William Darity is an economist and professor of public policy at Duke University (North Carolina). Her latest book, written with Kirsten Mullen, titled From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2020, untranslated) calls for the adoption of a reparation plan intended to compensate for the inequalities of wealth resulting from centuries of slavery, segregation and discrimination. The two authors measure the intergenerational cumulative effects of decades of discriminatory policies in the areas of housing, education, police violence, mass incarceration, and calculate the role of slavery in the economic development of the United States, to then assess the literal cost of racial inequality and propose a remedy plan, often cited in public debates. As a bill, backed by President Joe Biden, has just been passed by the House Judicial Affairs Committee, William Darity exposes the ins and outs of financial reparations to the community of descendants of slaves.
What principle does the idea of financial reparations underlie?
Perhaps the most familiar example to many is the reparations paid by the German government to the victims of the Holocaust. The United States government did the same in 1988 for the American-Japanese community unjustly incarcerated during World War II. It would be appropriate to do the same for black Americans. The reparations concern descendants of slaves, but they are not exclusively based on slavery as they must also include a century of legal segregation (the period of the “Jim Crow” laws between 1876 and 1964) as well as the prejudices that persist. until today: mass incarceration, police executions of unarmed blacks, continued discrimination in credit, housing, employment, and the ultimate indicator of the cumulative intergenerational effects of racial injustice that t is the enormous racial disparity of wealth in the United States.
You insist that this is not an anti-poverty program. Do you think that even black descendants of well-off slaves should be able to benefit from it?
Yes, if a debt is due, it must be paid, regardless of the current economic situation of individuals. The poorest white Americans, those with incomes in the bottom 20%, have a higher median wealth level than the median wealth of all black American households. As for the poorest black Americans, their median wealth level is actually closer to zero. So even if we were to compare one poor to another poor, the racial divide is still quite significant.
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