San Diego Law Review


Carol Klier

Library of Congress Authority File


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A meaningful reframing can be an effective tool for social change. The work of cognitive scientist and linguist, George Lakoff, explores the relationship between language use and the way we understand the world around us. Pertinent to the discussion of slave redress and reparations is the significance of discursive framing as a means of both promoting and dispelling worldviews. The manner in which we communicate particular ideas reveals much about how we conceptualize that subject. How we frame impacts the effectiveness of our messaging to others. As Lakoff indicates, “[F]acts matter enormously, but to be meaningful they must be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

Why is understanding framing significant to our understanding of the discourse surrounding slave redress and reparations in the United States? Understanding the different frames used by academics, advocates, and lawyers matters because more than half of Americans, and the majority of White Americans, oppose reparations as a means of redress for slavery and Jim Crow laws. In 2004, a study reported that 96% of White participants opposed reparations. That number only dropped to 81% in 2016. To put ideas into action, we must be prepared to face critics and opposing arguments with a persuasive discourse that effectively communicates why reparations are necessary and just. Finding the correct frame may provide the best chance of success for meaningful reparative efforts.

This Article investigates a range of perspectives and proposals for reparations paid to Black Americans for the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow laws, with particular attention to how each advocate frames their argument. Addressing the frame employed by each writer may facilitate a more robust understanding of the desired outcomes, the means promoted to achieve those outcomes, and how these differing discursive frames might help or hinder progress in the face of opposition.

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