Reparations: Who is Owed, What is Owed, And by Whom is it Owed?

Many of our strangely anointed leaders rant that they know what is good for us, that they know what we all need.

Moreover, they imply that until all black Americans — each and every one of us — are economically solvent, America has not lived up to its creed.

Some of our leaders (and their desperate followers) claim that America has a debt to pay to its descendants of slaves. That the potentiality for success for each and every black person has somehow been compromised by a history of unequal treatment. They further imply that we are therefore owed reparations to give us equal footing on the ladder to success. This is utter nonsense.

There will always be some persons who are successful and some who are unsuccessful in a competitive economic environment. And, as such, there will always be some persons — black, white, otherwise — who don’t “make it” economically. To hold the nation a psychological and moral hostage for the inability or unwillingness of some to achieve is indefensible.

It is a given that some proportion of our nation will be impoverished.



We need also to accept that some black people will not make it — now or ever.



Rather than wrestling with the unattainable goal of empowerment and success for all, what needs to be determined, in my opinion, is a reasonable and equitable impoverishment rate across all groups. Is it 2 percent, 5 percent, 15 percent? What is that rate? Doesn’t arriving at that cornerstone make much more sense than continuing to battle toward an unknown and unestablished economic goal? Otherwise, when do we stop battling? The answer to this question is much more important than what appears on the surface. Its significance for black consciousness and identity represents a very major paradigm shift toward the positive.

Perhaps we need to press economists for the figure. To arrive at such a figure would be almost therapeutic for us and for the entire nation. Instead of a battle toward the nebulous target of economic equality, we would have a determinable target.

The acceptance of such a numerical and cognitive precept would free us from an interminable and ill-defined battle for “Equality.”

We could break ranks and live our lives individually; unencumbered by the unwieldy swords and armor of a black struggle that presents as unending. Our struggles would be our own. We could no longer hold “them” and their descendants eternally responsible for our well-being. We would have to relinquish our tenacious hold of Past injustices and wrongs and concentrate on the Present and the Future. Moreover, we would be responsible individually for our own livelihoods, our own happiness, and our own successes and failures.

At this juncture in American history, the monumental task of turning to overcome ourselves is upon us. Both as individuals and as a community. So much of who we are has emanated from our epic struggles of social justice. Moreover, our over-identification with struggles before present times serves to keep us psychologically tied and wedded to the hallowed Past.

For those black persons who remain steeped in the past, Reparations likely seems a panacea. But one thing that history should have taught us by now is this: Throwing money at a problem doesn’t necessarily represent a cure. When one considers the average person, what needs to be enriched are souls–not pockets.

That is what makes facing ourselves so very difficult. It can be very threatening to one’s psyche to look around at the progress of black Advancers and consider that the struggle is over — threatening particularly to those who have invested only rhetoric and rationalization toward the future. They must consider that by being remiss they have been left behind. Black Delayers were so busy singing or identifying with “We Shall Overcome” that few of them considered what would happen once we did. That is, once equal opportunities presented themselves.

Many of us have become entitled — thinking that we are owed. However, it is my belief that the only ones owed are those who cleared obstacles for us or sacrificed so that we might advance. And guess who owes them? Not the white man, not the system, or the government, but YOU and ME. We owe them Progress! Despite the ravings of those who insist that we keep our eyes closed to progress made, We Have Overcome! At least, we have overcome them. Now let’s turn to overcoming ourselves.

So, in response to the culturally definitive questions related to Reparations:

Question: WHO IS OWED?

Answer: Our abused forebears. In light of the degradation, murders, rapes, lynchings, indignities, and other abuses suffered, these are the people who are owed. Not today’s descendants, in general, of those enslaved persons. And certainly not those weak persons with hands outstretched who take refuge in many of our communities today. The latter are no more than offshoots from our common strong roots. Although simple blackness of skin was more than enough to enact abuses in the Past, it is not enough today to warrant remuneration to all descendants. Opportunity to succeed (or fail) was denied our common ancestors. But now, through the efforts of subsequent generations of black Advancers, those opportunities (to succeed or fail) have been secured.

Now, you want more??!!

Question: WHAT IS OWED?

Answer: Continued achievement and inclusion in the entire fabric of United States society. To wit, Progress. Our forebears were enslaved and restricted from participation as full citizens. We owe them continued expansion beyond ourselves, beyond our cultures, and beyond our communities.  


Answer: Each and every black American! WE owe the debt. We owe them NOT to relent; We owe them NOT to cower, and We owe them NOT to wait helplessly for the system’s handouts.      

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. 

Until next time: 



Get in Touch

Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on
several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, The
Ken Hamblin Show
, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and
C-SPAN’S Book TV. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past, Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.