'Reparations' as a Dirty Word: The Norm Against Slavery Reparations
39 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2003 Last revised: 2 Jul 2010
Date Written: July 2, 2010
Social norms have been used to explain a variety of legal subjects, from family law to tax law. I assert in this Article that a social norms construct may help us understand the current public debate (or lack thereof) over whether the United States should make reparations to African Americans. Specifically, I find that reparative ideas are incongruent with norms of socially acceptable behavior.
My first task is to explain why there is a norm against public support for slavery reparations. I identify three sources of social norms'; norms derived from culture; norms instigated by individuals; and norms derived from the law; and explain how each source conflicts with reparative ideas and thus contributes to a norm against supporting reparations. Next, I discuss public debate over reparations in light of a norm against reparations. Specifically, I argue that an anti-reparation norm has stifled public discussion of reparations to African Americans. Predictably, it has become increasingly impossible for supporters of reparations to be open and honest. Finally, I take the liberty to look back on my argument at its weakest links.
Keywords: slavery, reparations, slavery reparations, social norms, norms
JEL Classification: J70, J78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation