Since last year’s racial justice uprisings, the conversation of reparations has increasingly moved to the forefront of American discourse. A long-enduring subject of conversation and study, proponents continue to be clear that it is an overdue debt that continues to accrue interest as the years go on.
Vice recently ran an interview with BET founder Robert Johnson about reparations and the debt owed to the descendants of enslaved Africans. Johnson argued for a $14 trillion investment, not charity.
Johnson also told Vice that he sees attempts at placating Black people in various programs and opportunities that provide some semblance of reparations without calling it such. In an interview with CNBC, Johnson said “wealth transfer is what’s needed.”
Johnson is not alone in arguing for a multi-trillion dollar reparations package. In an op-ed for the Economist, Duke Professor William “Sandy” Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen argue that direct payments are a must for any reparations program. Darity and Mullen also correct the concept of “slavery reparations.”
While the initial point of redress begins with the enslavement of Black people in America, the duo connects the dots from the institution of slavery, through the systemic violence and disenfranchisement of the 100 year period post-slavery, into the present with ongoing disparities.
“The starting point is the failure to provide Black Americans who were emerging from slavery with the land grants they were promised, while whites received (land grants) four times as large,” said Darity during a press conference on reparations in March. “The second phase that’s pertinent is nearly 100 years of legal separation … what we colloquially refer to as Jim Crow.”
In their book “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” Darity and Mullen provide a thorough argument for their approach including the justification for compensation for the over 155 years since the end of the Civil War.
Darity also challenges those allegedly concerned about how to pay for it, pointing to the federal government’s ability to make necessary investments when push comes to shove.
“The cost (estimate is) $10-$12 trillion, that should be the baseline amount of a plan,” Darity explained. “The, ‘How will we pay for it?’ argument is one that’s always thrown up as an obstacle to transformative policies. I think that our recent experience both in the Great Recession and pandemic suggest quite clearly the federal government can make substantial expenditures without necessarily raising taxes on anyone.”
Recently, the UN High Commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet called for nations to dismantle racism against African descendants. Bachelet cited a report commissioned after international protest last year after George Floyd’s murder. BBC News highlighted several of the reports findings including the presence of persisting issues of racism and discrimination as ongoing problems in counties affiliated with the transatlantic slave trade.
“States must show stronger political will to accelerate action for racial justice, redress and equality through specific, time-bound commitments to achieve results,” said Bachelet.
Bottom line: if Congress can move forward and pass Juneteenth as a holiday, it can move forward with H.R. 40 which has gained more support in the past year than in the over 30 years since it was first introduced. First introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers, and now led by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, H.R. 40 is a bill to study and make proposals for reparations.
Moving the conversation of reparations forward and helping Americans understand why it is not only necessary but possible is an important task. Continued conversation and discussion about the history and ongoing legacy of systemic racism and entrenched white supremacy is necessary to make a change.