Reparations are getting new traction in the 2020 presidential election.
The question of whether and how to compensate descendants of people formerly enslaved in the United States has hung over the country since the end of the Civil War.
“The idea is that wealth begets wealth. That wealth is something that is acquired cumulatively. And so you can either get on the path of accumulation or you can be on the path of decumulation,” says Sandy Darity, a Duke University professor who has studied reparations for over 30 years. He is author of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century (UNC Press, 2020) with A. Kristen Mullen.
Darity argues the current racial wealth gap—in which African Americans, who make up 13% of the national population but hold only 3% of national wealth—goes back to a series of government policies that denied economic opportunity to African Americans and provided opportunities to many white Americans.
Among these programs are the reversal of General William T. Sherman’s promise to set aside 400,000 acres of confiscated Confederate land for free slaves (the basis for the idea of 40 acres and a mule); the exclusion of many freed slaves from benefiting from the Homestead Act, which provided land ownership to over 1.6 million white families compared to only 4,000–5,000 African Americans; and unequal application of the GI Bill’s guaranteed low-cost loans by local bankers.
Beyond simply justifying reparations, Darity has created a team, the Reparations Planning Committee, with the objective to “flesh out the details of how you might actually execute a reparations program.” The team includes an economic historian, a genealogist who specializes in African American history, and other experts. They are currently in the process of figuring out who would get reparations and how much it would cost.
“I think reparations for black American descendants of slavery in the United States is something that is fully justified and morally required,” says Darity. “The fact that we may still be in a moment where the odds of it occurring appear to be low, that’s not a reason to not be engaged in the struggle to make it happen.”
Source: Duke University