A Look at the Case for Reparations and Atonement by the Brookings Institute

/ June 12, 2021

There are few issues that elicit a stronger reaction or a political tempest than that of reparations for slavery and for state-sanctioned racism that have left millions of Black Americans out of the middle class. In an article for the Brookings Institute, Rayshawn Ray and Andre M. Perry present a compelling case of reparations for both.

The authors note that American descendants of slavery constitute the only major ethnic group affected by discriminatory and racist government policies that has not been compensated by the government for past harm.

They note compensation in forms of land, cash or both awarded to Native Americans and to the interned Japanese Americans and their descendants.

Ray and Perry give a history of missed opportunities in which our federal government failed to compensate African Americans for centuries of unpaid labor, beginning with the government’s promise to allocate 40 acres  of confiscated land from Confederate slave owners. That plan, Field Order 15, was rescinded by President Andrew Johnson after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson gave the land back to former slave owners.

Other missed opportunities occurred during the Homestead Act which gave only White Americans access to landownership in the west. Also noted was inequitable implementation of the New Deal when generous government policies like the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Authority provided White Americans with a college education and an affordable entry into the housing market. For more on this subject, see our blog article titled Public Housing and the GI Bill Preserve Racist Housing Patterns.

Most Black GI’s returning from war, who were already denied access to many public universities, were also denied the earned benefits of the GI Bill. They also had limited access to FHA low-interest loans which restricted their entrance into the housing market. This denied them equity in America and the sure pathway to the middle class that was expanding for Whites. Two little known but extremely harmful government policies that further narrowed this pathway for African Americans were provisions excluding farm and domestic workers from Social Security. This affected 60% of Black American workers outside the South and 75% of Black American workers in the South. For more on this subject see our blog article titled Brookings Institute Examines the Wealth Gap Between Black and White Households

There are no easy solutions for the continued inequities between Black and White Americans, nor the efforts to compensate African Americans for the impoverished legacy of slavery and blatant state-sponsored discrimination. For many detractors of Reparations, a main argument is that the logistical problems alone make any such law impossible to implement. Ray and Perry address such concerns and, below, offer a pathway for compensation of those affected. They include the following:

  • Direct payment to descendants of slavery
  • Forgiveness of student debt that weighs disproportionately on young African Americans
  • Free tuition for 2 and 4 year colleges
  • Down Payment grants for housing (African Americans bore a disproportionate loss of housing due to predatory lending and gentrification that forced many Black Americans from the neighborhoods they helped build.

Rayshawn Ray and Andre M. Perry offer compelling evidence for reparations as well as possible solutions to atone for one of America’s greatest failings in living up to its founding creed that “all men are created equal.” It’s well worth the read.