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From criminal justice reform to how to best teach American history, race continues to be one of the most contentious issues in American politics. On one side of this volatile debate, a number of cities and states have begun debating reparations: a form of payment to African Americans to compensate for slavery and other past mistreatment.
Most recently, a California task force issued a report calling for cash payments of up to $1.2 million to millions of African Americans living or who have lived in the state. This closely follows a similar recommendation in San Francisco where the local Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed an even-more-extravagant proposal to provide a one-time $5 million payment to every Black resident of the city, along with other benefits.
While the idea may seem far-fetched, we should not dismiss reparations out of hand. Although some proposals are difficult to take seriously, the idea that America owes a moral debt to African Americans for centuries of maltreatment is a longstanding one. The past informs the present, and inequalities of opportunity for the descendants of victims of slavery and segregation remain.