Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 article “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic reignited the debate over reparations for slavery in the United States. Arguing for reparations by recounting the history of segregation and housing discrimination throughout the 20th century, Coates persuasively argues that we should understand reparations as both a material and spiritual project. As he writes: “What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal … Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”
A revolution in consciousness requires education, and we hope that this syllabus can serve as a valuable resource for teachers, researchers, and advocates interested in learning more about reparations. As the sources compiled here attest, the struggle for reparations is an intergenerational, intercultural, and international struggle to reckon with violence and discrimination in our past, inequality in the present, and visions for a more equitable future. This project is not a solely academic one and our syllabus is intended to provide an archive of popular and scholarly sources on the topic.
The majority of the texts on the syllabus address the debates and claims around black reparations in the United States. The first section provides some primer texts on the topic before the next two sections present major arguments for and against reparations claims. The next section details models of restorative justice in the United States, including both proposals and successful claims for reparations. The following two sections broaden the scope of the syllabus to explore the mutual constitution of symbolic and material forms of reparations within and beyond the United States, further illustrating how the intersecting processes of enslavement, settler colonialism, racial capitalism, segregation, housing exclusion, civic ostracism, and beyond have shaped the very categories and communities whose expropriation and exploitation have engendered the claims for restorative justice. The syllabus explores, for example, how debates over black reparations intersect with Japanese American redress after incarceration, Native American dispossession and land claims, Caribbean nations’ demands for reparations, and Pan-African reparations claims. The syllabus concludes with two sections that specifically deal with Japanese American and Aleut claims for reparations, and Native American demands for land and educational restitution and repatriation.
This syllabus is not meant to provide an exhaustive list of sources on reparations–this is an evolving document and we welcome suggestions for additional sources to add. Reparations demands can be material, as in demands for land or money, symbolic, as in public apologies, or cultural, as in the replacement of public monuments tied to violence or injustice. Recognizing the diverse ways in which individuals and groups reckon with the aftermath of collective trauma, this syllabus is meant to provide an introduction to some of the major debates and texts in the field.
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The Reparations Syllabus is published by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing Services