The Living Church: Serving One Body of Christ
January 28, 2020
By Katy Crane
Duke University reparations economist William Darity has produced straightforward scholarship on a possible model for reparations, based on calculations of the wealth differential. These are variously derived from assessing the inequalities created by two pillars of injustice during the Jim Crow era: the theft of black-owned property and the systematic subjection of black people to inferior and inadequate resources (schooling, housing, etc.). Darity cites an Associated Press report in his 2003 article that states there were “406 cases of black landowners who had 24 thousand acres of farms and timberland stolen from them in the first three decades of the twentieth century.”
In Darity’s model, after the calculations of the differential have been made, reparations payments might be executed through some combination of: 1) a lump-sum cash transfer; 2) establishment of a trust fund to which black people may apply for grants; 3) a provision of vouchers to be used for asset-building; 4) reparations in kind (free university tuition, for example); or 5) the building of entirely new institutions to serve the needs and well-being of the black community.
The question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is how to determine who is eligible to receive reparations payments. Darity suggests requiring recipients to document proof of slave ancestry and to demonstration having filed as “African American” on governmental forms for at least 10 years prior. A biracial person would have to prove these things for a grandparent.
These suggested eligibility requirements are contested and would probably cause bitter disputes. Gathering official records and documents would be a daunting task, even for me as a non-black person. A single mother or father working three poverty-wage jobs would no doubt find the task nearly impossible.
Darity believes that the lump-sum option would end up profiting white-owned businesses in the long term, because most funds would be spent buying goods and services provided outside the black community. He also thinks that reparations in kind, like free access to higher education, would do little to decrease the wealth differential, which is really caused by the ownership of capital over time. Darity says: “It’s those intergenerational transfers — which are not merit-based, they’re affectional and familial based — that set up sustained racial inequality and wealth. That’s not bridged by getting more education.”
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