Reparations Won’t Change History, But Here’s How They Can Help Close the Wealth Gap for Black Families

By Tiffany Eve Lawrence

March 31, 2022

For Black families, our financial start doesn’t look like others. The forced labor our enslaved ancestors rendered created a pipeline of wealth for white families, setting them bounds ahead of us. And the subsequent political discrimination, frequent seizing of Black-owned property, and denial of reparations for the history of abuse have kept us behind, creating a massive racial wealth gap.

Recently, the wealth gap has come under the microscope again, as California discusses reparations.

On Wednesday, a state task force voted to limit reparations to Black families who could trace their lineage back to the United States before the end of the 19th century. With this move, state leaders are not only deciding that reparations are something Black Americans are owed, they’re linking them with the damage done during slavery. It is one of the first steps of the task force, created by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, to solidify a plan.

And a plan could be game-changing for Black families still facing the repercussions of a centuries-old problem.

New York Times journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, spoke about the need for reparations for slavery at the United Nations on International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

“It is time for the nations that engaged in and profited from the transatlantic slave trade to do what is right and what is just,” Hannah-Jones said. “…This is our global truth, the truth we as human beings understand with stark clarity. There can be no atonement if there’s no repair.”

Economist and Duke University professor William Darity Jr. says we could argue the “wealth gap begins with enslavement because Black people were treated as a source of wealth for other people, and denied the opportunity to independently accumulate wealth of their own.” The 1921 Tulsa Massacre is one example of the vicious and extreme attacks on Black communities to keep us destitute and impoverished. “Wherever prosperity was visible, virtually in all of those instances, white massacres took place and not only resulted in the killing of Black folks, but also in the seizure and appropriation of their property,” says Darity.