Roy L. Brooks speaks on reparations on Constitution Day

Juliana Rodrigues, Special Features Content Editor

The United States Constitution was adopted by the country 235 years ago and signed just three hours from Lewisburg at the Pennsylvania state house, now known as Independence Hall in Philadelphia. 

The past weekend on Sept. 17 marked the anniversary of this monumental event, a day that is now a federally recognized holiday known as Constitution Day. 

To celebrate Constitution Day this year, Head of the Legal Studies Department and Associate Professor of Philosophy Jeffery Turner was able to organize a speaker for students. With support from the University’s Putterman Lecture Fund, Roy L. Brooks was able to speak via Zoom regarding Black Reparations in America. 

My colleague in Legal Studies, Michael James (Political Science) suggested Roy L. Brooks as a possible Constitution Day speaker some time ago, and I was excited by the proposal; as I looked into Brooks’ work on reparations I became even more excited,” Turner said. “And in his talk here last week Professor Brooks did such a wonderful job laying out the possible dimensions and approaches to the problem, as well as talking about the strengths and weaknesses of several approaches.” 

Brooks graduated from Yale Law School in 1975 and now as a Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, he currently teaches at the University of San Diego. To date he has published a number of scholarly texts and books and has won various awards for his work. 

With interest and expertise in areas of Civil Rights, International Human Rights, Race and Gender Identity, Employment Discrimination and more Brooks had extensive background and experience to speak with students on his thoughts regarding potential Black Reparations.

The concept may not be familiar to those uninvolved in the historical and political realm of the social sciences, but reparations would be awarded to the victims, or descendants of victims of slavery in the United States. The process by which reparations should be issued is a debate amongst many, but early on in his talk Brooks used an analogy to explain his reasoning.

He had students imagine that a white man and a black man were playing poker for 400 years. During this long period the white man was evidently cheating and collecting many more poker chips than the black man. After years of cheating the poker game the white man decided to say from that moment forward they would play fairly. 

The black man was happy to hear the change being made but had to question what would happen to all the poker chips that the white man had collected during his time cheating. With the white man getting to keep his poker chips for himself and his next generation of players, the odds are forever stacked against the black player. 

After the end of slavery Jim Crow Laws and segregation were the next hurdles orchestrated by white America, Brooks said. Even after the Civil Rights Movement the black population of America did not have an equitable foundation for life here. Brooks spoke on addressing this inequity further during his talk.

Brooks said his stance and views for how the United States should approach reparations for slavery. He brought light to the differences between individual and institutional redressing. While some argue for individual reparations for Black Americans Brooks was thorough in his explanation of the institutional concept. 

The discussion after his lecture brought up some really important issues, too,” Turner said. “I think the problem of reparations is a key one for our students to think about, because it helps us come to grips with both the promise and the horrible failure of this country’s past, while also aiming us towards a future that would overcome our failures so that we could better live up to the promise of some of the deeply moving moral language of our Constitution.”

A student asked during the questions portion of the lecture what the process of distributing reparations to some and not others look like, for Black Americans that may not be descendents of slaves.

Brooks said that while all Black Americans may not be direct descendents of slavery, they still face the same lingering reprucussions of systemic rascism and therefore institutional reparations would be optimal. He continued that systemic reforms could be applied to American systems such as education, voting, housing and policing. 

He also said on other possibile redressers that reformers discuss are the possibilities of attaining a constitutional precommitment for racially integrated schools and universities, and also income supplements for Black Americans.

James Nespole ‘24 heard about the speaker, with it being a requirement for his political theory class, but afterwards said he was glad he attended and was happy to speak on it. 

“Reparations for African-Americans has been a popular topic for discussion,” Nespole said. “I had never really understood the full scale of the issue and its extensive history prior to Professor Brooks’ lecture. Professor Brooks was able to paint the entire context of the issue in a way that was easily comprehensible. I look forward to researching and learning more about this issue in the future.”

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