What is Reparations?
Updated: Jun 29
What is reparations? Reparations are a program of acknowledgement, redress and closure for a grievous injustice. Where American Freedmen are concerned, the grievous injustices that make the case for reparations include slavery, legal segregation (Jim Crow), and ongoing discrimination and stigmatization. How much does America owe the American Freedmen? Truly, no price tag can be put upon the severely harsh treatment and conditions that those who have been labeled "Black Americans" have endured in the United States. However, if you compare two Congressional actions, that being the Homestead Act of 1862 and the first reparations directive for the Freedmen (General Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 15), two things become apparent:
The promise of 40 acres and a mule never reached capacity and those Freedmen who did receive their allotments, had them revoked by then President Andrew Johnson, a Confederate sympathizer. This began a process of prohibiting the Freedmen from building intergenerational wealth to be passed down to their progeny. The long term multigenerational effect is the Freedmen are beset with persistent financial crises that contribute to limited opportunity to participate in American political and economic life, greater danger from the criminal justice system, poorer physical and mental health, and few resources to bequeath to their children.
In contrast, the Homestead Act provided more than 250 million acres of land in the western territories not only to White Americans, ultimately including those who had fought against the United States on behalf of the Confederacy, but also recent White immigrants. One and a half million white families were granted 160 acre land patents under the policy. Not only did the United States government set up White Americans with land and opportunity, but, simultaneously Black Americans were denied even the promised 40 acres land grants—only one-quarter of the acreage given to whites.
Dr. King sums up best how the homestead Act helped White citizens and immigrant whites:
William Darity Jr., the leading socio-economists on the topic of reparations, and folklorist A. Kirsten Mullen, give what many view as the clearest monetary breakdown of what is owed the American Freedmen in America: “We view the black-white wealth gap as a blight on the nation. While the 40 million eligible recipients of black reparations constitute about 12 percent of the American population, they possess less than 2 percent of the nation’s wealth. This translates into an average (or mean) differential, per household, of about $840,000 in net worth. Ultimately, a well-designed reparations program could have a powerful impact on producing greater wealth equality among black Americans. Consider the median-to mean ratio. Suppose all black households received an additional $841,900 to make up for the mean deficit. As of 2019, the black median-to-mean ratio per household was $24,100/$188,200 or approximately 13 percent. If the black mean rises to the same level as the white mean through the provision of an additional $841,900 to each black household, the black median-to-mean ratio would change dramatically to $841,900/$983,400, or approximately 87 percent.” Essentially, this breaks down to around $850,000 per household for the American Freedmen. Ideally, these payments would be distributed to each eligible Freedman over a 10-year period. This would amount, effectively, to $85,000 per year in either weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly direct payments to American Freedmen. This will close, directly, the wealth gap with respect to household net worth.
Is reparations only about money? Many people falsely believe that reparations are solely about cash payments. It becomes the sticking point of antagonists and anti-reparationists and, unfortunately, those who may promote reparations but fail to see the bigger picture. A true reparations program involves much more than direct monetary payments. Direct payments are only one of the elements of a true reparations package. The total cost of repairing the full harms (education, financial, social, etc) could reach into the quadrillions however, that should not be confused with the amount due in direct cash payments. That money which comprises the other elements of a whole or a true reparations package, will go into programs and the things necessary to repair the generations of accrued harms and disadvantages that began in slavery and then grew exponentially worse thereafter. Not only is there a gap in homeownership rates, but there also is a sharp difference in average equity values in homes owned by blacks and whites. That report can be read here.
Who is eligible? With “slaves” and “slavery” being such broad and inclusive terms, we concluded that the legal status term that was applied to our emancipated ancestors, “Freedmen” would not only be a better identifier, but a perfect way to disaggregate the people called "Black" in America. There is no ambiguity attached with a name embedded in the historical records and legislation of the United States. From the Freedmen’s Bureau to the Freedmen’s Saving Bank, etc., this name clears up any confusion insofar as "who should get it" is concerned. Whites, whose ancestors may have been indentured servants, did not suffer the same fate as those who were labeled “Negroes” e.g., the Freedmen after slavery was legally ended. Those who have immigrated from Africa and the Caribbean islands, would not be eligible for reparations specifically for America's Freedmen in the same way Chinese-Americans weren't eligible for the reparations America paid to the Japanese-Americans.
The Freedmen Criteria: The Office of Management and Budget issues a disclaimer in its Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 with regard to the racial classifications. It states that, "These classifications should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature, nor should they be viewed as determinants of eligibility for participation in any Federal program." The United Sons and Daughters of Freedmen are developing a criteria that will include science and/or anthropology, in conjunction with descent from at least one emancipated ancestor in the United States.
Certain groups (not all) have been able to come to America and enjoy her successes and join in on the calcification of wealth at the very top while American Freedmen are tethered to the bottom. The American Freedmen in America should be on equal economic footing as White Americans in home ownership, household income, assets, etc., however, due to the practices of systemic prejudices stemming from the consequences, badges, and incidents of slavery, American Freedmen are severely lacking in these key assets, although we have been citizens of this country since day one. Note: The United Sons & Daughters of Freedmen hold that had the 13th amendment been properly legislated via the section 2 enforcement provision, that issues of citizenship and suffrage would have been remedied with sole piece of legislation. We also hold that the 14th amendment was necessary to try and quell the State sanctioned horrors inflicted on the Freedmen who weren't viewed as citizens in the "slave States," however, we do not believe that the 14th amendment granted citizenship to the Freedmen. It is our contention that if the "Negro" as we were called, were in fact a monolith, then, the "Negro " were recognized as citizens since the foundation of this country. This was unequivocally expressed by the dissenting opinions of Justice Curtis and Justice Mclean which was also echoed by Abraham Lincoln. If the Negro was in fact viewed as a monolith, then even those who were enslaved in the South, while many were free in the North, also were citizens. The enslaved were called by Northern politicians, "Citizens with disabilities."
Will reparations blow up the national debt? Absolutely not. When then President Barack Obama signed the $831 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the national debt did not blow up. Nobody's personal taxes were raised. The cost of food and products did not rise to offset any national deficit. In fact, hundreds of new white millionaires were made during the Obama administration, while the reverse happened for American Freedmen. The policies of former president Barack Obama eviscerated Black wealth, while Whites were getting richer. Nevertheless, when coronavirus relief packages were passed over the course of 2020, $4.5 trillion were budgeted with $3 trillion dollars having been allocated. Not a dime was raised in taxes nor was there a spike in inflation due to it. The inflation that the nation is currently experiencing in 2022 is due to supply chain shortages. The idea that the deficit would grow so much that the country will fall into irreversible bankruptcy is completely debunked by the fact that the American economy soared because of this stimulus aid. The United States of America is a sovereign nation printing its own money. This means, as a matter of principle the country can never go broke. No further proof is need than the several Covid relief packages passed in 2020 where the government was said to "Pull money out of thin air." This means that the United States of America is well equipped to issue reparations to the Freedmen in America without increasing the national debt or raising anyone's taxes or, using anyone's tax dollars to satisfy a debt unpaid for more than 155 years that accrues interest with every passing day.
Another point to note is that, when America paid reparations to many Indian nations and Japanese Americans in 1989, fears of blowing up the national debt was never argued at the lengths some are taking it now that American Freedmen are seeking repair. Here is every instance in which the United States paid reparations to citizens harmed in and by this country.
Conclusion Reparations is the only way that American Freedmen will be able to live life with liberty while pursuing happiness in this country; a country whose economic power was created by free labor of the Freedmen's slave ancestors. It is projected that, by the year 2053, Black American wealth will fall to zero at the median. It is currently at $1700 (excluding durable goods). If this steady decline is not reversed by direct reparations payments, a large majority of American Freedmen will be reduced to a homeless class. Unfortunately, Black Americans already lead the nation in homelessness. There is no single program or set of programs signed by an executive order or passed by the legislative body in the United States that will stave off this collapse; only a complete reparations program can fix this problem which has persisted since our ancestors were liberated from slavery and emancipated into landlessness and poverty. America has done nothing substantial to fix this problem. There are groups of citizens who come to America and allowed to enjoy and partake of its benefits (see income charts below) while American Freedmen have been compelled to be this nation’s permanent proxy bottom caste via economic exclusionary polices that still persist until this day. We now have the opportunity to change this. If you can trace your family lineage back to enslaved ancestors in this country, this is your fight! Even If you are not a descended of emancipated persons in this country, you can become vocal allies in this fight for economic justice by supporting United Sons & Daughters of Freedmen and its political arm (Be The Power) in its political advocacy as we continue this fight for reparations. To summarize, Reparations equals Payments, Policies, and Protections.
Suggested Reading Materials
From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century by A. Kirsten Mullen and William A. Darity Jr.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap by Mehrsa Baradaran
When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America by Ira Katznelson
The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy by Stephanie Kelton