'From Here to Equality' Author Makes A Case, And A Plan, For Reparations
NOEL KING, HOST:
When slavery ended, the disenfranchisement of black Americans did not. Discrimination continued in jobs, housing, education. That's why we have staggering economic inequality in the U.S. So are the descendants of the enslaved owed reparations? Economist William Darity says yes. His new book is "From Here To Equality: Reparations For Black Americans In The Twenty-First Century." The book reminds us that slavery and emancipation weren't that long ago. We talked first about a 90-year-old woman in North Carolina who was getting a Civil War pension from the government until she died just a few weeks ago.
WILLIAM DARITY JR: The fact that somebody who was the child of a Civil War veteran was still receiving pension funds in 2020 is extremely striking. The individual that you're talking about is a woman who was white, whose father was white. And it's, again, suggestive of the ways in which there was a divergence in the rewards that the federal government gave by race to the folks who were descendants of the enslaved versus the folks who were the enslavers or folks who were complicit with the slavery process.
KING: I think a lot of us learn in school that emancipation happened, enslaved people were freed, and then they were able to go and make money just like everyone else in the United States of America, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Your book does a fantastic job of detailing all of the ways in which that was untrue, the first being jobs. When enslaved people were emancipated, they couldn't just walk out into the world and demand payment for doing a job.
DARITY: No, they couldn't. And one of the reasons they could not was because of the institution of a series of laws that we now refer to as the Black Codes. And the Black Codes created restrictions on the authority that individual black folks had over their family life, but it also created restrictions on their employment opportunities and their capacity to exercise agency over the types of jobs that they took.
KING: There was a moment reading your book where I wondered, in all honesty, as you lay out the Black Codes, as you lay out the ways in which they were institutionalized, it seemed worth asking, you know, did the North even win the Civil War? I mean, one of the things that is so clear in your telling of this history is that, yes, emancipation happened, but the Southern states, the Confederacy, made lots and lots of demands, particularly around what would happen to black people and what would happen to their labor. And the North gave in.
DARITY: I think that's correct. The North did give in, and I think that the North gave in, in part, because the price for providing full citizenship to black Americans would have meant having a sustained and long-term division among white Americans because the price for achieving full citizenship for black Americans would have meant deconfederatization in full. And in turn, the North would've had to commit to having the Union Army play an extended role in the Southern part of the United States. And ultimately, it was not done.
KING: When did the Black Codes end?
DARITY: The practices associated with the Black Codes continue into the period of formal legal segregation. It's what we refer to as the Jim Crow period. And the laws that undergirded legal segregation in the United States, or American apartheid, really don't get overturned until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
KING: And so when we look at these vast inequalities now between white wealth and black wealth, inequalities that extend to health outcomes, homeownership, education, the size of people's bank accounts, the neighborhoods that people live in, where do those gaps come from?
DARITY: I think it's a consequence of a host of social policies and practices that had been put in place in the aftermath of the Civil War. So the starting point is the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the 40-acre land grants that they were promised. At the same time, substantial allocations of land were being made to white Americans. And then subsequently, over the course of the next 80 years or so, there was a series of white massacres that took place across the United States, where black communities that had begun to develop some degree of prosperity and independence were literally destroyed. And then in the 20th century, there was a sustained pattern of discrimination in access to homeownership on the part of blacks, starting with the existence of restrictive covenants, following through with redlining and the accompanying predatory lending practices that were associated with obtaining home mortgages. So we have a set of public policies that lie at the heart of the creation of this gaping wealth gap. And this means, in turn, that we need new public policy to reverse those conditions.
KING: Part of the promise of this book is that you will offer a road map to reparations. Put simply, who do you think should get reparations?
DARITY: We propose that there are two criteria for eligibility. The first is what we refer to as a lineage standard. An individual would have to demonstrate that they have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States. And then the second is an identity standard. An individual would have to demonstrate that for at least 12 years before the enactment of a reparations program, the individual would've had to have self-identified as black, Negro or African American.
KING: And then would you make the argument that checks should be cut to individuals, to families, or should there be a large pool of money that could go toward supporting education, supporting homeownership?
DARITY: We feel strongly that direct payments must be a major component. We have talked about support for education, support for entrepreneurial activity, some resources that go to historically black colleges and universities. But the preponderance of the funds must go to individual recipients. And they must go in such a way that we, in fact, eliminate the racial wealth gap. That's the big objective of the reparations project.
KING: William Darity Jr. is the co-author of "From Here To Equality: Reparations For Black Americans In The Twenty-First Century." His co-author is A. Kirsten Mullen, also his wife. Thank you so much for being with us.
DARITY: Thank you so much.
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