A Critique of the Black Commons as Reparations



The systemic dispossession of land owned by Black Americans has largely been ignored, legitimized, normalized, and left uncompensated by the American legal system. In recent discussions surrounding compensation for these losses, critics and advocates of reparations alike frequently fail to take into account the well-documented history of the uncompensated dispossession of land held by Black individuals. Instead of reparations that put property in the hands of individual Black people, reparationists have called for repayment to the collective— the Black Commons. This article argues that proposals for the Black Commons only obscure the actual uninterrupted history of Black landholding, perpetuate anti-Black landholding narratives, and contribute to a legal legacy that disenfranchises Black Americans from the right to hold property for the sole purpose of accruing wealth. This article further argues that reparations proposals that call for collective land ownership, though morally appealing for their antineoliberal, anti-capitalistic attributes, fail as a tool for repair for those very same reasons: they will not result in the intergenerational wealth attainment that is needed to disrupt the pattern of the Black underclass.

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As America responds to the renewed momentum in the fight for Black reparations, the country must grapple with how to address the full legacy of the land theft and displacement born from slavery.