Biden Hires Experts On Systemic Racism Including Some Pro-Reparations Scholars

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Biden reparations
Mehrsa Baradaran. Photo: New America/ Flickr. President-elect Joe Biden gestures to supporters Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik). Lisa Cook. Photo: Twitter

The racial wealth gap between Black and white Americans is high on President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda as he assembles economic policy advisors for his administration including pro-reparations scholars.

Biden has chosen experts on race inequality among more than 500 advisors who will help shape his policies on issues such as housing, health and small-business lending.

They include Mehrsa Baradaran, whose book “The Color of Money” is considered an authoritative resource on the racial wealth gap. She’ll help prepare the Treasury Department for the transition. Biden also tapped Lisa Cook, an economist at Michigan State University, on the “landing team” for the Federal Reserve and banking and securities regulators, Bloomberg reported.

The typical Black family holds about 13 percent of the wealth of the typical white family, according to the Federal Reserve. The median wealth of Black families in 2019 was $24,100, compared to $188,200 for white families.

In her book “The Color Of Money,” Baradaran showed how limited our segregated financial system is in achieving economic equality. 

Baradaran is an outspoken advocate of reparations for Black Americans, both as a means of correcting white supremacy and closing the racial wealth gap, Fox News reported.

In a June 8 interview with Huffington Post‘s Emily Peck, Baradaran said that addressing centuries of racist policy is a critical solution to today’s protests.

“We embedded racism into policy,” Baradaran said. “How do you get that out? How do you fix that? I think reparations is the only answer … And I think a process of reparations should involve truth and reconciliation. Let’s sit and talk about it. Have experts. Here are the witnesses. Here is the data. Here is what happened. Lay it all out.”

Baradaran took note of Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris when they dodged questions about reparations throughout the 2020 campaign, Fox reported. “Dear Kamala, Reparations or go home,” Baradaran tweeted on June 27, 2019. “Biden just dodged that reparations question like a much nimbler and younger man,” she tweeted on Dec. 19, 2019 after watching a Democratic primary debate.

Cook has written widely on the role of race in U.S. economic history. She’s also an expert on the Russian economy and has advised policymakers in the Obama Administration and Nigerian and Rwandan governments. One of her areas of research involves how lynching and race riots affected patenting and innovation.

“It’s not just universities who bought and sold enslaved people. It is institutions, it’s banks, insurance companies that underwrote the ships. There is so much complicity,” Cook said during a September 2020 podcast interview on EconTalk hosted by Russ Roberts.

“We absolutely need some sort of reckoning with that,” Cook continued. “There are many proposals on the table to study the possibility of reparations, many economic proposals being put forward, and I think they should all be taken seriously.” 

Expertise on racial inequality has never before figured so prominently in economic roles for a White House administration, experts told Bloomberg News.

“It’s an incredible signal to the Black community,” said Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, co-founder of the Sadie Collective, a nonprofit working to get more Black women in economics. “This administration is going to be focused on thinking about: ‘How do we build up Black wealth? How do we close this racial wealth gap?’”

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More than 40 percent of advisers on Biden’s landing team are from historically underrepresented groups in the federal government including Black people, women, people with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQ.

Other racial inequality experts on Biden’s team include:

  • Don Graves, former head of corporate responsibility at KeyBank until he joined the Biden campaign in September. He’s a former Obama administration official and leads the Biden Treasury landing team.
  • Bill Bynum, CEO of the Hope Credit Union. He’ll advise the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Tene Dolphin, executive director for the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce. She’ll serve on the Commerce Department’s landing team.

“Having these individuals who are representative of their community in the actual room where they can voice their perspective and have their perspective actually translate to policy — it matters more than you think,” Opoku-Agyeman told Bloomberg.

Will progressive-leaning advisers translate into policy change? She’ll be watching, Opoku-Agyeman said.