Published March 12, 2021
The best — if not the only — way to establish racial equality in the United States is to provide financial reparations to all descendants of slavery, according to two experts on racism.
William A. Darity Jr., and A. Kirsten Mullen spoke about the 150-plus-year history of financial inequity in America during a virtual presentation on March 11.
The presentation, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century,” was sponsored by the UB Center for Diversity Innovation in the College of Arts and Sciences. It was co-sponsored by the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy in the School of Law and the Office of Inclusive Excellence.
Darity is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.
His research focuses on inequality by race, class and ethnicity; stratification economics; schooling and the racial achievement gap; North-South theories of trade and development; skin shade and labor market outcomes; the economics of reparations; the Atlantic slave trade and the Industrial Revolution; the history of economics; and the social psychological effects of exposure to unemployment. He has published or edited 13 books and published more than 300 articles in professional outlets.
Mullen is a folklorist and founder of Artefactual, an arts-consulting practice, and Carolina Circuit Writers, a literary consortium that brings expressive writers of color to the Carolinas. She was a member of the Freelon Adjaye Bond concept- development team that was awarded the Smithsonian Institution’s commission to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
As a faculty member with the Community Folklife Documentation Institute, she trained students to research and document the state’s African American music heritage. Her writing in museum catalogs, journals and in commercial media includes “Black Culture and History Matter,” which examines the politics of funding black cultural institutions.
The presentation, which took its name from Darity and Mullen’s highly praised 2020 book, outlined opportunities the country missed to get African Americans on equal footing with whites at various points since the 1800s.
In the course of their research, they found links between financial losses and various historical wrongs due to racial inequality. They assessed the literal and figurative costs of justice denied to Black people in the 155 years since the end of the Civil War.
Specifically, the authors identified three points in history when Black people were held back financially: during slavery and Reconstruction, during the Jim Crow period and during and since the civil rights movement.
Mullen noted that the perception that all freed slaves were provided with “40 acres and a mule” is a misconception that has persisted for more than a century. The homesteading acts ensured that whites received a disproportionate amount of money, and doomed Black people to decades of reduced access to wealth.
She contended that forms of slavery endured long after the U.S. economy could have existed without slave labor.
The Jim Crow era, she said, led to 100-plus years of socially accepted racial segregation that was akin to South Africa’s apartheid.
And in the years since the civil rights movement, Black people have been subjected to a vastly disproportionate incidence of mass incarceration, housing discrimination, unequal education, police brutality, employment discrimination, and huge gaps in wealth and opportunity.
Darity pointed out that wealth is equated with a family’s well-being, and that a person’s financial agency leads to greater opportunity — for homeownership and building savings, for example. Currently, he said, Black people represent 13% of the population but hold only 2% of the nation’s wealth.
Darity and Mullen ended their presentation with a synopsis of their detailed plan for providing substantial financial compensation to all eligible descendants of documented slaves.
Vanessa M. Holden, Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the Center for Diversity Innovation, oversaw a brief question-and-answer session following the presentation.