Repairing a Nation: A visual exploration into the American debate on reparations for slavery

May 1, 2020   /  

Student: Desi LaPoole
Major: Journalism & Society (self design)
Advisors: Denise Bostdorff, Angie Bos

Desi LaPoole

The debate on reparations for slavery in the United States of America has persisted for generations, capturing the attention and imagination of America in waves before falling out of public consciousness over the decades. Throughout its longevity, the debate on reparations has had many arguments in support of and opposition towards the idea and has inspired many different proposals which seek to solve many different problems. Today, reparations have found new mainstream attention, thanks in part Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic, and to two new reparations bills in Congress. My research explores the debate on reparations — the arguments for and against, the types of proposals that have been made, and the persisting racial inequalities in wealth and housing that stem from slavery and Jim Crow Segregation — through both a written document and short documentary titled, Reparations: An American Dilemma, available to watch on YouTube.

Desi will be online to field comments on May 8:
2-4pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

62 thoughts on “Repairing a Nation: A visual exploration into the American debate on reparations for slavery”

  1. Desi, you did such a great job. Thanks for sharing. I love the diversity of your interviews. How did you come up with your plan for interviews? Were you surprised by any of the subjects’ views regarding reparations? Did you find you changed your mind on reparations after your conversations and research?

    1. The change will come, when the financial status is shifted. Do note that no one wants to go from the top, to what is considered the bottom.

    2. Great questions, Melissa. At the start of this project, I knew I would need the voices of scholars, leaders, and everyday citizens. From there I reached out to some people, and met others through my advisor and conferences I attended during the school year.

      John Clay’s response to the question of if we should implement reparations was surprising, and sparked a very interesting conversation between the two of us.

      I have definitely gained a more nuanced understanding of reparations and what it means to different people, which is something I am grateful for from this process.

      Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much Dr. Bostdorff. This film is what it is because of your mentorship throughout this process. It’s been great working with you over these years!

  2. What a great documentary. I loved that you included national information with personal Wooster stories. If you were writing the reparations bill, what would it look like?

    1. If I had a say in the matter, I would like to see a bill that focuses on tackling the wealth gap, because it is the foundation of so much inequality in our country. Some plans I’ve read include special subsidies or grants to support black businesses, or programs to encourage more home ownership within the black community.

      Thanks for the question!

    2. Desi, I am so immensely proud of you and the work that you are doing. These are the conversations that we need to continue to have in order to see the results that are well deserved. Congratulations and I look forward to reading/watching all of your future work!

      1. Thanks so much Najma! I really appreciate you taking the time to watch it. Love you lots! <3

  3. I just forwarded your video to someone in our church who has been spearheading discussions on racism in our community and with her college students. Here’s what I wrote her: “The above is a culminating independent studies project done by a student at the College of Wooster, which I attended. Students are presenting their senior research today online. As I watched this I thought of the work you are doing and thought it might be an excellent resource to share with students.” Thanks for your thought-provoking work.

    1. Thank you so much for passing it along! I hope she finds it as intriguing as you did.

  4. I sat transfixed for a half hour, as though in conversation myself with expert voices and witnesses to history. Wow.

    Have you encountered Rothstein’s thesis in ‘The Color of Law’?:

    https://www.epi.org/publication/the-color-of-law-a-forgotten-history-of-how-our-government-segregated-america/

    https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?428341-1/the-color-law

    I thought his thesis related closely to several points and historical experiences in your film.

    Congratulations!

    1. I can’t say I have, but his work looks very interesting. I’m always looking for new inspiration, so thank you for passing this along!

      I’m glad you enjoyed my thesis!

  5. Great work, Desi. I love the way you bring together the national debate and local perspectives – and guide us through with a strong voice of your own. Well done!

  6. What a great project – I was riveted.
    And thank you for including Yvonne Williams, a Wooster icon (and my IS second reader in 1983!)
    Your work is really important and I have great expectations for what you will contribute to the world. Congratulations.

    1. Thank you!

      Sitting down with Dr. Williams was a pleasure, and hearing her stories and insight gave me a lot of perspective in completing this project.

  7. What a great job! I really appreciated how you integrated the political and legislative history with the economic research and then applying this understanding to the case of Wooster.

    1. Thank you! I was glad that I was able to include so much in this incredibly complex topic. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Hi Desi! Your documentary is so interesting and well-done. You really expanded my understanding of reparations as being something beyond merely a distribution of money and showed how complicated, and important, the issue is. I was especially really interested in your careful study of Wooster! When you started this project, did you know that you wanted to include the town of Wooster in your research? Also, I know you want to pursue journalism, but are you planning to continue to try to make documentaries?
    Congratulations! It’s been so great to know and work with you over the past few years 🙂

    1. Hi Eleanor! Thanks for watching my documentary. I actually did want to study Wooster from the onset of the project. I felt that bringing a small town into the debate on reparations would shine a light on racial issues in places that often go overlooked when talking about national reform.

      I have gotten a lot more interested in documentary filmmaking throughout this IS process, and have been looking for ways to continue learning more about the art.

  9. Fantastic work, Desi! All your stress and hard work this year paid off in a well researched, thought provoking project. Do you think you’ll continue to research this topic?
    It has been a pleasure working with you for the past few years and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

    1. Thank you Jamie! Right now, I’m not sure about continuing researching reparations, however I have become much more interested in documentary filmmaking throughout this process, and want to continue down this path.

      It’s been great working with you too, Jamie!

  10. Wonderful project! You grabbed my attention for every second of it with fascinating interviews and commentary and great video clips. If your goal was to educate, inform, and provoke thought, you succeeded. Congratulations and thank you!

  11. Desi,
    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful I.S. project. I was impressed by your interviews, including your choice of diverse voices. As the college archivist, I want to thank you for capturing the voices of Yvonne and John who share just some of the many hurdles that they have experienced in our own community.

    You should be extremely proud of the work you have done here. I wish you the best as you move out into the world beyond Wooster!

    1. Thank you so much, and it was a pleasure to sit down with Dr. Williams and John.

  12. You’re incredible Desi. It’s been an honor to learn and grow with you this past year. Let’s collab on a documentary sometime 🙂 Love you!

    1. Thanks so much Ellie! It’s been incredible this year working with you! I’d definitely be up for a collab in the future. Love you too !

  13. This is amazing Desi! It’s a very impressive project in scope, research, and creativity. Like Eleanor, I’m also wondering if you plan to make more documentaries? Also it was cool to see the footage/interviews from when we went to Otterbein! I hope you’re doing well.

    1. Thanks so much Waverly! I have gotten much more interested in pursuing journalism through documentaries in the future, so hopefully yes!

      It was a great trip, and it’s been amazing working with you over the years!

  14. Excellent and incredibly well done project! The diversity of perspectives and individuals you interviewed makes this a real contribution. Congratulations!

  15. Desi,

    Congratulations on a very timely, well conceived and ambitious IS project. Your video grabbed my attention and held it, and you’re very good on camera, too.

    I’ll be watching for more great things from you. Welcome to the wide world of Wooster alumni.

  16. Desi,
    Echoing the comments above mine. Outstanding interviews, outstanding video. What a contribution. I hope you find a wonderful journalism home after Wooster since it feels inevitable to me that you’ll be continuing this work,
    I’m sending the YouTube link to many friends.
    (Parent of a ’13 Wooster grad)

  17. Desi, I am so impressed with your work. It is a very good introduction to the issues surrounding this topic. I think your documentary lays out the issues in an accessible and engaging way, and that is what we hope from a documentary! As a white, privileged lawyer, I have become personally very interested in this issue of reparations, and a supporter of HR 40. I agree with your quoted sources that individual payments can’t address the issue, and that the disparities are residential segregation, K-12 education disparities, the earnings and weath gaps – what policies will impact the trajectory of those trends in a positive way! Great opening call to action – hope you will continue your work as a documentarian as you clearly have a flair for it! Diane Frankle, Trustee, College of Wooster

    1. Hi Diane, thank you for your kind words. I’m glad I was able to encompass much of what is going on in the debate on reparations today, and that it was engaging for you. I hope to continue doing this work in the future!

  18. Hi Desi! It was such a pleasure to be your second reader and to play a small role in this amazing project. You brought together the academic and creative pieces so seamlessly – well done! Looking forward to following the great impact you will have on our world. Send you all my best, Prof. Bos

    1. Thank you Dr. Bos, and thank you for your help and guidance through this process. It has been great working with you over the years!

  19. Desi, your documentary is fantastic! It presents the nuances of the reparations debate clearly, and I especially appreciated the diversity of perspectives from your interviewees. Congratulations on your IS and your many other achievements at Wooster!

  20. Desi, I’m so glad my son recommended that we watch your presentation. Excellent work. I love that you anchored your question in Wooster, and presented opinions and ideas about reparations that broadened my own thinking about the subject. I was especially interested in John Clay and Professor Williams’ perspective. Thank you for deepening my understanding. As Dr. Williams says, “It’s time.”

    1. Hi Mary, I’m glad you took the time to watch my project. I really appreciate it!

  21. Desi, this is such an amazing project. It’s clear that you put so much passion and work into this. Amazing job!

  22. Desi,
    I enjoyed your film and the depth of your analysis, bravo for asking questions that took a dive into this important and complicated question. The diversity of voices you included were wonderful. It’s always a joy to hear Dr Williams talk and share wisdom, she’s a GIANT❤️. Congratulations on your IS, it’s a wonderful accomplishment! Keep moving forward✊🏾

    1. It was an honor to sit down with Dr. Williams and gain her insight into the history of Wooster, and certainly learn more about her impact on the College. Thank you for your response, and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  23. Desi, I remember your mentioning this project in my class last semester, and I’m so glad I got to see the results. This is a truly impressive and thought-provoking documentary!

  24. Desi,
    This is so well done! I really appreciate how you weave together local and national voices through the feature. You should be very proud of this work. Thank you for sharing here.

  25. Desi, you’re a super star! You did a wonderful job on IS! Congratulations on finishing your senior year. You da bomb 🥰

  26. Dear Desi,

    Congratulations on your IS! This work, and your film explaining it, are absolutely superb. It is a wonderful and powerful film, and I hope that many, many people see it. You are an excellent reporter, and we are lucky to have had you at Wooster for these four years!

    I wish you all the best, and I know that you will continue to tell important truths in powerful ways through your work .
    Sincerely, Pres. Bolton

  27. What a spectacular project, Desi! I love how you incorporated media, your own interviews, and your own keen analysis into your video. As a strong advocate of public scholarship, I am really, really impressed! Congratulations and thank you for doing this important work!

  28. Congratulation on finishing your IS and this awesome documentary. I learnt so much!!

    I’m super proud of you Desi!!

  29. Hi Desi,

    You did a fantastic job of weaving together interviews, historical footage, and images of Wooster. What a great way to show your mastery of the topic and to make a compelling argument. Are you going on to graduate school or a career in journalism or film?

  30. I have watched/read so many presentations that I am only writing now. But this is the one that will stick with me for years for both the quantity and quality of the content and the production. Thank you for making us think about the national debate and the local lived reality.

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