policies, but let's be clear: these are not reparations," he said.
It's not a question of challenging the definitions, added Hamilton. Rather, it is possible that asking for a remedy based on a policy without explicitly attempting to remedy the wrongs of the past amounts to putting a band-aid on a centuries-old plague.
"It would be almost the worst scenario, to say that we solved the problem of race when in fact we did not do it," he said.
A reparation policy would include not only compensation, but also recognition of specific wrongs and reconciliation, according to Hamilton.
Repairs vs. "race conscious" policy
Even though the politics of most candidates may not meet these criteria, many of them promote economic plans that are sold as "race conscious".
For example, Warren's plan for housing assistance – especially for communities with a history of racial discrimination – could help reduce the racial wealth gap. But his campaign emphasizes that she does not consider this proposal as a remedy.
Similarly, Sanders says its anti-inequality policy will reduce racial economic disparities in the United States.
The focus put by the candidates on reducing racial gaps is the sign of a changing conversation about race.
"What they all recognize is that these disparities are really part of the American landscape and that we need to find solutions to their problems as vast as our country," said Hilary Shelton, Director. from the NAACP office in Washington. .
What Americans think
There are not many reparations surveys, but existing polls suggest a potential dilemma for candidates.
A 2016 Marist poll revealed that a majority of African Americans supported this policy. Black voters are one of the most important demographics of the Democratic Party.
But then, this same poll showed that only 26% of Americans like the idea of repairs.
This could add reparations to a list of other progressive political ideas, such as Medicare-for-all and free college, which are popular among Democratic primary voters, but which may become polarized during an election. General.
Hamilton, who is in favor of reparations, believes that polls like this do not mean that politics will remain unpopular forever.
"Not so long ago, Medicare for all was an idea politically criticized as a pie in heaven," he said.
In this sense, the democratic race of 2020 is proof that ideas can change – sometimes unexpectedly.