Openly talking about reparations for the descendants of enslaved men and women is a notable shift for Democrats. But the conversation still lacks substance.
A new 2020 litmus test has arrived for Democrats running for president: Do they support reparations?
It marks a turn in a primary contest in which black voters are expected to play a significant role. That the attention to reparations has become so prominent speaks to a series of changes that have occurred in recent years — namely the increased academic understanding of and public attention to the ways a history of slavery and discrimination has fueled disparities like the racial wealth gap, which shows that the median white household is 10 times wealthier than the median black one.
These changes, coupled with a wave of grassroots activism around racial inequality and economic injustice, have helped produce a shift in mainstream attention to reparations. That attention intensified after some 2020 Democratic candidates commented on reparations to the New York Times and the Washington Post last month.
So far, a handful of candidates have expressed some level of support for reparations: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have called the issue important or acknowledged how history supports calls for restitution.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has been running on a policy that would help close the racial wealth gap, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has declined to support reparations, but argues that his focus on policies helping distressed communities in general would particularly aid black communities.
The candidate most fervently backing reparations is Marianne Williamson, a self-help guru and spiritual adviser