The politics of reparations: The path to racial equity requires more philanthropic investment

Tonyel Edwards, Aria Florant and Ivy Nyayieka

Across the world, reparations have been employed to address a wide range of human rights injustices. Last year, New Zealand made reparations to the Ngāti Maru, one of its Indigenous peoples. After World War II, Germany started the work of societal healing and also paid more than 80 billion euros to survivors of the Holocaust. In South Africa, a truth and reconciliation commission spearheaded by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela is praised for the public airing of the harms apartheid inflicted on Black South Africans. However, accountability and redress fell short: reparations payments were minimal, and no perpetrators were prosecuted, while some received amnesty.

In the US, momentum for reparations is building as the nation grapples with a history of policies that created and sustained racial inequity. Currently, reparations and racial repair activities are happening across all 50 states. In 2021, Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the US to create a reparations plan for its Black residents in the form of housing grants targeting some of the population affected by housing discrimination. A consortium of more than 90 universities across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada are investigating their own institutions’ ties to slavery and the legacies of racism in their histories.

Many funders come to reparations from a desire to shrink the US racial wealth gap. If the current wealth of white US households remained stagnant, it would take Black families 228 years, more than 10 generations, to catch up.

As momentum grows, there is a massive opportunity for philanthropy to fund US organisations that see reparations for Black people and building a culture of racial repair as the missing pieces to a more equitable future for everyone. ‘This work aims to heal our past so that we can fully experience our thriving future,’ says Vanessa Masson, principal at Omidyar Network, who leads a new repair portfolio. ‘By cultivating the soil for repair, we can all benefit from the holistic range of remedies taking root.’

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