Demanding reparations is not just about compensation for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, however. Equally important, it is an education campaign that acknowledges the pattern of white privilege and Black inequality that is at the core of American history and that continues to this day.
White Americans today are not guilty of carrying out slavery and legal segregation. But whites have a moral and political responsibility to acknowledge the continuing burden of history’s structural racism.
Structural racism’s barriers include “equity- inequity,” the absence of Black capital formation that is a direct consequence of America’s history. One third of all Black households, for example, actually have negative net wealth. Black families are denied home loans at twice the rate of whites. Blacks remain the last hired and first fired during recessions. Blacks have significantly shorter life expectancies, in part due to racism in the health establishment. Blacks, by and large, attend inferior schools.
Reparations doesn’t necessarily mean monetary payment to individuals. A reparations trust fund could be established, with the goal of closing the socioeconomic gaps between Blacks and whites. Funds would be targeted specifically toward poor, disadvantaged communities with the greatest need, not to individuals.
For decades, the call for Black reparations had been a central tenet in the political philosophy of Black Nationalist organizations and leaders, from Marcus Garvey to Elijah Muhammad. Beginning in the 1980s, support for reparations began to build. References to “forty acres and a mule” and reparations became popularized in hip-hop music and culture. Spike Lee, for example, named his production company “40 acres and a mule” to make the political point that African Americans rarely owned the corporations that profited from black cultural production and commercialization.