It’s interesting. People often ask me if I think reparations will happen and my answer is, “Not in my lifetime and probably not in my child’s lifetime.” But I wouldn’t go so far as you think I would—which is to say “America is not granting reparations to African Americans.” I wouldn’t say that because history, itself, shows that stranger things—more terrible and more lovely—have happened.
What I suspect is that if reparations came about they would come, not simply as a result of agitation, but because of some exterior force in American life that made them necessary. That has been the case for every single advance in our politics around the divide of racism. You can’t imagine emancipation without Southerners deciding they wanted an entire country founded on the expansion and cultivation of slavery. You can’t imagine the civil-rights movement without the Cold War and without the Holocaust and the direct evidence of white supremacy taken to its logical conclusion. I can’t even imagine this moment of seemingly bipartisan (if somewhat thin) agreement around the perils of mass incarceration, without falling crime. Let that crime start to rise and this moment will be vapor.
This is scary because we don’t know why these things happen. We still don’t have a good explanation for why crime rose and fell. And so our current consensus is essentially rooted in the weather. If it’s sunny tomorrow we decarcerate. (Yes, it's a word!) If it thunders we retrench.
So no, I don’t put reparations off the table.