cover image Atonement and Forgiveness: A New Model for Black Reparations

Atonement and Forgiveness: A New Model for Black Reparations

Roy L. Brooks. University of California Press, $34.95 (325pp) ISBN 978-0-520-23941-8

The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow sets much of the historical context for America's current racial politics. In this dense book, Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego, attempts to resituate that legacy into a ""forward looking"" model of atonement that demands both a governmental apology and cash reparations for American slavery. Brooks argues passionately that atonement is a moral obligation in the post-Holocaust landscape and a necessary step for ""racial reconciliation."" His book provides a compelling and thorough analysis of the history and the continued effects of slavery, particularly as it concerns inequalities in education. Still, Brooks spends too much time critiquing the tort model of litigation as a means for obtaining slave redress, leaving his discussion of general arguments against reparations to an over-hasty and occasionally terse final chapter. The text deliberately eschews practical considerations of the consequences of atonement as a social policy. But by focusing exclusively on moral duty, Brooks makes his claim that atonement will lead to racial reconciliation seem unrealistic. The book does offer a principled look at the atrocity of American slavery and its relevance to contemporary racial and international politics. As a demand for a formal apology and a contribution to the literature in the field, it is accessible and powerful. As a polemic on the necessity of reparations, however, it seems unlikely to convert new followers to its cause.