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Excerpted From: Vincent M. Southerland, Toward a Just Future: Anticipating and Overcoming a Sustained Resistance to Reparations, 45 New York University Review of Law and Social Change 427 (2021) (167 Footnotes) (Full Document)



The United States found itself at a crossroads in 2020. Two profound events-- the COVID-19 global health pandemic and a national uprising to advance racial justice--altered the social, political, and economic landscape in unimaginable ways. These phenomena upended life nationwide, while exposing the extent to which racial inequality plagues our country. Beyond chaos, the pandemic and the uprisings also offered hope. They did so by destabilizing the status quo and unearthing unprecedented possibilities to rebuild America anew, informed by a type of reparative justice with the potential to acknowledge, and right, the wrongs of our collective past.

Obtaining transformational reparative justice of this sort will be difficult. It is made all the more challenging by the sustained resistance that we already know awaits advocates, policymakers, practitioners, and communities who pursue reparations. Of course, the cause of reparations for Black people, and the resistance it engenders, is not new. Throughout history we have witnessed the forms such resistance can take. My aim in this essay is to undertake an imaginative project that anticipates resistance in a post-reparations world in order to lay a foundation for a more just future in the present. I am most interested in exploring how we might leverage the opportunities presented by our current moment to obtain reparative justice in the face of the resistance that experience tells us to expect.

I begin in Part II with a brief description of the opportunity that the events of 2020 presented to advance reparative justice. Specifically, I address how the COVID-19 pandemic, its racially disparate impact on Black people, and the racial justice uprisings raised the racial consciousness of many Americans to create conditions amenable to reparations. In Part III, I turn to the assumption that there will be a retrenchment, resistance, and countermovement to reparations once they are implemented, and I imagine how these might manifest. I then consider what theoretical frameworks might be used to inform reparations-focused advocacy, relying on Professor Derrick Bell's views about the endemic nature of racism and his theory of interest convergence. I conclude in Part IV by applying these theoretical frameworks to the real world and giving some practical advice to advocates seeking reparative justice as we march through two interrelated pandemics: one driven by disease and one driven by racial inequality.

[. . .]

The health and racial injustice crises we face have exposed the contradiction that haunts our country: a democracy where race and identity are used to justify the inequitable structure of society. Symbolically and tangibly, confronting this contradiction may lead us to topple the status quo, paving the way for us all to create something entirely new. Imagining the resistance to reparations allows advocates to engage in work that will bring America closer to reparative justice. By raising consciousness, taking concrete steps toward reparations now, and applying interest convergence, we may end up with a more just future, and with it, a better country than the one we currently inhabit.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Law and Co-Faculty Director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, New York University School of Law.

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