Black reparations: a vision for achieving real justice

Feb. 28, 1964. Hundreds of Black activists march to the Canton, Mississippi, county courthouse to register to vote. PHOTO:
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How politically apt, how relevant to read Emily Woo Yamasaki’s “A Revolutionary Call for Black Reparations.” Hot off the press, the piece puts forth the plan and action necessary to meaningfully seek redress for slavery and four centuries of institutionalized racism against Black people. It’s a refreshing take on both the issue and the collective work ahead.

Woo Yamasaki presents this incisive call on behalf of the National Comrades of Color Caucus (NCCC), a leadership body of the members of color in the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women.

The fight for restitution, then and now. This booklet gives the reader a big picture, spelling out the foundations of racism in the United States. It examines historical precedents for reparations and critiques the current debate. I appreciate the inclusion of diverse visions of organizations and individuals regarding U.S. restitution.

The example is cited of successful, albeit insufficient, reparations for the Second World War incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans after the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor. This restitution to descendants of years-long imprisoned U.S. citizens was for a so-called “single” episode of racism. The fight for Black reparations goes back over 400 years since slavery began.

I find the argument compelling that reparations should not be only considered as making amends for slavery, but for systemic abuses that continue to this day. While some proponents of reparations are adamant that only individuals should receive money, Woo Yamasaki contends that these payouts could never adequately compensate Black Americans. Furthermore, personal restitution would, in fact, divide natural allies in the working class.

For the same reason, the author rejects the concept of reparations only for descendants of U.S. enslaved people. The racist legacy of slavery affects all people of African descent — indeed it affects all people of color — in the United States.

Reform and revolution. Woo Yamasaki forwards an exciting call for collective reparations and presents a concrete 10-point program on how it can be accomplished.

She advocates a path for reparations that will truly make a difference in the lives of all Black Americans, especially those who most need assistance. “These are forms of collective restitution for the evils of slavery and racism through the enactment of massive social programs, rather than individual compensation. These programs are designed to lift up the conditions of poor and working-class Black people as a whole. … Programs that attack the institutions and conditions that generate Black inequality can, at the same time, benefit all exploited workers and oppressed groups.”

Clearly the struggle for reparations and revolutionary systemic change go hand in hand. Battling for these demands together would also build a movement capable of overturning the profit system that engenders racial, gender and economic oppression, repression and violence.

Socialism is the natural and permanent answer to all the ills of capitalism. The author argues that “for an effective struggle for Black reparations, the country needs a movement with a revolutionary program and a leadership that is clear-eyed about the limitations of reform. … We can defeat this destructive system when we bring our struggles together in the class struggle.”

As a radical Asian American activist myself, I agree that all people need to be part of this fight. Woo Yamasaki expounds that Black people “need and deserve the support of every member of the working class and every other oppressed group.” All of us exploited and abused by the racist capitalist system benefit from our multiracial struggle for liberation and equality.

Of course, the leadership of Black workers is imperative for the reparations movement to succeed. History shows that a militant, multiracial movement for reparations led by African American activists would be unstoppable. When Black workers fight for their rights, their victories lead the way for everyone.

You can purchase “A Revolutionary Call for Black Reparations” at Red Letter Press.

Nellie Wong is a Chinese American poet and radical activist. Send feedback to

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