Should the city of Boston give Black people reparations for slavery?
That’s the question the city council will probe in an upcoming hearing, as called for on Wednesday by City Councilors Julia Mejia and Kenzie Bok.
The idea of reparations — stretching back to the famous proposal of 40 acres and a mule for newly freed slaves right after the Civil War — is the idea that the government owes Black people something for enslaving their ancestors.
The order submitted by Mejia and Bok calls for “a hearing on reparations and their impact on the civil rights of Black Bostonians, in order to both form a common, shared history regarding Boston’s involvement in the enslavement of Black people as well as to explore the possibility of Boston issuing reparations.”
Mejia, speaking to the council on Wednesday, said this would be a way of making up for America’s “original sin” of slavery. She left the concept of what the reparations could be open, from money to simply some dialogue about slavery.
“It could be so much more than just a check in the mail — reparations could be compensation, but it could also take place in the form of providing care and services to descendants of slaves, as well as issuing a public apology,” she said.
She noted the oft-cited Federal Reserve study from six years ago, which said white households have a median net worth of $247,500, as compared to $8 for Black households.
Bok, who’s worked as a historian, said the effects of slavery continue to ripple through the generations.
“The opportunity to kind of look at that history, and then say, what would be meaningful, what would be a motion toward repair, is really a long overdue conversation in our society,” Bok said.
The hearing will take place at a to-be-determined date.
Critics of the idea of monetary reparations have cited the massive cost and logistical effort that would be required to get money to people, and to process applications. Others argue such a thing would no longer be needed so far out from the slavery era.
The idea of reparations is old, but it’s regained traction over the past several years in particular, coming along with the increase of focus on racial issues. There’s currently a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would create a commission to look into reparations.
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