In this brief, we examine the evolution of reparations proposals in the United States, connect a national reparations program to the United Nations' international human rights standards around reparations, and discuss the potential of a national reparations program to close long-standing racial gaps in wealth, housing, education, criminal justice, and other areas. We focus in part on the reparations commission proposed by H.R. 40, the most comprehensive reparations legislation in US history. We also make recommendations for strengthening the research and policy-development infrastructure for reparations.
We argue that in addition to compensation for past harms, conceptualizations of reparations should involve looking at present practices, policies, and barriers to economic security and wealth building for Black Americans. We can account for historical injustices and prioritize how they have contributed to and exacerbated present inequalities while considering how current policies continue to exacerbate and reproduce those inequalities.
In addition to exploring early reparations efforts in the United States, we review selected policy proposals that have involved efforts to make progress on reparations for Black Americans, analyze the current reparations policy landscape, and recommend ways researchers can identify approaches to make reparations effective at eliminating key racial gaps for Black Americans. This research can inform policy discussions and analyses of reparations, especially as governments continue to explore them.