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Atonement and Forgiveness

A New Model for Black Reparations

Roy L. Brooks (Author)


Roy L. Brooks reframes one of the most important, controversial, and misunderstood issues of our time in this far-reaching reassessment of the growing debate on black reparation. Atonement and Forgiveness shifts the focus of the issue from the backward-looking question of compensation for victims to a more forward-looking racial reconciliation. Offering a comprehensive discussion of the history of the black redress movement, this book puts forward a powerful new plan for repairing the damaged relationship between the federal government and black Americans in the aftermath of 240 years of slavery and another 100 years of government-sanctioned racial segregation.

Key to Brooks's vision is the government's clear signal that it understands the magnitude of the atrocity it committed against an innocent people, that it takes full responsibility, and that it publicly requests forgiveness—in other words, that it apologizes. The government must make that apology believable, Brooks explains, by a tangible act that turns the rhetoric of apology into a meaningful, material reality, that is, by reparation. Apology and reparation together constitute atonement. Atonement, in turn, imposes a reciprocal civic obligation on black Americans to forgive, which allows black Americans to start relinquishing racial resentment and to begin trusting the government's commitment to racial equality.

Brooks's bold proposal situates the argument for reparations within a larger, international framework—namely, a post-Holocaust vision of government responsibility for genocide, slavery, apartheid, and similar acts of injustice. Atonement and Forgiveness makes a passionate, convincing case that only with this spirit of heightened morality, identity, egalitarianism, and restorative justice can genuine racial reconciliation take place in America.

1. The Purpose and History of the Black Redress Movement
2. Harms to Slaves and Free Blacks
3. Harms to Descendants
4. The Tort Model
5. The Atonement Model
6. Opposing Arguments

Appendix 1: Selected List of Other Human Injustices
Appendix 2: Summary of the Negotiations That Led to Germany’s Foundation Law
Select Bibliography
Table of Cases
Table of Statutes
Roy L. Brooks is Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego. He is the author of over a dozen books, including Structures of Judicial Decision Making from Legal Formalism to Critical Theory (2002), When Sorry Isn't Enough: The Controversy over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice (1999), Integration or Separation? A Strategy for Racial Equality (1996), and Rethinking the American Race Problem (California, 1990).
“An enormously important issue. Brooks . . . opens up the debate in a significant and constructive way. . . . [The book] is a significant addition to the dialogue and he [Brooks] should be congratulated for that; but more than that he should be engaged.”—Mark Welch Metapsychology Online Review
"Roy Brooks' atonement model makes a singularly important contribution to the reparations debate. He argues that racial reconciliation in the United States can be achieved through reparations for American slavery and Jim Crow segregation, if such reparations are conceptualized in terms of atonement."—Melissa Nobles, MIT, author of Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics

"In my Case for Black Reparations, published in 1973, I called for a national debate on this painful subject. Professor Brooks has responded magnificently to this appeal, with a comprehensive and painstakingly thoughtful analysis of all aspects of this area. His book, in my opinion, will certainly become the standard examination of the issue. I recommend it with unqualified enthusiasm."—Boris I. Bittker, Professor Emeritus of Law, Yale University

"Ever insightful, Roy Brooks dramatically presses forward the reparations debate with an atonement model, accenting a substantial government apology and significant reparations. It is well past time for the U.S. government to put a real apology and reparative monetary actions where its equality-parroting mouth is—that is, to recognize and repair the racist oppression long imposed on African Americans. Using much data and persuasive argument, Brooks shows that deep understandings of slavery and segregation make this conclusion both inevitable and morally necessary."—Joe Feagin, author of Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations

"A leading scholar on reparations, Roy Brooks transforms the debate on African American redress. Moving the controversy over reparations away from narrow legalisms and monetary compensation, he refocuses on what matters—how America can heal its racial wounds and build productive group relationships. A must read for all concerned about a just America."—Eric Yamamoto, author of Interracial Justice: Conflict and Reconciliation in Post-Civil Rights America

"Roy Brooks' Atonement and Forgiveness provides an original approach to the debates over ends and means to achieve redress. The concept of atonement that is the centerpiece of his study is the first to combine the material element of compensation and its unavoidable limits with the ethical element of apology and acknowledgement of this central element of the nation's history. His approach provides the potential for a public and political discourse that lifts the often acrimonious debates over litigation to a new level, and may bring the two communities of our nation to an understanding of our common history and thus to a shared vision of our common future."—Richard M. Buxbaum, Jackson H. Ralston Professor of International Law, Boalt Hall, School of Law, University of California

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