Obama Reverses Course On Reparations In Candid Podcast

The former President brought up how reparations seem necessary to level the playing field for African-Americans but that he sees why Whites wouldn’t be on board.

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

Former President Obama spoke about race relations in America with Bruce Springsteen in their new Spotify-exclusive podcast Renegades: Born in the USA. At one point, the pair touched on reparations, where Obama justified the need for them now. He said, “the wealth of this country, the power of this country … not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it … but a large portion of it, was built on the backs of slaves.” This is a huge departure from where Obama stood while President.

Back in 2016, in an Atlantic interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Obama explained that it was hard from a practical sense to right the wrongs made to Blacks over centuries. At the time he said,

Theoretically, you can make, obviously, a powerful argument that centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination are the primary cause for all those gaps. That those were wrongs done to the black community as a whole, and black families specifically, and that in order to close that gap, a society has a moral obligation to make a large, aggressive investment, even if it’s not in the form of individual reparations checks, but in the form of a Marshall Plan, in order to close those gaps. It is easy to make that theoretical argument. But as a practical matter, it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence of historic wrongs, we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to make that right.

Obama made the argument that from a theoretical, abstract argument you could make the case for reparations, but that from a practical sense it would be too hard to implement. Although in the podcast episode he agreed with reparations, he conceded to largely the same conclusion that it wasn’t feasible.

Getting a majority of Americans to agree to a reparations program is an entirely different matter, argued the former President, acknowledging that working-class Whites had a reason for not going along with the program when they are struggling with paying their bills and student loans. He elaborated on the difficulty with people even agreeing to affirmative action and how the discussion around reparations may be counterproductive as opposition grows towards the program. Reparations for African-Americans would not be cheap either.

To eliminate the existing wealth gap between Blacks and Whites, it is estimated that it will cost 10–12 trillion dollars. That comes out to around $800,000 going to each eligible Black household. Not only is that a startling number, but it also represents half of America’s GDP ($21.48 trillion). Obama is correct in his assessment that from a practical standpoint reparations would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement. The cost alone would deter almost all centrist Democrats and Republicans from supporting it and the sheer size of the program would be too hard to manage. If reparations seem impossible, what measures can be taken to level the playing field between Blacks and Whites?

Obama didn’t elaborate on what could be done outside of reparations, but there are plenty of actions that can be taken to give Blacks greater opportunity in America. This includes supporting Black-owned businesses whenever you can. Make a conscious effort to shop at Black-owned stores and to keep your money in Black-owned banks. Secondly, divest from private prisons, fossil fuels, and hold institutions accountable that are still invested in both industries. Fossil fuels disproportionately pollute Black communities and divesting from private prisons ensures that the prison-industrial complex begins to be dismantled. Lastly, seek out Black professionals. Actions like these put Black Americans in higher demand and give them access to the capital they need to grow their communities.

Barack Obama voicing his support for reparations is a huge departure from his previous stance and it is a welcomed change. The more support and discussions we have around reparations the bigger the conversation becomes around eliminating the massive wealth gap between Blacks and Whites. A reparations program may not ever come to fruition, but acknowledging the disadvantages in the Black community due to the lasting effects of slavery begins the necessary conversation of how we get rid of them.

A writer who focuses on pieces about race, politics, culture, and technology — among other topics. Editor-in-chief of Perceive More!

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