Reparations must go beyond alleviating white guilt

Illustration of money coming out of a series of pipes.
Aarthi Muthukumar/Senior Staff

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National and state laws have consistently been built on the exclusion and exploitation of the Black community — redlining, high incarceration rates and environmental racism are just some examples of how they have manifested. In a historic step toward addressing systemic inequalities and multi-generational traumas the Black community still faces, the Berkeley City Council passed the first phase of Berkeley Reparations on March 22.

The call for reparations has been long overdue, especially on a national level. If well executed, the Berkeley Reparations project could spearhead a larger shift toward wealth redistribution throughout the country; or at the very least, prove that reparations are actionable instead of unachievable or utopian. While this is a milestone worth celebrating, building a more equitable future in Berkeley must extend beyond this plan, both financially and ideologically.

The first phase of Berkeley Reparations, which has already passed, will onboard a consultant to design short- and long-term recommendations for policies to address historical discrimination and slavery. This will have four main focuses: reckoning, acknowledgement, accountability and redress.

Reckoning and acknowledgement are particularly important, as they will provide an ideological foundation for future policy reforms. Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett stated that acknowledgement would come in the form of community gatherings where statistics are presented on systemic inequalities and where Berkeley residents can talk about their own life experiences.

While it will always be important to highlight firsthand experiences and demonstrate tangible effects of racism, this stage of “acknowledgement” must not merely put racial trauma on display. The Black community lives this experience; acknowledgement must also come from the institutions and bystanders responsible for systemic discrimination. Just one example of this could be rebuilding relations between healthcare officials and Black communities, particularly in a time when healthcare is more important than ever. 

Endless resources on the historical discimination of Black people are available for free online and in libraries — this phase of Berkeley Reparations must be more than another optional seminar. This is a unique opportunity to demand increased acknowledgement by non-Black communities through education in a way that yields practical benefits to the Black community. Only then will this plan go beyond simply alleviating white guilt. 

Just as important, if not more, is the execution of the ensuing policy changes and reparative payments. Berkeley Reparations must maintain utmost transparency and involve the Black community in developing each of its plans, also ensuring the redistribution of wealth is not taking from other essential services that bolster marginalized communities. Ultimately, we must remember that there is no real price tag that can be slapped on multigenerational trauma that continues to be lived out: The work must continue. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2022 opinion editor, Jessie Wu.