Top Reparations Scholar Dr. Sandy Darity: What HR40 Gets Wrong And Why

Top Reparations Scholar Dr. Sandy Darity: What HR40 Gets Wrong And Why

Top Reparations Scholar Dr. Sandy Darity: What HR40 Gets Wrong And Why Photo: Justin Cook/Minneapolis Fed

Reparations advocate and Duke University professor Dr. William “Sandy” Darity, Jr. isn’t impressed with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s reparations bill, HR 40.

He and a slew of others, including members of ADOS and hip hop mogul Ice Cube, have been calling for Rep. Jackson Lee to make changes. She has not responded.

Darity, considered one of the premier reparations experts, contacted the congresswoman’s office recently to set up a meeting and received no answer. When Jackson Lee was interviewed by Color of Change last week, she made no mention of edits to the bill.

Initially, Darity was for the passage of the bill, but that changed. He said he feels strongly that HR40 needs to either be replaced in “its entirety or to leapfrog it and move directly to the design of legislation for reparations.”

Here is why the current bill doesn’t work, Darity wrote.

“…naïve in the belief that the hearings truly would explore ways to improve the HR40 bill, I was supportive of the passage of the bill, subject to revision. The sustained resistance to any critical assessment of the content of HR40 on the part of National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) and their allies, particularly National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) and the Institute of the Black World, is leading me to reconsider my position,” Darity wrote in Actify.

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A central problem with the bill, Darity said, involves the commission that it proposes. That commission would consist of “seven members, three appointed by the U.S. president, three appointed by the Speaker of the House, and one appointed by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate.”

Darity said he and Kirsten Mullen (his writing partner and wife), “found odd the assignment of appointment authority for any positions to the President since this is a Congressional commission. Ultimately, one of the recommendations put forward in my Juneteenth testimony is to have all members appointed by the Congress, while restoring the original number of seven members. Any President can at any time, appoint their own commission to study plans for Black reparations if they so desire,” Darity wrote in Actify.

The 2017-2018 versions of HR40 increased the number of commissioners to 13. Six additional members would be “selected…from the major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice.” 

NCOBRA and its allies wrote themselves into significant representation on the Commission, Darity pointed out.

He added, “They say that the bill was modeled directly after the enabling legislation for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, legislation that produced the report that led to the reparations plan for Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated during World War II. But that Commission had only nine members, and none of them were designated to be ‘from the major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice.’”

Darity is worried the commission and its decisions will be influenced by NAARC and NCOBRA.

“The danger is these organizations’ lack a commitment to a comprehensive reparations plan for Black American descendants of U.S. slavery,” Darity wrote.

In contrast, Darity feels he understands what reparations should include. 

In the book, “From Here to Equality“, Darity and Mullen wrote that reparations must have three key features:

1. They should be for Black Americans who have had at least one ancestor enslaved in the U.S. as the eligible recipients.

2. They must address the racial wealth gap, now nearing $850,000 in net worth between the average Black and white households. “Elimination of that gap will require a federal expenditure of $10 to $12 trillion, mandated by Congress. The racial wealth gap, we contend, is the prime economic indicator of the cumulative, intergenerational impact of white supremacy, from slavery to the present moment,” Darity wrote.

3. They must prioritize direct payments to eligible recipients.

There are also errors in HR40, Darity wrote.

“It lists one of the items of harm as the fact that Black American households have 1/16 of the wealth of white Americans and connects this to the ‘lingering effects of slavery.’ Aside from the inaccuracy of the statistic—the ratio of Black to white wealth now is closer to 1/10—the wealth gap is far more than a ‘lingering effect of slavery,’” he wrote.

In a TED Talk earlier this year, Darity spoke of the need to close the wealth gap.

“Wealth is a stock concept. It is the difference between the value of what we own and what we owe. It is the net value of our property,” Darity explained. “Wealth is more significant than income (in) terms of providing us with economic security and opportunities to fully participate in society. ”

More important, Darity noted, wealth gives access to a higher standard of medical services and education, homeownership, legal counsel, and offers a generational financial legacy.

He pointed out how wealth accumulation plays into white supremacy. “Wealth captures the cumulative intergenerational effects of white supremacy in the United States.”

In Actify, Darity continued his argument for HR40 edits. He wrote that the bill ignores the number of injustices done to Black people — “the waves of white massacres that took their toll in loss of Black lives and seizure of Black property by white terrorists.”

Darity also takes into consideration that “NCOBRA explicitly opposes direct payments to eligible recipients.” Instead, NCOBRA’s ally NAARC urged for the formation of a National Reparations Trust Authority to manage the funds for the reparations project with no mention of who would manage the fund nor direct its priorities.

Darity also wants a faster timeline than HR40 proposes. “Another recommended edit is to specify that the Commission shall complete its work in 18 months. HR 40 specifies that the Commission submit a report to Congress within one year of its empaneling. It does not specify that this must be a final or complete report. It is possible, under the terms of the current legislation, for the Commission to come to Congress in a year with a report requesting an extension. This could go on indefinitely. Instead, give the Commission 18 months to provide Congress with a final report,” he wrote.

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For Darity, reparations are a must. “I certainly think there are people who are inclined to feel like personal guilt is at play here. But since the culpable party is the federal government, it’s not a matter of guilt or individual responsibility, but it is a matter of national responsibility,” he said in an interview with Boston University School of Public Health.