April V. Taylor
Ever since Ta-nehisi Coates Atlantic article “The Case For Reparations,” was published, the issue has been widely discussed with a number of proposed solutions being given by various people. Recently, law and policy doctoral candidate Theodore Johnson proposed in a Washington Post article that since Blacks used to only be considered 3/5 of a person, the answer to reparations, since monetary payments seems unlikely, is to allow every Black person to have 5/3 of a vote.
Surprisingly, research shows that only 60 percent of the population thinks the government should make cash payments as reparations to slave descendants. Shortly after Coates’ articles, a YouGov poll showed that 94 percent of white people were opposed to Black people receiving cash payments for reparations.
Johnson feels that weighted voting is a way to help make up for the structural disadvantage Black people face in American society. As part of a compromise between Southern slaveholders and northern whites, Black people were allowed to be counted as a fraction of a person as part of the three-fifths clause in the Constitution. The clause officially set a Black person’s value at 60 percent of the value of a free person.
Inverting the ratio from the three-fifths clause would make a significant political difference, with five Southern states that went Republican in the 2012 presidential race turning in favor of the Democrats if the inversion was applied. The number of congressional seats and electoral vote would change for some states, and the Senate would have been majority Democrat instead of Republican following the 2012 elections.
Multiple quality of life indicators show that Black people’s standing in society has not changed without a change that yields them some real political power. The Economic Policy Institute completed a report that revealed that school segregation, Black unemployment, lack of access to fair housing and a living wage and the racial wealth gap are all hovering near the same levels of disparity today as they were when the March on Washington occurred in 1963.
As Johnson points out, these disparities require policy solutions to be fixed, and reparations that would increase Black people’s collective political power would help ensure those policies get implemented. For the first time ever, Black voter turnout was higher than white voter turnout during the 2012 election, meaning a weighted vote would provide Black people “an outsize influence on national and state elections.”
The outsize influence would mean that politicians would have to make policy issues affecting Black people a top priority. Johnson specifically states, “The weighted portion of the vote could be interpreted as the voice of those who earned the right to the ballot but were unjustly silenced.”
Johnson goes on to conclude, ”
anting reparations in this way would empower African Americans but gifts nothing: Black voters would still have to claim their share of reparations at every election — a suitable settlement in a nation allergic to handouts. Weighted-vote reparations would require African Americans to register and turn out in order to achieve the desired impact on public policy. It would require sustained civic and political engagement.
Of course, weighted-vote reparations are only slightly more politically feasible than a multi-trillion-dollar payout. But we have to consider novel approaches to racial reconciliation — including apology, forgiveness and, yes, some kind of restitution — if we are serious about ridding the nation of barriers to opportunity and overcoming the racial discrimination woven into America’s fabric. If racism is the culprit, then dismantling it requires the same tools that constructed it.”