Monday, February 08, 2016

A serious envisioning of reparations for African Americans?

Facing a chorus of condescending criticism from liberal pundits who ought to think harder, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently linked to a paper on the practicalities reparations, how these might actually work for African Americans whose lives are impoverished and constrained by the US history of slavery, oppression, violence and Jim Crow. I decided to read it and share.

Coates has made his case for reparations in 2014 in this article. It's worth reading.

Critics of reparations like to say or imply something like -- well, yes, reparations might be a good idea, but there are so many unanswered questions. Economists William A. Darity and Dania Frank identify four conundrums which could be clarified if we'd try.
  • How to determine who would be eligible? After all, if being African-American might get you something material, wouldn't there be a rush to affirm an ancestry that some people had been denying? They answer:

    we provide two criteria for eligibility: first an individual would have to provide reasonable documentation that they had at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States; and, second, an individual would have to demonstrate that, at least ten years before the onset of the reparations program, they self-identified as black, African-American, colored or Negro on a legal document.

  • What sort of reparations programs could there be? How should benefits be distributed? Darity and Frank list many possibilities: "lump sum payments," a "trust fund" making grants for asset building programs like home ownership, "vouchers" that could be used for asset building such as additional education, or "in kind promises" guaranteeing schooling beyond high school or medical insurance, or payments to build "entirely new" black community institutions to promote "collective well-being." There is a wide menu of possiblities.
  • Where's the money going to come from? Financing could come from taxes or government borrowing. Daritty and Frank note:

    In general African Americans should not bear the tax burden of financing their own reparations payments. Blacks paid local, state and federal taxes for more than eighty years while being disenfranchised in the U.S. South ....

  • How large should reparations payments be? Darrity and Frank present various estimates of the wealth to white Americans extracted from slavery and subsequent exploitation of black individuals. They come up with numbers in the trillions of dollars and conclude

    the damages to the collective well-being of black people have been enormous and, correspondingly, so is the appropriate bill.

Hardly anyone thinks reparations are on the national agenda right now -- but no compensation for prolonged injustice is going to happen unless we can think seriously about what it would mean. We did manage to pay some reparations to Japanese Americans dispossessed and locked in concentrations camps during World War II. Toward African Americans, apologies are a start; even inadequate material amends would be better.

1 comment:

George Waite said...

Here's a thought: all the "progressives" in P-Town, San Francisco, Ogunquit and the Hamptons will lead the way and voluntarily give up their homes there; the second homes/beach houses and ski condos in Vermont, New Hampshire and Colorado and the Californians buying properties in Idaho and Montana should be used for this, too.

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