As institutions, cities and now the state of California instituted reparations programs, the pressure is mounting for a federal decision for Native Black Americans. And once again, professor and reparations advocate William “Sandy” Darity has laid out the case for reparations.
In a recent video released by the Brookings Institution and tweeted by Al Jazeera Plus, Dr. Darity underscored the growing racial wealth gap.
Blacks people are about 13 percent of the population but have only 2.6 percent of the nation’s wealth, Darity said. “And that translates into an average household differential between Blacks and whites in net worth of about $800,000 in 2016 dollars.”
Reparations are the way to rectify this, Darity said. “That’s the gap that needs to be closed by a reparations program.”
The wealth gap can be traced back to the end of slavery when freed slaves were promised 40-acre land grants but never received them.
“So we estimated that if you took the most conservative interpretation of that allocation it would be 10 acres per formerly enslaved person,” Darity said. “There were 4 million folks who were emancipated at the end of the Civil War so that would mean 40 million acres of land…and that’s the low-end estimate. The present value would probably be anywhere between $4 and $6 trillion dollars.”
Settling this debt would close the wealth gap substantially.
The wealth gap can be tied to a myriad of ills facing Black people today, including the disproportionate covid-19 deaths. Many Black people do “work deemed essential even if they are not deemed essential,” Darity said. Essential workers have had to work during the pandemic, putting them at higher risk than whites.
“But if we’re going to address the question of restitution for Black Americans for the cumulative effects of slavery, the period of Jim Crow or legal segregation accompanied by white terror campaigns and ongoing atrocities like mass incarceration, police executions of unarmed Blacks, discrimination in labor markets and credit markets, then you need something that is going to focus on the racial wealth gap, which,” Darity said, “captures the cumulative inter-generational consequences of this entire trajectory of harms.”
The Al Jazeera tweet received many pro-reparations responses as well as calls for passage or editing of the H.R. 40 reparations bill which was re-introduced in Congress in 2019.
One person tweeted, “HR-40 needs SERIOUS edits that @SandyDarity has already suggested before it should ever be passed. We will not allow anyone to con Black Americans when it comes to Reparations.”
Another posted, “The details can be worked out, the conversation must be had #reparationsnow”.
Darity has long promoted reparations along with A. Kirsten Mullen. They have worked frequently with the Brookings Institution, including doing lectures and webinars.
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“The origins of this gulf in Black and White wealth stem from the immediate aftermath of slavery when a promise made to provide the formerly enslaved with 40 acres in land grants went unmet—while many White Americans were provided substantial ‘hand outs’ (typically 160 acres) of land in the west,” Darity and Mullens wrote in article titled “Black reparations and the racial wealth gap,” which appeared in a Brookings blog in June.
Darity is a Samuel DuBois Cook distinguished professor of public policy at Duke University. Mullen is a folklorist and the founder of Artefactual, an arts consulting practice. Together they have written numerous reports and books on reparations, including “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.