If a new survey is accurate, most Americans are receptive to the controversial idea of the federal government granting reparations to African-Americans.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a growing percentage of whites, Blacks, Independents, Democrats and Republicans believe the federal government doesn’t spend enough money on improving the conditions of African-Americans, according to the 2018 General Social Survey. In fact, a record percentage of Americans now hold the view that the government should pay more.
“According to the General Social Survey, a trends poll that has measured attitudes about race in America since the 1970s, 52 percent of Americans say the country spends too little on improving the conditions of Blacks, up from 30 percent who said so in 2014. Just 7 percent — an all-time low — say the country spends too much,” the AP said.
This survey comes against the backdrop of several Democratic presidential candidates saying recently that they embrace reparations—compensation to the descendants of slaves and those harmed by discriminatory public policies like Jim Crow laws.
Those embracing reparations, in an election cycle where turning out the Black vote is seen as essential to winning the White House, include Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro—Sen. Bernie Sander, not so much.
African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates penned an essay in 2014 titled “The Case for Reparations” that laid out an argument in support of America making amends for centuries of disadvantaged generations of Black people. After slavery, years of structural racism prevented Black people from obtaining a high quality of education and from building wealth that was afforded to white Americans.
When Coates’ essay appeared, just five short years ago, most Americans opposed reparations. A 2014 YouGov poll captured the mood of white America at that time: Only 6 percent of whites supported cash payments to the descendants of slaves, while only 19 percent of whites supported special education and job training programs to them.
The General Social Survey found similar results. “The share of whites who say the country should spend more increased dramatically since 2014, by about 30 percentage points among Democrats and about 20 points among Republicans,” the new survey noted.
What’s the explanation for the shift in attitude?
Todd Shaw, a political science and African-American studies professor at the University of South Carolina, pointed to white liberals and moderates reevaluating their views about race. They are now taking factors like police killings of unarmed Black people and the racism that President Trump has unleashed into consideration as evidence that structural racism still exists.
The last few years have “likely given white liberals and moderates the sense that the country is heading in the wrong direction,” Shaw said.