Over the course of four years, American support for slavery reparations has dropped, a new YouGov poll shows.
In 2019, 39 percent of Americans said they would support paying reparations to those who are descendants of slaves. This year, that support diminished, coming in at 31 percent. In 2021, the number was a little lower, with 30 percent of Americans supporting reparations. A majority of Americans, 53 percent, indicated they did not support cash reparations, while 16 percent said they were not sure.
There were some caveats, though. Americans are more in favor of reparations if they come from private companies instead of the government as 36 percent said companies that profited from slavery should send cash payments.
There are several reasons typically cited for the pushback against reparations. While the cost to taxpayers is a significant hurdle, opponents also say it’s difficult to place a monetary value on the impact of slavery.
Others believe that Black Americans are treated fairer today and thus should not receive the cash payments as a result of the experiences of their ancestors. Recent findings on the wealth gap between Black and white American families indicated this was a key reason many oppose reparations, according to Yale social psychologist Michael Kraus
“A majority of our sample tends to think that we’ve made steady progress towards greater equality in wealth between families, so between Black and white families,” Kraus told NPR. “That is totally inconsistent with reality.”
Recent studies show the median white American in their late 50s had $251,000 more wealth than the median Black American. Across the board, Black Americans were also less likely to achieve upward mobility than their white counterparts.
While the United States has paid reparations to those affected by the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as well as for the removal of several Native American communities, there’s never been a significant nationwide push for slavery-related reparations.
Differences Between Black and White Americans
As the survey results show, Black and white Americans do not view the impact of slavery in the same way. This plays a role in how they view reparations, as well.
Only about one-third of white Americans believe U.S. wealth is tied to work done by slaves compared to 65 percent of Black Americans.
Overall, half of Americans said slavery continues to influence society at least a fair amount, and about the same percentage believe Black Americans still face discrimination, but there were key differences in how Black and white respondents answered these questions.
Most Black Americans (77 percent) said the government should apologize to Black Americans, while 35 percent of white Americans said the same.
Just 24 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government should make cash payments to all Black Americans, but Black Americans largely support the measure, with 69 percent saying they would be in favor, even if the person wasn’t a known descendant of slaves.
Experts in the field of African American studies are not surprised by the gap in views of slavery’s impact.
Danielle Taana Smith, a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University, said similar 2021 findings reflect that Black and white Americans are still largely segregated.
“Whites do not live in Black bodies and have not experienced the particularities of this lived experience,” Smith told CNN. “Ordinary things they take for granted, like going for a walk, are life-threatening for people of color. On a daily basis, thousands of micro-aggressions are meted against people of color which whites have no understanding of.”
More than 80 percent of large metropolitan areas were more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990, according to a study from the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California-Berkeley.