Reparations Now!

Clearly the time for a serious discussion on reparations for enslavement and subsequent discrimination is long overdue, and particularly timely in the current uprising. There’s one step that the Democratic-led House could take immediately:

Pass HR 40, the Conyers/Jackson bill calling for a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.

There are many proposals for what reparations might look like, from cash grants to increased education funding. My proposal is simple.

The need for reparations is demonstrated by the following statistic: the median wealth (not income) of white households is 10 times that of Black households, $171,000 to $17,000 (2017 figures from the Federal Reserve Board). A difference of $154,000 per household.

There are 9.9 million black households in the United States.

No amount of reparations can make up for the 400 years of suffering by the Black community. But making up the difference in household wealth would be a start. 9.9 million times $154,000 equals 1.5 trillion dollars. Compared to the amount of stimulus being pumped into the economy due to the coronavirus crisis, this is not a large amount.

People get their knickers in a bunch trying to decide who would be eligible. That’s simple too. Anyone who would have been enslaved prior to 1863 emancipation. I would suggest that this amount come not just from the federal government, but from the banks, corporations, and their foundations that might have benefited from slavery and such post-slavery practices as redlining.

An agency like the Freedman’s Bureau during Reconstruction would be set up to administer the grants. Black households would apply for the money. To reassure the racists who would say that people would waste the money, applicants would need to have a valid purpose for the money: buying a house, paying for college, starting a small business. And there should be a means test as well: the people with the greatest need should get the money first, before Oprah, Obama, and Robert Johnson. Johnson has called for 14 trillion in reparations, and I’m all for that, but I think my proposal has a better chance of passing.

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