What a moment we find ourselves in! A conversation that has long lingered on the fringes of African-American society has erupted into the public square: reparations for the descendants of enslaved people.
This year the public conversation went as far as the halls of Congress; when some of the most articulate voices on the issue – BlackHer Shero Julianne Malveaux, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others – made the case for reparations.
For us at BlackHer, reparations are a core issue that we believe should be on Black women’s radar for two reasons. The first is moral. White Americans should atone for this original sin. The second is economic. The racial wealth gap facing Black Americans simply cannot be closed without them.
400 Years of Plunder and Structural Racism are a Bitch
The disparities in wealth between Blacks and whites are stark and man-made.
Slavery stole Black labor. Then, during the Jim Crow years – roughly 1865 when slavery officially ended, to the start of the Civil Rights movement almost 100 years later – state’s rights left Blacks at the mercy of southern whites who felt they had been robbed of precious assets (free slave labor) and stripped of their cultural inheritance (enslaved people, the culture of white supremacy) by the Civil War. As a response, “disenfranchised” whites as Coates puts it, engaged in “plunder” of mass proportion, which resulted in the theft of Black land, Black political power, and Black bodies.
“America begins in black plunder and white democracy, two features that are not contradictory but complementary,”
From Emancipation through today, state, local, and even national policies have contributed to the Black/white wealth gap. For example:
- Redlining: denying or overcharging for mortgage loans in certain communities.
- Discrimination in lending: denying capital (loans) to Black business owners overcharging Black consumers. The practice is alive and well – all the big banks continue to play this discriminatory game – and is a huge reason there are so few Black-owned businesses that are substantial enough to provide jobs.
- Terrorism: the violence (lynching, arson) in all parts of the country that forced Black people out of successful businesses and communities. (Think Tulsa, Charleston, Wilmington, Florida to name just a few) and led to the Great Migration).
- The subsequent (and concurrent) land grabs – by individuals AND governments (see eminent domain) – that stripped Blacks of our land.
“For Black people, owning land has been a source of liberation, power, and intergenerational wealth generation, but they have never been able to fully realize the power and wealth that land bestows. Less than 50 years after the Civil War, freed slaves and their descendants owned 15 million acres across the South. Over the last half-century, however, Black people have been stripped of nearly 11 million acres of land through violence, fraud, deception, and theft, which created more wealth for white families (Mock 2014).”
- Roosevelt’s New Deal and the post-WWII GI bill that moved massive amounts of public money into private hands and financed the American Dream of a house for every family – administered in a way that favored whites.
- Investment in infrastructure in ways that favor some communities and disfavor others.
The compounding and accumulating economic disenfranchisement of Blacks has created a situation where today, more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, Black wealth will drop to zero by 2053 without profound structural change.
According to Women, Race, and Wealth,
“Black women are the most disadvantaged as they show negative median wealth at different ages regardless of marital status. Single black women in their 20s without a degree have zero wealth and the typical single black woman with a college degree is $11,000 in debt. Married black women in their 30s and with college degrees are $20,000 in debt.
Reparations Could Be a Game-Changer for Black Women
So, reparations – in whatever form it is implemented – could put much-needed capital in the hands of Black families whose ancestors built America.
In the game of wealth accumulation, reparations could be a game-changer. The kind that:
- creates real security for our families,
- injects capital into our businesses, and
- creates the possibility of having generational wealth to on to our loved ones.
Reparations are American
It’s important to note that reparations are already part of the American experience. The Japanese who were interned during World War II were given cash and an apology.
Various forms of reparations have been offered to Native Americans. Although white supremacists have found many ways to re-extract that money, the granting of it was official recognition of wrongs that needed to be righted; and the effort was made to compensate those populations for the theft of their historical wealth – the land.
That’s why it is an issue at the top of our #BlackHer2020 agenda.
To learn more about reparations, read:
- Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Case for Reparations, 2014 – The Atlantic (Audio)
- Current Legislation: HR 40, in 2019 established the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans
- NAARC – National African American Reparations Committee, established in 2015
- Racial Equity Alliance: Racial Equity Toolkit