Public Forum

Public Forum – Reparations – Analysis and Resources

Public Forum Debate Topic

2015 September/October PF Topic Area: Racial Justice

Resolved: The United States Federal Government ought to pay reparations to African Americans.


Reparations Topic Analysis

The purpose of this article is to help students and coaches start their research on this topic. It is by no means a comprehensive analysis, but simply an overview. Use this tool to start your brainstorming session, help you prepare blocks, and notice mistakes you might make while running various arguments.

At the bottom of the page I also provided links to some fantastic resources. These include hundreds of pages of evidence, necessary articles, and fun videos. Enjoy!


Main Affirmative Arguments – Reparations

In my opinion there are two main paths that affirmative arguments can go down. The first is moral and ethical based arguments and the second is economic and social.


Main Moral and Ethical Affirmative Arguments – Reparations

  1. Stops Racism – I think running this argument makes your job extremely hard. In order to prove that you solve racism you have to stop not only racist policies, but angry racist grandparents that grew up in the 50’s. If you’re running this please make your job easier and label it something similar to “decreases” or “weakens” racism.
  2. Shapes Future Policy – The argument holistically says that past policies were racist, we can’t change that now, but we can make the future a bigger brighter place by shifting those policies to preserve morality in the future. As a judge this is probably one of the most convincing arguments so long as you give me specific policy changes and who they will affect.
  3. Sets International Precedent –  This argument can be run either from a, “we increase the preservation of morality throughout the world” approach or a, “we increase US hegemony” sort of way. Do not run it both ways. If you say we increase US hege by implementing reparations it’s the same as saying I’m going to donate to charity so that I can brag about how charitable I am. It’s either a moral or consequential argument, but it can’t be both. I strongly recommend running this argument from an ethical point of view.
  4. Responsibility – If run, this argument would say that the US did something wrong and that they have an obligation to take care of it. This argument’s validity largely depends on how morality is defined in the round.


Main Consequential Affirmative Arguments – Reparations

  1. Education – This is probably the biggest argument you will be seeing. I think a lot of debaters want to stay away from giving out checks, and think that most will default to educational reparations. Most Affirmatives running this will probably bring up the education gap that exists, say that reparations solve the education gap, which stimulates the economy, and all the other impacts that follow. I think this is actually a very convincing argument. That also means that any negative teams you run into will have 20 pages of blocks against it, but if you like defending vanilla arguments then run with it.
  2. Governmental Policies – This is another very good, but very plain argument. Nearly every author that writes about reparations brings it up. The affirmative would essentially be saying that economic policies like red-lining are bad and force African Americans into a lower economic class. This is probably very true and there are several examples to support it. My suggestion is to pick a handful of very specific policies that need to be changed and describe how many people will be affected. Your opponents will have blocks to policy changes in general, but being specific will give you the advantage. Remember, specific debate is good debate.
  3. More Money = Better Economy – A debater can take a couple of different avenues to achieve this argument depending on how they suggest the implementation of reparations should work. Regardless of the way they choose, the argument is the same; more money in people’s hands means more money stimulating the economy. I personally feel like the neg has stronger arguments when it comes to the economy and would recommend running these type of arguments more as blocks and less as full contentions.
  4. Slavery – This argument or at least mentions of this argument will emerge a lot. The idea essentially says that the US Government stole from past enslaved African Americans and that they should be required to pay back the stolen wages and lost opportunities. If you decide to run this argument make sure to have responses to the negative’s vanilla block that the people we’re giving reparations to weren’t enslaved and that the people paying for them weren’t slave owners.


Main Negative Arguments

I feel like the neg is mostly going to have arguments that focus around reparations simply not solving anything. Hence the two categories, solvency and everything else.


Main Negative Solvency Arguments

  1. Money  doesn’t fix morality – This argument makes sense. If you’re going to run something about money contradicting morality I think its necessary to escalate it to the next level and make it an offensive argument. You can do that by saying monetary gifts devalue African American suffering, that using reparations as a means to fulfill the government’s own selfish moral needs is innately unethical or many other avenues.
  2. Giving to one group doesn’t solve – Once again this argument just makes sense. If African Americans get reparations why do people of Jewish or Japanese descent not receive anything? Those issues are more current! Just like before take it one step further and explain how it otherizes African Americans, how it otherizes other groups of people, or directs angry their way. Making your defensive arguments offensive is the way to win debates.
  3. It’s not the Federal Government’s fault – I personally don’t think this argument is amazing, because in order to win you have to prove that the US’ only moral obligation is to problems that they specifically created, that the federal government wasn’t responsible for slavery, and that morality is the weighing mechanism for the round.
  4. You can’t solve social issues with money – I think the proper way to run this argument is with very specific set of examples. If you could show me several irrefutable instances where the government attempted to hide scandals or solve social issues with money and it ended badly you would be on your way to winning my ballot. You will see a lot of debaters running this from a theoretical, non-empirical stance.Doing that kills this argument’s potential and morphs it into a sub-par argument in my book.


Main Negative Misc. Arguments

  1. Reparations cost too much – This is a decent argument if, and only if you can win the framework debate saying that the round should be weighed consequentially. If you can convince the judge of that then I think saying, “This is going to cost our country a couple trillion dollars” or however much you specify will likely hold. Don’t stop the argument their though. Expand on the impact! What will happen to the country, the world, or even you if this happens. Offense, offense, offense.
  2. Reparations force innocents to pay for the unabused – You will see this concept worded in a variety of different ways. If you’re going from a moral perspective I would see no reason not to call modern day tax payers innocents forced to pay for other’s wrongs. However if you’re going consequential I think this could be worded in a much better way that focuses more on the impact of the argument. Overall I think it’s a strong moral argument an average consequential argument.
  3. The legal flood – It would make my day to actually see someone actually label their contention “The Legal Flood.” The idea of this argument is that once the government starts handing out money to descendants of past crimes, who else will be coming to receive their “reparations?” This could cause some interesting legal battles and set some pretty terrible precedents. I think if the impacts and links were properly put together this could be a great argument. With that being said I also feel like that will be a pretty difficult task.
  4. Increase racism – There are numerous links to this argument. There’s the argument that we treat them differently which embraces otherization, that reparations puts a target on the back’s of African Americans for other groups to hate, the idea that coddling a group of people demeans them, and so on. I recommend running lots of them. Separate them into sub points if you want to time skew your opponents or don’t separate them if you want your opponents to miss a link or two and go hard for it in the final speeches. Either way this is a great argument to run if it hasn’t been exaggerated.

Links you’ll need to get started

Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Case for Reparations – The Atlantic

This is THE article to read. Not because it has so much evidence that you might explode, but because a lot of authors reference to it.  Every other debater will have read this article, I suggest you do the same.

The Impossibility of Reparations – The Atlantic

This is a great response to Coates’ famous article. It critiques the way in which reparations would be enacted. If you’re a debater that likes running those type of arguments, you’ll also like this post.


Videos – Reparations

What are Reparations?

This is a fantastic video to start with. They define what reparations are, the different types of reparations, and give many historical examples of them.

Stephen Colbert Addresses Reparations

Stephen Colbert is hilarious and informative. In this clip he interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates, probably the most famous supporter of reparations, and even asks him what his “Solvency” is.



Free Evidence

Dartmouth (DDI) Debate Camp Resources

DDI has 3 documents with more than 100 pages of evidence for this topic, must read news articles, and recommended books. The “Reparations Pre-Institute Work” document has a great historical timeline near the beginning. This is a fantastic place to start.

Harvard Debate Camp Evidence

Harvard’s debate camp put all of their reparations evidence on the page above. There are hundreds of pages of evidence you can view by downloading the files.

American Competitive Debate Association (ACDA)

The ACDA formats their briefs a little differently than the rest. Whether you like the new formatting or hate it, they’re giving out briefs, cards, and email updates for free.


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