Why Reparations is a Political Issue, Not a Legal Issue

I recently published my 18th book entitled A Legally Created People. The first chapter is entitled “The Legal Case Against Reparations.” This chapter addresses the legal obstacles which African Americans face in the struggle to obtain reparations for past racial injustices.

In this chapter I focus specifically on two reparations cases: Cato v. U.S and In re African-American Slave Descendants Litigation. In both cases, the court held that the claims were barred by statute of limitations and that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring suit. In effect, these rulings held that slavery happened too long ago and that the descendants of enslaved Africans do not have standing because they were not directly enslaved. These courts also were not persuaded by arguments that racial oppression constitutes a continuous harm which began during slavery and continues to this very day.

In my book I also assess the legal claims of Native Americans. One advantage which Native Americans maintained was that the United States recognized the native people of North America as a conquered and dependent nation, but a nation nonetheless. The United States entered into treaties with these Native American nations. In many instances the treaties were broken, but Native Americans were able to eventually bring lawsuits for these broken treaties and prevail. One of the cases which I mentioned specifically was United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 (1980). In that case the Sioux Nation was able to prevail in a case which involved a treaty which was broken more than a century prior.

The treaties which the United States signed with Native Americans created contractual obligations. As I explain in my book, treaties are contracts between nations. The United States created no such contractual obligations with enslaved Africans. The “fiduciary relationship” which existed between the United States and Native Americans did not exist between the government and African people. As I point out, enslaved Africans were a people without a nation. They were stolen from their nations. Enslaved Africans were also a people without legal recognition from the country which enslaved them. Why this is significant is that claims on the part of Native Americans were not barred by statute of limitations or hindered by lack of standing, as is the case for African Americans seeking reparation. Based on this existing legal precedent, there a suit seeking reparations for slavery and other racial injustices of the past will not prevail.

This is not meant to discourage anyone who is actively advocating for reparations. The purpose of this article and of the chapter in my book from which this article is based is so that readers understand that the American legal system has effectively ruled that reparations is a political matter which cannot be settled in a courtroom. As I explained in A Legally Created People, Japanese Americans also failed in their attempt to file a suit for reparations. Reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II came as the result of legislation, not legal action.

A Legally Created People can be purchased at the link below:


This essay can also be downloaded as a kindle ebook here: https://www.amazon.com/Legal-Case-Against-Reparations-ebook/dp/B089LPGVL1



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Dwayne Wong (Omowale)

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.