Quaker Universalist Conversations

Reparations for Black Americans

From Here to Equality, by William A. Darity, Jr., & A. Kirsten Mullen -- A Review

From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, by William A. Darity, Jr., and A. Kirsten Mullen (University of North Carolina Press, 2020)

From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (2020) is the most complete guide to a practical reparations program for U.S. slavery to date.  It is not complete, but it outlines a big step  for us in the national conversation on the legacy of U.S. slavery and reparations.

The book title is inaccurate. Equality is not the book’s goal. Justice is the goal. “Black Americans” is not the book’s endorsed category of persons for receiving reparations. The book argues for a restricted class of recipients based on a formula linked to provable genetic connection to slavery. The hinted reference to the 1953 film From Here to Eternity has no significance to the argument of this book.

The book describes the history of U.S. failures to conform practice to core national values.  The book provides an interesting history of the reparation movement.  The book concludes with a detailed plan for calculating the cost of reparations and the administration of reparations by Congress.

Reparations is described as a package mix of financial payments, public services, institutional supports, and education to strengthen economic opportunities.

The collection of ideas for identifying and calculating reparations through the history of the reparation movement include land, pensions, refunds of stolen assets, labor wages, federal cotton taxes, poverty payments, federal programs, affirmative action, law reforms, monuments, museums, and corporate taxes, etc. This history shows a variety of preliminary financial formulas. 

But, fundamentally the authors believe that no amount of financial asset transfers would be adequate compensation.  Reparations are necessary, but not sufficient, for paying this moral debt. Finally, the authors believe that financial assets must be wrapped in something deeper and spiritual, but this is left unclear.  Some current corporate financial commitment remedies and state apologies for slavery point in this direction.

The reader is left with questions about whether reparations is to be a finite event or a perpetual process without end. The group of persons in the class of recipients of financial payments is also currently controversial: U.S. citizenship, racial identification, traceable personal heritage, and self-identification are included in the. discussion.

The book does not address the cost and suffering of distorted lives resulting from U.S. slavery for all U.S. residents and whether all need share in the reparations. The moral injury of U.S. slavery also extends far beyond the U.S. borders. The book does not consider a practical, voluntary, universal distributional asset payment system for all, combined with public programs in education, health care, infrastructure, and public health for all.

The social moral injury of slavery is universal. The universal social moral injury is the mass breaching of a person’s ethical code that inflicts lasting behavioral, emotional, and psychological distorting damage on our behaviors, personal and collective. It is a chronic wound to our collective soul.   We all fail to act.  We all witness wrong acts on others without corrective response.  We all participate in bad acts occasionally or daily. We all suffer in guilt and shame in our self-identity and distrust of others.  We have much to learn from military veteran experience of moral injury and its remedies in recognition, acknowledgement, and practical actions.

The merit of this book is the effort displayed to recognize the historical context of reparations and the offer of a specific quantification and administration system for its implementation. These are not easy tasks.  The authors’ effort to assess the financial cost of reparations asks for improvements and alternatives.

Quakers:

Quakers generally acknowledge the need for a reparations process for U.S. slavery.  Quaker meetings have addressed reparations in words, but Quakers lack discernment clarity about how to approach reparations in practical ways.

Questions:

  • How do Quakers lead beyond Meeting Minutes to participate in reparations?
  • How can Quakers include reparations in Quaker youth education programs?
  • How is a Quaker universalist perspective helpful in addressing reparations?

Resources:

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