By Vincent Intondi
Every year students in my African American history courses analyze the issue of reparations. While there has never been a consensus in any class, students always ask the same question at the end of every semester: “Why do we only hear about this in your class?” Indeed, while my students partake in this discussion every semester, it continues to evade the nation at large, at least until Ta-Nehisi Coates pushed it to the forefront with his article, “The Case for Reparations.” Coates, however, has made clear in subsequent interviews that his goal in writing the article was not to address how reparations should be paid, but rather to place the notion into a historical perspective.
In 1981, President Reagan announced his plans to massively increase military spending, specifically on nuclear weapons, by hundreds of billions of dollars while cutting social programs, such as food stamps and free school lunches. These cuts disproportionately affected predominately poor, black communities. Under the banner of “Babies not Bombs,” black activists rose up and demanded the U.S. not only reinstate programs that were cut, but create jobs, build schools, infrastructure, and housing with money saved by eliminating nuclear weapons. While reparations was never the term used in the 1980s, I would argue the same could and should be done today in regards to reparations. The U.S. is expected to spend $1 trillion over the next thirty years to modernize its nuclear arsenal, an arsenal that could end life on the planet hundreds of times over. The U.S. dropped nuclear weapons on a people of color in Japan, threatened to use them in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East, and tested nuclear weapons on African American veterans. Perhaps we could begin to right the worst wrong the U.S. ever committed while eliminating the worst weapon the U.S. ever created.