540 Gregory W. Streich
in addition to an apology, would have established a commission similar to the one called for by Conyers.56
Critics of reparations and apologizing for slavery have made several types of arguments. Echoing Hill, some worry that reparation movements reinforce a “victim” identity within groups and freeze conicting group identities into place. For Ian Buruma, “Instead of identifying as an American entitled to freedoms and rights and all men created equal, you are born into an aggrieved group deserving compensation. Then that’s your whole identity and you can never get out of it.”57 These are important concerns. However, I think this position confuses cause and effect. Rather than telling black Americans to identify as Americans (the vast majority already does) for fear of racial polariza- tion, the proper response is to ameliorate the inequities (both from the past and in the present) that produce the aggrievement and polarization. To not do so will only exacerbate the very division that Buruma and others fear because the inequities will remain and simply be papered over by symbolic appeals to a shared national identity.
The tension that might be caused by political movements for an apology or reparations is not any worse than the tension that arises from telling such movements to forget the past and to “get over it.” If inequities undermine social cohesion, whether they stem from historical injustices or contemporary events, these injustices ought to be addressed if we are to establish a just society. Again, King’s worry about moderates who tell nonviolent activists to “slow down” is applicable to this debate. King responded by criticizing anyone “who paternalis- tically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom” and to anyone “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”58 Tension is always present in society, whether it stems from ignoring an injustice or working to eliminate it. Justice requires that we opt for the tension that comes from remembering and rectifying injustices.
Those who worry that remembering the past will straightjacket our identities in the present might be persuaded to support future-oriented measures to provide restitution. Compensation, for example, in the form of money given to black individuals or families is a backward-looking approach. This is the type of compensation that critics see as reinforcing black Americans’ identity as that of victim. Further, such a payment would likely carry strings attached that would require black Americans to give up afrmative action or to quit “complaining” about discrimination. Such payments are also opposed by the vast majority of whites but supported by a majority of blacks. One recent survey found that in response to the question “Do you think the government should or should not make cash payments to descendants of slaves?” 6% of whites and 55% of blacks said “should,” and 90% of whites and 37% of blacks said “should not.”59 If
56 For more detailed discussion of these efforts, among others, see Barkan, op. cit., Chapter 12; and When Sorry Is Not Enough, Parts 6 and 7. Quoted in Diane Cardwell, “Seeking Out a Just Way to Make Amends for Slavery,” 57
http://search.nytimes.com New York Times, August 12, 2000. Available online at: (August 5, 2001). King, op. cit., p. 84. 58 59 From the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll conducted in January and February of 2002. I am borrowing the term “chasm” from Robert Smith and Richard Seltzer, who dene a