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Getting to Reparations: Japanese Americans and African Americans

From: Social Forces
Volume 83, Number 2, December 2004
pp. 823-840 | 10.1353/sof.2005.0012


The literature on social movements shows why the Japanese American reparations movement was successful, while the African American reparations movement has had far less success. How the claim is framed is extremely important for a reparations movement. Even though treatment of African Americans in the past violated key contemporary precepts such as the importance of bodily integrity, the ideal of equality, and the sanctity of private property, African American claimants encounter several problems. Victims of direct harms are dead, perpetrators are diffuse, some of the actual harms were legal at the time they were committed, and the causal chain of harm is long and complex. Some estimates of reparations due would also impose unreasonable burdens on government and American citizens.