Bringing an Inquisitive Mind to Inequality

Professional headshot of Dr. William "Sandy" Darity next to a bookshelf full of books

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Duke Today

William (Sandy) Darity Jr. says his wife Kirsten Mullen, who is a writer and folklorist, compares researching complicated societal issues to placing pieces of bread on water. The bread represents ideas one’s research unearths. Bobbing on the surface, the pieces wait for something to swoop down and snatch them.

For 45 years, Darity, the Samuel Dubois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, Economics and Business, has studied racial inequality. As the nation’s wealth gap grows, Darity’s work, and potential solutions he’s researched – such as reparations for Black Americans – have found hungry audiences.

“I didn’t expect the bread on the water to necessarily be picked up while I was still living,” said Darity, 69. “I don’t anticipate reparations to happen in my lifetime, but I hope I’ve put resources out there that people can use to move the cause forward.”

A Duke faculty member since 1999 and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity since 2015, Darity carries a lifelong curiosity about inequality and race. Growing up, he saw how access to the nicest beaches of Alexandria, Egypt – where he lived while his father worked at the World Health Organization – was determined by financial status. Accompanying friends to both desirable, and less-desirable beaches, Darity wondered why families with similar intelligence and ambition had differences in wealth.