155 Years Overdue: A Strategic Plan for Reparations

June 24, 2020

In advance of Juneteenth, a new Roosevelt Institute report explores how a federal reparations program will fundamentally change racial and economic inequality in the US


New York, NY—The protests that have erupted across the nation following the killing of George Floyd mark one of the most visible instances of sustained human rights violations and acts of police brutality toward black Americans. The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected black Americans, bringing the role of systemic and institutional racism in health outcomes front and center. Simultaneously, economic disparities are in sharp focus, due in part to the pandemic (e.g., unemployment rates have skyrocketed for everyone but especially for black people) and long-standing inequities (e.g., a growing gap in wealth between white and black people). Although long overdue, the federal government can and must provide reparations to black Americans, especially financial restitution.

Resurrecting the Promise of 40 Acres: The Imperative of Reparations for Black Americans, a new report released today by the Roosevelt Institute, demonstrates the limitations and weaknesses of a piecemeal or local approach to reparations, arguing instead that it is up to the US government to pay, in full, the debt it owes its black citizens. Authored by William “Sandy” Darity Jr. (Roosevelt senior fellow and director of Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity) and A. Kirsten Mullen (folklorist and founding director of Artefactual), the paper goes beyond their book, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (which defined and outlined the goals of reparations: acknowledgment, redress, and closure), by providing a detailed case and plan for reparations, aimed at erasing the racial wealth gap.

Key new insights and information from the paper include:

  • A full rationale for reparations aiming at erasing the black-white wealth gap at the mean level of net worth rather than at the less ambitious median level—an objective that will necessitate a $10 to $12 trillion expenditure in 2016 dollars;
  • Lessons from five precedents for reparations conducted in the US and abroad (including reparations payments for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and German reparations payments to victims of the Nazi Holocaust); and
  • Recommended revisions to HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, which was introduced in 1989.[1]
Insight from the Authors:

“America is divided into two separate and unequal societies,” said Mullen. “Over 155 years ago, freed slaves were promised money in the form of grants of 40 acres of land that were never received. Reparations are needed now—it’s a national debt and a matter of national responsibility.”

“Ultimately, respect for black Americans as citizens requires monetary compensation,” said Darity. “For too long, elected officials have ignored the need for reparations for black American descendants of U.S. slavery. The rapid enactment of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package for COVID-19 proves that the debt owed to black Americans can be paid. Congress only needs the will to do it.”

In a recent statement on Floyd’s death, Roosevelt Institute’s Managing Director of Communications, Kendra Bozarth, said, “Inequality today—most notably being the loss, and too often the theft, of black American lives—is rooted in centuries of racial exclusion and disenfranchisement. And any effort to address the racial inequality embedded into our society must also account for the racial exclusion built into our economy, politics, and policymaking.”

Now is the moment to compensate the black community for the long trajectory of racial injustice and to create an economy that works for the many, not the privileged few. Learn more about how the Roosevelt Institute is fighting the racial wealth gap here.

[1] Proposed legislation to establish a dedicated commission that would provide a report to Congress as a prelude to the development and enactment of a formal reparations bill.
About the Roosevelt Institute

The Roosevelt Institute is a New York-based think tank that, in partnership with its campus network and the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, is working to redefine the American economy. Focusing on corporate and public power, labor and wages, and the economics of race and gender inequality, the Roosevelt Institute unifies experts, invests in young leaders, and advances progressive policies that bring the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor into the 21st century.

To keep up to date with the Roosevelt Institute, please visit us on Twitter or follow our work at #RewriteTheRules.

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