African American academics have presented a radical proposal to the United Nations that would have U.S. taxpayers paying $5 million in reparations to black citizens for slavery-era injustices.
The long shot effort, led by Justin Hansford of Howard University School of Law, addressed the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent in New York this week. Those with Hansford included academics from the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.
"I come to you today with a novel proposal, that we begin to think our own thoughts, propose our own vision of justice, and implement that justice," Hansford said. He called for a process of apology and reparation, though not on the terms of the U.S. government.
The proposal for a 'special tribunal' was formally suggested by David Comissiong, representing Barbados. It was quickly endorsed by Hansford, who noted that many other African and Caribbean UN members also supported the measure.
The U.S. mission to the UN, headed by black ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, does not officially support the tribunal. However, Hansford said that US diplomats at the mission had been "supportvie overall." Thomas-Greenfield spoke at the event, reminding attendees of highly polluted neighborhoods that disproportionately harm African American communities.
"Let us dismantle structural racism, brick by brick," she emphasized.
The UN General Assembly created a five-point legal framework for reparations for victims of slavery and other abuses in 2005, which includes payments, apologies, and policy changes.
Still, the UN system is not legally binding, and the reparation payouts are unpopular among white American taxpayers, leaving advocates searching for an alternative solution.
Hansford suggested that different black American families should be assessed case-by-case for their reparations payments. He said that for those who have endured "horrific" oppression, $5 million would be on the lower end of what they deserve.
This idea of reparation payouts to African Americans has been discussed for centuries. It has recently gained traction as more and more liberal-leaning states and cities launch local inquiries into the issue. San Francisco, for example, proposed $5 million payments to every longtime black resident, among other initiatives to address economic inequality.
Still, the idea is not without its detractors. Critics argue that the costs are too high, that it's unfair, and that it will create division between winners and losers.
According to Pew Research Center, 77 percent of black Americans support reparations payments, while only 18 percent of whites do.
It remains unclear if a tribunal created at the UN to make reparations payments to African-Americans would ever be taken seriously by the U.S. government, though it adds pressure to an important cause. For now, it remains just a novel proposal from African American academics.