Should there be reparations for African Americans? Scholars tackle the topic at Monday panel

Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Duke Chronicle

Reparations for African Americans are crucial to fight white supremacy and compensate for slavery's consequences, scholars said at a town hall forum Monday, but they aren't enough.

Racial inequality and discrimination are so engrained in diverse aspects of the American society that no single measure would solve all the problems, said Wahneema Lubiano—associate professor of African and African American studies—at the panel. Reparations are usually discussed in the form of monetary payments to individuals or land-based compensations to communities. 

“Sometimes we talk in a way in which the word ‘reparation’ acts as a singularity,” Lubiano said. “Whereas in fact, it is a complicated set of multiple possibilities, multiple sites, multiple stages and multiple actors.”

Lubiano cited the history department’s recent request to rename the Carr Building on East Campus, for example, as one way Americans could reflect on the history of slavery and redress its victims, aside from material compensation. 

One projection for the cost of monetary reparations is between $5.9 and $14.2 trillion, according to a 2015 study at the University of Connecticut.  

Racism is more profound than slavery and its legacy, said William “Sandy” Darity, panelist and Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy. It is most fundamentally manifested in the economic disparity between races, such as disparities in employment rate and educational opportunities, he argued. The median of white families’ incomes is still higher than that of black families overall, Darity said.

Darity notes that the movement to “Bank Black and Buy Black”—a movement that encourages African Americans to channel together their assets to create jobs and build businesses—will not address the ongoing wealth inequality. 

Black firms and institutions are usually much smaller and less profitable than their counterparts owned by white Americans, he explained. 

“This is not because black-owned institutions lack strong business models or lack wise leaders,” Darity said. “It’s because the inherited economic situations of the communities where they operate make it hard for start-ups to develop.”

For example, black families usually have minimal liquid assets, Darity explained.

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