Resolved: The United States Federal Government ought to pay reparations to African Americans (Intro)


Pro Essay  Con Essay  


The question of reparations for African American will also force speakers to explore the history of racism in the US and how that racism manifests itself in the present.

The Resolution

United States federal government. The United States federal government is the central government in Washington, DC. The appearance of this term in the resolution is significant because there is some debate in the literature as to whether or not the federal government was responsible for slavery and other forms of oppression against African Americans (Jim Crow Laws).

When preparing for debates, Pro speakersshould make special note of reasons why the federal government is responsible for injustice and/or why (at least) they should be the ones responsible for the reparations.

Reparations.   Reparations are generally defined as, “The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” (Google Definitions). They are usually given to support “collective repair” of an injustice.

Here, one might have a question as to why and how I distinguish corrective justice from reparations. I use “reparations” rather than “corrective justice” because of the use of the term “reparations” in the current discourse of repairing social relationships. Both of these terms invoke the idea of returning an unjust social relationship to a just one. The similarity of the terms follows from the similarity of their root terms. In common usage of the terms “to correct” means to alter a situation, circumstance, technique or tool to its desired state (eliminate mistakes). On the other hand “to repair” means to return a situation to its original condition. “Corrective justice” is a more general term that can also be used to talk about torts and insurance claims. “Reparations” is the more specific term that refers to collective repair after an injustice. Furthermore, it is the term that is used in the contemporary discourse about repairing social injustices. Thus, I use the term “reparations” rather than “corrective justice.”

There are two important issues regarding defining “reparations” in the context of this debate.

The first question is whether or not the reparations should be directed toward individuals (for examples, descendants of slaves) or a group (all African Americans). There are advocates for each of these approaches.

The second question is what should the reparations consist of. There are many different proposals within this question, including small payments to all African Americans, large payments (based on the number of uncompensated hours worked to descendants of slaves, and a “Superfund” to provide educational, health, and economic opportunities to individuals living in areas heavily populated by (poor) African Americans.

Constitutional Rights Foundation, Reparations for Slavery? No date, DOA: 6-26-15

Throughout the years, people have proposed different reparation plans. Some, like Robert Brock, a Los Angeles campaigner for reparations, argued for direct payments to descendants of slaves. “The government owes us money on a number of different fronts,” the 66-year-old black activist declared, “. . . for labor, for loss of culture and of humanity.” Some supporters of reparations, like journalist Ron Daniels, proposed government financing of a national fund to develop educational and economic opportunities for the entire African-American community. Daniels argued in an editorial that “America must own up to its responsibility to make a damaged people whole again.” Others, such as the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), advocate a broader approach. They believe that government could satisfy the call for reparations by a variety of means, including land, ownership of companies, stock, money, and aircraft. The group also calls for a method of self-government for American blacks to give them autonomy. Just as advocates are not unanimous about the form of reparations, neither are they united on the amount. Some favor direct payments to slave descendants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 or more. Others, like N’COBRA, believe a final amount cannot be determined until more study has been done to determine the harm slavery has caused blacks. But they suggest the total amount could be in the “trillions.

The efficacy of any reparations advocacy will depend, at least to a degree, on what specific type of reparation is advocated. As will be suggested later, more modest and practical proposals are likely to find more favor with judges.

African Americans. “African Americans, also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans, is an ethnic group of citizens or residents of the United States with total or partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa.[3][4] The term may also be used to include only those individuals who are descended from African slaves.[5][6] As a compound adjective the term is usually hyphenated as African-American.[7][8](Wikipedia)

The General Debate

Before moving into a discussion of the specific arguments on both sides, I want to offer a few general observations based on the reading I have done thus far.

First, there are very strong theoretical and philosophical arguments in favor of reparations. The Pro has the strategic advantage in this sense. The flip side is that there are a lot of practical objections to the feasibility of delivering reparations. Both sides should play the are of argument to their advantage and recognize where there are weaknesses and attempt to compensate

Second, as mentioned, there are many different proposals for reparations. Speakers may wish to choose examples of reparations they support from a more limited list, making advocacy more pragmatic and persuasive.

Third, it is important to understand that the majority of the White public (your judge audience at most Public Forum debate tournaments) does not support reparations; polling indicates that only 10% of Whites support reparations. This is relevant not only for what side you may want to choose but also because when you are Pro you will need to focus on arguments that might be persuasive to an otherwise hostile audience.


Admittedly, when I first heard of the idea of reparations I though it was “crazy;” I couldn’t image paying billions (maybe trillions) of dollars in reparations for wrongs that occurred in past generations, some of which are hundreds of years old. After reading the literature, however, I must say that I think the case is very persuasive, practical problems in tow.