Scholars Rashawn Ray And Andre Perry Make The Case For Reparations: 5 Takeaways

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Written by Ann Brown
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Scholars Rashawn Ray and Andre Perry of the Brookings Institute make the case for reparations. Here are five takeaways from their report. (Photo: Unsplash)

Scholars Andre Perry and Dr. Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institute examine the debate for the descendants of 12.5 million people who were shipped in chains from Western Africa in a report entitled “Why we need reparations for Black Americans.”

The report first points to the growing wealth gap as a reason why reparations are still needed for Native Black Americas. 

“Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family. White college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates,” Perry and Ray wrote.

The wealth gap started way back. Economics was the reason behind the slave trade. Free labor allowed whites to become wealthy. In 1860, more than $3 billion was the value assigned to the physical bodies of enslaved Black Americans to be used as free labor and production, according to the report. “This was more money than was invested in factories and railroads combined. In 1861, the value placed on cotton produced by enslaved Blacks was $250 million.”

The only way the wealth gap will be closed is through reparations, Perry and Ray wrote. They quote economists William “Sandy” Darity and Darrick Hamilton from their 2018 report, “What We Get Wrong About Closing the Wealth Gap.” In it, Darity and Hamilton said, “Blacks cannot close the racial wealth gap by changing their individual behavior –i.e. by assuming more ‘personal responsibility’ or acquiring the portfolio management insights associated with ‘(financial) literacy.’” 

Here are five takeaways from the report, “Why we need reparations for Black Americans.”

The American Dream is a belief that with hard work, a person can buy a home, start a business, and grow wealth. However, this belief has been defied repeatedly by the U.S. government’s own actions denying wealth-building opportunities to Black Americans.

“Why we need reparations for Black Americans” by Andre Perry and Dr. Rashawn Ray of The Brookings Institute

One and only

Perry and Ray point out that Black Americans are the only group that has not received reparations for state-sanctioned racial discrimination. Not only did slavery make many white families rich, but American slavery was also especially brutal. 

“About 15 percent of the enslaved shipped from Western Africa died during transport. The enslaved were regularly beaten and lynched for frivolous infractions. Slavery also disrupted families as one in three marriages were split up and one in five children were separated from their parents,” the two wrote in the report.

So, not only are reparations necessary on economic grounds also on social and moral grounds, Perry and Ray said.

Pay up

One suggested way to issue reparations can be issued could be through individual payouts to the descendants of the slave trade. The U.S. government should pay back lost wages as well as damages to the people or their descendants it helped enslave, Ray and Perry suggested.  

Offer education

Another form of reparations could be offering college tuition at four-year or two-year colleges and universities for descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

“People should be able to use the tuition remission to obtain a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s/vocational or technical degree. Tuition should be available for public or private universities. Considering the racial gap in the ability to obtain degrees at private schools, this part of the package will further help to reduce racial disparities by affording more social network access and opportunity structures,” Perry and Ray wrote.

Forgiving student loans

Forgiving student loans for descendants of enslaved Black Americans is another form of reparations that could be possible. Doing this would help in closing the wealth gap.

Student loan debt continues to be a significant barrier to wealth creation for Black college graduates. Among 25-to-55-year-olds, about 40 percent of Blacks compared to 30 percent of whites have student loan debt. Blacks also have nearly $45,000 of student loan debt compared to about $30,000 for whites,” the report pointed out.

Creating homeownership

Ray and Perry suggested the government could offer down-payment grants and housing revitalization grants for descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

“Down payment grants will provide Black Americans with some initial equity in their homes relative to mortgage insurance loans. Housing revitalization grants will help Black Americans to refurbish existing homes in neighborhoods that have been neglected due to a lack of government and corporate investments in predominantly Black communities,” the report said.

Homeownership by Black people has drastically fallen over the last few years, especially due to gentrification. Black people are typically priced out of neighborhoods they helped build and maintain. A number of African Americans have been forced from their family home of decades because of tax increases as neighborhoods gentrified. 

“This is an important point because some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates aimed to redress the racial wealth gap by focusing on historically redlined districts,” Perry and Ray pointed out.

Help Black businesses

Reparations could come in the form of business grants for startups, business expansion, or purchasing property for descendants of enslaved African Americans. It is still harder for Black business owners to get capital from banks or to attract investors. Stepping in to help them could be a major boost for Black business.

So who should get reparations?

“Census records can then be used to determine if a person has consistently identified as Black American,” Perry and Ray suggested. “DNA testing can be used as a supplement to determine lineage.”

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Perry is a Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, a scholar-in-residence at American University. His research focuses on race and structural inequality, education, and economic inclusion. He is the author of  “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.”           

Dr. Ray is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, an associate professor of sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

Ray’s research examines the mechanisms that manufacture and maintain racial and social inequality. He has published more than 50 books, articles, and book chapters, and nearly 20 op-eds. Recently, Ray published the book, “How Families Matter: Simply Complicated Intersections of Race, Gender, and Work” with Pamela Braboy Jackson.