What Reparations For Slavery Can Look Like In 2021


Following the abolishment of slavery in the United States in 1863, promises to compensate newly freed Black people were made and unkept. Advocates have pushed for reparations for Black people who were enslaved, and their descendants ents for decades. From 40 acres of land and a mule, to direct cash payments ways to provide Black people reparations have evolved. 

HR 40, a bill to commission a study on the impact of slavery as a pathway to reparations was reinvigorated under President Joe Biden’s administration. The bill was first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers in 1989 and was reintroduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Last month, the bill moved out of committee vote for the first time, inching the legislation close to a vote on the House floor. 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, police violence, America’s racial disparities were exposed in new ways, prompting more discussions and action towards reparations for slavery. 

Some local governments have instituted reparations programs using revenue from legal sale of marijuana, others have examined housing practices and offered financial benefits for Black homeowners. And while local and state governments have proposed or put into place plans for reparations, the federal government has not. 

Here’s what some advocates say reparations can look like for Black people

The National African American Reparations Commission proposed a 10-part plan for slavery reparations, NBC News reported. The plan includes a formal apology from the federal government for slavery and financial assistance for people who want to utilize their “right to return” to an African nation of their choosing. Housing and educational programs were also a part of the group’s proposal as well as preservation of historical Black landmarks

Andre Perry and Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institution proposed that direct cash payments, free college education and grants for Black owned businesses be made to living descendants of at least one person enslaved in the US. “Making the American Dream an equitable reality demands the same US government that denied wealth to Black restore that deferred wealth through reparations to their descendants,” the two wrote in a 2020 statement

Some supporters of reparations believe that a multifaceted program is required to address not only slavery but its legacy left on Black people living in America. 

“Reparations efforts at multiple levels are necessary because the harms were on multiple levels –– the institutional, at the state level and at the federal level,” Dreisen Heath, a racial justice researcher at Human Right Watch told NBC. “I think we would be doing ourselves a huge disservice if we were just talking about financial compensation alone.” 

Because of discriminatory housing practices like red lining, housing and neighborhood revitalization programs are often included in reparations proposals. Student loan debt, too, is disproportionately carried by Black students and graduates, making affordable and free college education a priority in reparations programs.  

Addressing the wealth gap between Black and white households in America is needed, as that gap is rooted in slavery’s impact. In his essay “The Case for Reparations,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that reparations would help close the wealth gap. Economist William Darity and co-author Kirsten Mullen estimate the amount to close the wealth gap to be $10.7 trillion.

How to Pay for Reparations

According to a report by the Tax Policy Center, taxing the wealthiest American households could be used to pay for reparations. 

The Center estimates that even a $66,000 one-time slavery reparations payment could increase the net wealth of Black Americans by 160 percent. 

In Evanston, Illinois, the first city to pay reparations to its Black residents, a three percent tax on recreational marijuana sales and donations are funding the repayment program. Black families who qualify are receiving $25,000 for property down payments or home repairs. The city pledged to pay out $10 million over the next 10 years. 

In Athens, Georgia, a resolution was passed that named “terrorism” and “white supremacy” as the cause for residents of the historic predominantly Black Linnentown neighborhood to be displaced. Georgia state law prevents direct cash payment to the residents, however the residents are pushing to get participatory budgeting in which the residents will get to determine how and where an unidentified amount of city funding will be used. 

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