What would reparations actually look like?

The moral case for reparations boils down to this: white people in America have systematically stolen wealth from black people for hundreds of years through slavery, Jim Crow laws, housing discrimination, and various other crimes. The evidence? Just take a look at the average wealth of white people and black people today.

According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a non-profit dedicated to economic development, white households are on average about sixteen times wealthier than black households. This is a huge difference.

But what would reparations actually look like?

There are a few scholars who have been studying this for a long time. One of them is Dr. William Darity from Duke University. The first step, he says, is to establish a set of criteria for eligibility:

Darity suggests those seeking reparations should meet the following criteria:

1. Proof that one of your ancestors was enslaved

2. Having self-identified, on a government form, as black, African-American, colored, or Negro at least 10 years prior

Then you have to figure out how you value the reparations. Now obviously no amount of money could ever begin to redress the horrible crimes committed upon African Americans. But Darity’s suggestion is the present equivalent of the 40 acres and a mule initially suggested before Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Boris Bittker, Professor of Law at Yale University, wrote a book back in 1973 that proposed calculating a total sum for reparations by taking the number of African Americans in the country and multiplying it by the difference between white and black per capita income. Back then the number was $34 billion, which he suggested paying out every year over two decades.

That’s a whole lot of money.

The next glaring question is, how do we pay for this?

There are a few options. One, non-blacks could pay extra taxes. Or, the United States could borrow by issuing bonds. Or we could pull it from elsewhere in the budget, you know, like maybe out of our excessive defense spending.

Darity also has some ideas for how we would pay out reparations to individuals.

These are just some of the proposals that are currently on the table. They’re not the only ones.

If you’re left balking at the magnitude of the dollar figures thrown about, there’s good reason for that. After 250 years of slavery, 75 of legalized racism in Jim Crow laws, and continued insidious and systemic racism, we owe a lot; more than we could ever pay.

Reparations are not only meant to repair the financial injury, but also, the moral one. America has never formally apologized for slavery, and it has never gone through a reconciliation process. American democracy would not exist if not built on theft from black people. It’s time we publicly acknowledge and begin the process of atoning for it.


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