Week Five — The Economy Built By Slavery + Reparations Revisited
This week we review the ways that our nation’s economy and white generational wealth was built through our brutal history of forced and stolen slave labor. What is that debt worth? What do we owe? Can it ever be repaid? How? We consider this as we explore the case for reparations to Black Americans. We ask ourselves whether — without some form of restitution — it is possible to achieve lasting justice?
Our materials this week probe contemplation on macro reparations — actions to restructure systems, institutions, culture, and resources on a grand scale. The curriculum and bonus content provides policy arguments to educate us and help frame the debate as our country slowly wrestles with this important question. While currently only one in five Americans support financial reparations for the legacy of slavery, the number increases slightly each year — and more so when people become educated on the background we are discussing this week.
And this is the goal here — not to get weighed down with determining what the right approach is or even to get spun up into an excited clarion call for action — but rather to take in the arguments to assess your openness to the concept. Are you part of the 20 percent of Americans that supports reparations? Did your opinion on this change after reviewing these materials? On a scale of 1-10, where would you rate on support for reparations before you started this program of study? And where are you now?
Whether you believe reparations are well-intentioned but an ultimately bad policy decision, are warming to the idea but need more convincing, or are ready to call your Congressional representatives to demand action, your assignment this week is to notice what you notice about your response to closing the racial wealth gap.
For our small group discussions, though, let us focus on the micro level actions we can take immediately as white people to provide small but meaningful reparations from our own lives. Do you pay attention to the silent habit of white theft of ideas and culture and give credit and resources where they are due? Are you centered in a position of power (at work, in community, etc) where you are able to relinquish some measure of your control to allow new voices and ideas to emerge? Do you have wealth or resource advantages that can be shared in creative ways with the BIPOC community? What else comes to mind?
Remember to pay attention to how all of your experiences with this content are showing up in your body. Where does it land? Are you expanding or contracting? What is it (the discomfort, excitement, pain, tears, hope, etc) teaching you? What are you discovering about YOU in this process?
“How slavery became America’s first big business” an interview of historian and author Edward E. Baptist by P.R. Lockhart for Vox
“In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation” by Matthew Desmond for the New York Times’ 1619 Project
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic
“What is Owed” by Nikole Hannah-Jones for the The New York Times Magazine
[NOTE: If you prefer audio to reading, both the Coates and Hannah-Jones articles in this section are available to listen to via audio. You will find links embedded near the beginning of each article with a prompt to “Listen to the Audio Version of this Article”]
“Tackling the Racial Wealth Gap: William Darity’s Plan for Reparations” On Point podcast for WBUR, National Public Radio (47 minutes)
“Should America offer reparations for slavery?” A Vox Conversation series with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ezra Klein (56 minutes)
Brookings Institute hosts William Darity and Kirsten Mullen, authors of “From Here to Equality” (1 hour 18 minutes)
Roosevelt Institute report by William Darity, Jr. and Kirsten Mullen