As the U.S. celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Great Britain, the issue of reparations was on the mind of economist Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton.
Reich tweeted on July 4, “The U.S. government didn’t even consider Black people to be people on July 4, 1776. Paying reparations to reckon with the lasting legacy of slavery is not radical. It’s essential.”
He continued the conversation on race and reparations in a blog, entitled “Real Patriotism on this July 4th,” on his website.
“On this 4th of July, many people believe that celebrating America means waving the flag or standing for the national anthem or shouting ‘America First.’ But that’s not what real patriotism is,” Reich wrote. “Real patriotism means sacrificing to keep America going. It means paying taxes proportional to your wealth. I’m talking to you Jeff Bezos, and you, Elon Musk. It means paying your workers a living wage so they can thrive. I’m talking to you, Walmart, and you, McDonald’s. It means fully reckoning with how racial oppression and white supremacy have shaped this nation, not whitewashing our history and ignoring racism’s continuing legacy. I’m talking to you, lawmakers trying to prevent students from learning the role race has played in our history.”
Racism and reparations are something Reich has written and spoken on before. Last year, on July 4, 2020, he interviewed Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the “1619 Project.” Their discussion, “Reparations and the History of Economic Injustice: Nikole Hannah-Jones and Robert Reich” can be seen on his YouTube channel.
Hannah-Jones talked about the resistance of white Americans to reparations. “We have long had a society where white Americans really just want to be done with the past once we had the bloody civil rights movement and ended discrimination in the law,” she said. “White Americans kind of want to believe well ..that was our only obligation — everyone’s equal now and we don’t have to actually do anything to make up for 350 years of legal discrimination.”
While Hannah-Jones said she supports various reparations programs, she calls for cash reparations. “The only way to close a wealth gap is by transferring wealth … the only thing that can close a wealth gap is to provide restitution for the people who are never allowed to accumulate wealth,” she said.
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Reich, who wrote the book, “The System: Who Rigged It, How To Fix It,” also served in the administrations of presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
In his blog, “Racism is Profitable,” he wrote, “Since the first colonizers arrived in the United States to this very moment, wealthy elites have used the tools of theft, exclusion, and exploitation to expand their wealth and power at the detriment of Black, Latinx, Indigenous people, and marginalized people of color. It all boils down to this simple truth: Racism is profitable.”
He continued, “It’s a never-ending cycle that has been churning for centuries: the profitability of racism motivates elite institutions to continue economic oppression of people of color that in turn hinders their political power, and that political oppression kneecaps their ability to change the system in which racism is so profitable.”
To break the cycle, Reich called for, among other things, the government to “guarantee that all people of color have access to basic economic rights like guaranteed income and employment, universal health care, guaranteed housing, a free college education and generational wealth.”