White Allies

A Rabbi’s Plea: Slavery Reparations to Move Forward

Reparations are not punitive; they’re restorative.

This idea is mirrored by Professor Mary Frances Berry of the University of Pennsylvania in her call for reparations. “Reparations for unpaid labor are restitution,” she says. As the leading advocate for a proposed “reparation superfund,” Berry calls for “payment for damages to make whole for harm done.” She goes on: “No restrictions should be made on how the money is spent. If their ancestors had received wages for their labor, they too would have bought what they wanted, invested it as they desired, or given it to churches or schools or charities.”

Looking below the surface, the economic disequilibrium between whites and blacks is stark. The lack of wealth and economic power in the black community is linked to racial injustices, both obvious and subtle, motivated by unconscious bias. We need a shift in American moral thinking.

Reparations for slavery are a means to a more just society, not an end to attain absolution. Should we continue to ignore the original turpitude of our founding generations, then we remain complicit. As a Jewish educator, I teach the importance of practicing not only empathy but also action to liberate the enslaved and formerly enslaved. Reparations are our moral responsibility. We must fashion a society that reflects the justice we want to see in the world.

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