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Durham couple’s new book makes a case for reparations
 
Published Monday, January 20, 2020
by Freda Freeman, Correspondent

DURHAM – Ten to $12 trillion is what the federal government would owe blacks in reparations if it were to try to right the wrongs in this country, according to co-authors of a new book.

In their forthcoming book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” William “Sandy” Darity Jr. and wife Kirsten Mullen of Durham make a case for reparations for black Americans.

Darity is a Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy, African and African American studies, and economics at Duke University. Mullen is a writer, folklorist consultant, and lecturer on race, art, history, and politics.

Speaking at The Carolina Theater last week, Darity and Mullen discussed the $42.5 billion trust awarded the descendants of Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II. The United States has an equal moral obligation to black Americans, and that obligation should also come with a check, they said.

Although now considered “advocates for reparations,” Darity said he was skeptical when he began his research about 30 years ago. “I was a deep skeptic about reparations for black Americans, not because I thought it was wrong, but because I kept saying to myself and others that this will never happen,” he said, “but I became increasingly convinced that it was not only the right thing to do but, even if the odds were long, it was something that had to be pursued.”

Darity said that blacks enslaved in the United States in 1817 didn’t think slavery would ever end, and blacks in South Africa in 1954 didn’t think apartheid would end, but both ended because of those who fought for freedom and change. Inspired by those who believed change was possible, Darity said he decided to do whatever he could to bring about reparations for black American descendants of slaves.

Darity and Mullen define reparations, in general, as a program of acknowledgement, redress, and closure for grievous injustices. To define how grievous injustices apply specifically to black Americans, they said you have to look at three historical phases: slavery; nearly a century of legal segregation coupled with white terror campaigns; and the post-civil rights era, in which blacks are still living with a huge array of atrocities, including “police executions of unarmed blacks, mass incarceration, gentrification, and credit, housing, and employment discrimination.”

As an economist, Darity said the most relevant way to craft a reparations program would be based on the pretax racial wealth gap between whites and blacks. Black Americans comprise about 13 percent of the country’s population but own 2.6 percent of the country’s wealth.

“This enormous disparity translates into an $800,000 differential per household in the United States by race, so even beyond the period of Jim Crow, we’re talking about a substantial cumulative process of racial injustice that’s been inflicted upon black Americans,” he said.

The $800,000 gap is the average mean between white and black households, Darity explained. He added that, based on the Survey of Consumer Finances 2016, the median household income for whites in 2016 was $171,000 compared to the median black household income of $17,600.

Darity and Mullen hope their book, which will be published in April, will support and advance the national conversation about reparations.

“Part of what we’re hoping for is a conversation like we’re having today, that this book will be one of many tools that will be available for this conversation to happen, and that it will be in the hands of people who can make a difference,” Mullen said.

The couple supports the principle of House Resolution 40, legislation proposed by the late U.S. Rep. John Conyers since 1987 to form a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans. Darity said there are numerous communities, including Durham, that are beginning to recognize the moral validity of the case for reparations.

“There are also institutions, the major colleges and universities, perhaps the most prestigious ones in the United States, that have a deep history of direct complicity in slavery, and there are white families whose wealth and status is contingent upon the fact that they originally were slaveholders. So, we think that what those municipalities, universities, individuals or families should do is form a coalition to petition for reparations from Congress at the national level. That’s what they really should do because this is not just a question of personal or individual guilt, this is a question of national responsibility,” he said.

Mel Williams, of End Poverty Durham, one of the program’s sponsors, said he hopes the book will evoke whites to support reparations for blacks. “How can the reparations movement transform white identity, white understanding, white confession of complicity in white supremacy in a white economic system, because that’s the change that needs to happen. To me, the reparation efforts that they’re doing is a catalyst for helping white people see our terrific responsibility for the evil that has been done,” Williams said.

In addition to End Poverty Durham, the program was sponsored by Episcopalians United Against Racism, in partnership with Durham Congregations in Action, DurhamCares, Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, ReCity, Resource Center for Women in Ministry in the South, and Underground Church/Liberation Station.

 

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