Ask any African-American you know “Do you feel you are due reparations? It’s guaranteed all polled will answer “yes.” On the other hand, nearly seven in 10 Americans oppose paying reparations to Black descendants of slaves for the harm and racial discrimination caused by slavery, according to an Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll commissioned by WGBH Boston. The poll’s opinions on reparations divide along racial lines.

Many Black intellectuals say that “the economies of developed, capitalist, industrial countries were built on backs of Black slaves. Black slaves were the engine that propelled Europe’s rise to global economic dominance. The toil of enslaved Blacks helped amass capital that financed the “industrial revolution.” The West’s wealth was built on the exploitation of Africans. It’s estimated that America owes Black descendents of slaves $5 trillion. Yet the Point Taken-Marist Poll says White Americans “overwhelmingly oppose” such restitution.

Hardly anyone in America disputes that slavery is wrong. But hardly anyone dares to discuss righting the wrongs of slavery and legacy of injustices it brought about. Slavery can rightly be called our nation’s “original sin.” And the Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll illustrates its indelible imprint on America. Racial discrimination and inequity abound in America. The legacy of slavery continues to shape the nation’s politics in ways that are not fully appreciated by a citizenry who would rather ignore its history in the vain hope that they might escape it.

In an irony of ironies, Black Americans, America’s most economically “disadvantaged” ethnic group, are very cavalier about reparations and “whether a debt is owed them.” In the Point Taken-Marist Poll, nearly six in ten Americans assert the current wealth of the U.S. is not significantly tied to work done in the past by slaves, although most consider the history of slavery and racial discrimination to be at least a factor in the gap in wealth between Whites and Blacks. Many Americans, 69 percent, including half of African-Americans, think slavery and racial discrimination are part of the history of the United States but that it is time to move beyond it. Twenty-seven percent believe slavery and racial discrimination are a wrong that still needs to be made right by the U.S. government. Millennials, 57 percent, are the least likely of the generations to believe it’s time to put the issue of slavery behind the nation and are the most likely to report that it is still a wrong that needs to be made right by the U.S. government, 40 percent.

“Mainstream” influence has caused the subject of “reparations for slavery” to become “controversial” among African-Americans. Most Whites don’t know or recognize the impact of racism in America. Structural racism resists social change. In the poll, White Americans, 81 percent are much more likely than African-Americans, 35 percent, to oppose giving monetary compensation to descendants of slaves.

The validity of the issue of reparations needs to gain more momentum among African-Americans. Forty-nine percent of millennials oppose providing compensation to the descendants of slaves, and a majority is against paying reparations to African-Americans in general. Greater support for reparations exists when the question spotlights private companies who admitted and apologized for profiting from American slavery.

Black Americans are missing on an issue that could right what is wrong. Blacks of conscious should use the “Roots” movie event as an impetus to recognize the past and how it has shaped contemporary race and race relations. John Conyers, the member of Congress most associated with reparations, says: “It’s a fact that slavery flourished in the U.S. and constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of slaves’ lives, liberty, and cultural heritage. As a result, millions of African-Americans today continue to suffer great injustices.” Rep. Stephen Ira “Steve” Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, Tennessee, has drafted a resolution for an apology to Black Americans for the institution of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow laws. And Bernie Sanders said he would apologize for slavery if elected president.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” is and available for projects via

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” is and available for projects via

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William Reed

William Reed is President and Chief Executive Officer of Black Press International. He has been a Media Entrepreneur for over two decades. A well-trained marketing and communications professional, Reed...

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