The old monuments have been taken down. The old battle flag has been lowered and put away. Black Lives Matter is everywhere. Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima have been put to rest. Washington’s football team is replacing its Redskins nickname. And John Lewis has joined Martin Luther King in heaven.
All this happening at once.
What is next?
Who would have thought North Carolina would be, at least for a few minutes, the focal point of the debate about whether our country has a duty to compensate black citizens for injuries past and present suffered by them and their ancestors as result of racism?
But it was, as this headline from the June 16 issue of USA Today attests: “In historic move, North Carolina city approves reparations for black residents.”
North Carolina steps up to respond to such questions in a new book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” written by two Durham residents, William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen. Darity is an economics professor at Duke University and his wife, Mullen, is a writer, folklorist and museum consultant.
The authors present a detailed history of slavery, brutal, disturbing and necessary reading for both reparations advocates and skeptics. The horror endured by the enslaved is not the only grounds for payment. Darity and Mullen argue that the post-Civil War injustices and Jim Crowism as well as ongoing discrimination and racism in the United States are important grounds for restitution.
To be eligible to receive a reparation payment, they recommend that U.S. citizens would “need to establish that they had at least one ancestor who was enslaved.” In addition, “they would have to prove that they self-identified as ‘black,’ ‘Negro,’ ‘Afro-American’ or ‘African American’ for at least 12 years before” the institution of a reparations program.
For any such program to be effective, they say it must include three components: acknowledgment (recognizing the benefits other Americans gained from slavery and exploitation), redress (effective restitution) and closure (when victims and beneficiaries are reconciled).
Darity and Mullen have not given us all the answers to the reparations questions, but they have organized the challenges and many options in such great and helpful detail that anyone who seeks to speak with authority on the question should not fail to read this book.