A Different Approach to Racial Injustice
Drake University’s Jennifer Harvey, at Drew, calls for a shift from reconciliation to reparations.
November 2015 – For white Christians to more effectively make amends for past injustice toward people of color, Jennifer Harvey suggests a radical shift away from reconciliation and toward reparations.
In a Faculty Forum talk at Drew Theological School, Harvey, professor of religion at Drake University, asserted that the reconciliation model, which seeks interracial togetherness by embracing all races equally, has largely failed because it’s based on a false premise.
“Reconciliation rests on the assumption that all of our differences can be similarly celebrated and embraced,” said Harvey, who spoke on November 11 at Craig Chapel. “I can come to better love and appreciate your blackness, your native-ness, your Latino-ness, and you need to come to better love my whiteness?
“It’s a morally incoherent paradigm. It doesn’t work,” Harvey said. “Even when we add attention to white privilege—which we must—even when we talk about justice needing to be present for reconciliation to happen—which of course we should—at its core, the reconciliation paradigm presumes a kind of moral, spiritual, cultural parallel in our racial identities, and my friends, it’s just not so. And we’ve got to stop pretending it’s so, or we’ll keep having these same conversations over and over.”
Instead, Harvey, who is also an author, blogger and contributor to The Huffington Post, called for white Christians to “repent” or acknowledge past harm inflicted on people of color, which ultimately diminished their power economically. And given that white people profited from that imbalance, she suggested reparations as a logical solution.
The concept of reparations, of course, is not new. Black activists raised it in the 1960s, and as recently as last year, it was the subject of an exhaustive article in The Atlantic titled simply, “The Case for Reparations.” Still, the idea isn’t widely embraced, and at the same time, the “reconciliation paradigm” remains popular, if not always effective.
Indeed, Harvey pointed out that black protests today about police brutality or other forms of discrimination are eerily similar to those in the 1960s, suggesting that little has changed in the intervening 50 years. And yet, white Christians continue to pursue reconciliation. Sounds like the definition of insanity, as attributed to Albert Einstein. Still, Harvey is hopeful about the prospects for change.
“Right now the prophetic fire of movements like the Black Lives Matter movement, the work that Dreamers are doing, is creating spaces within which white Christians might make that new choice,” Harvey said. “Repentance and repair is not easy work. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t flow into obvious, pragmatic solutions. It’s uncertain and difficult, but it is sacred work.”
As part of the Theological School’s commitment to thinking critically about race, Harvey’s visit also included a pedagogy and an anti-racism training workshop for PhD students and faculty.