Paying compensation to the descendants of slaves would not just right a historic wrong, it would transform the US economy for the better
To find out what reparations might mean in practice, I spoke to William Darity, an economist at Duke University, and his wife Kirsten Mullen, a folklorist, who are co-authors of the book ‘Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century’. I asked them what a comprehensive reparations agenda in the US might look like, starting with the question of who should pay for them.
In contrast to recent reparations delivered by local governments and private institutions, Darity and Mullen assert that the invoice for reparations must go to the federal government, which bears responsibility “for sanctioning, maintaining and enabling slavery, legal segregation, and continued racial inequality”.
From the failure to grant 40 acres and a mule while many white families received Homestead grants, to the exclusion of Black people from the New Deal and GI bill, Darity explained that “it’s federal policy that has created the racial wealth difference that we observe in the US, and so we argue that it’s the federal government that has to close the gap.”
On what scale should reparations be paid, and how much would they cost?
Darity and Mullen consider the racial wealth gap to be the “most robust indicator of the cumulative economic effects of white supremacy in the US.” As a result, they say that reparations should aim to eliminate the racial wealth gap between Black and white families in the US.