My Turn: The case for creating an ‘individual reparations account’

For the Monitor
Published: 5/20/2019 12:10:17 AM

In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate made a formal apology to the African American community for “centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices.”

Plus, there was an admission that “African Americans continue to suffer from the complex interplay between slavery and Jim Crow long after both systems were formally abolished through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity.”

Since then, no consequential actions have been taken by the federal government to make amends for these wrongs. That’s where you and I come in.

An “individual reparations account” is an amount of money you set aside each year, no paperwork involved. You are dedicating the funds to making reparation.

You decide the amount: $25? $25,000? You can contribute, for example, to racial justice organizations led by black people, such as Black Lives Matter, Color of Change or the NAACP. You can support black political candidates. Hire black staff. Donate a full or partial scholarship for a black student (for example, the United Negro College Fund). Send black kids to summer camp (Fresh Air Fund).

As Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University and originator of the IRA concept, said: “Even though your ancestors didn’t own slaves, surely you can see the justice of making reparation, even if you can’t make it happen politically. Your white privilege has not been hampered by that fact. Black sweat built the country you now reside in, and you continue to enjoy the fruits of that labor.”

As a white person, I have benefited from white privilege. For example, my parents got a low mortgage FHA loan in the 1950s to buy a $20,000 home and later sold it for $180,000. Part of that $160,000 profit became my inheritance. Black people were excluded from the FHA program, part of the G.I. Bill, and that’s one reason subsequent generations have significantly less wealth.

On average, in 2019 white households have 6.5 times the wealth of black households.

With this differential, isn’t it only fair that restitution be made? You and I, in a small but important way, can make amends for 400 years of white supremacy, institutionalized racism and brutal acts against black people, that often lead to death or a lifetime of trauma.

“Slavery,” says David Brooks of the New York Times, “doesn’t merely cause pain and suffering in the slave. It is a corruption that infects the whole society. It is a collective debt that will have to be paid.”

So, commit to establishing an individual reparations account today. I believe it’s the best white people can do, especially in the absence of a comprehensive government reparations program for African Americans.

(Allen J. Davis lives in Dublin.)

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