Actor Danny Glover, right, and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, left, testify about reparation for the descendants of slaves during a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
When most Americans hear “affirmative action,” they often think the phrase is referring to a policy that protects African Americans. What many Americans don’t know is that affirmative actions are policies that were made by white people, to benefit white people, exclusively.
Moreover, due to the insidious nature of how these policies and practices are integrated into American institutions and culture, white people continue to benefit from them.
Another idea that is often being discussed is reparations (specifically for slavery), and a common reaction is, “Slavery ended 200 years ago. How is it relevant today?”
Racial preference in the workplace began in the United States in the 17th century, when the country transitioned from white indentured servitude for labor to the institution of slavery. Africans replaced the poor white labor force, who in turn were promoted to mid-level positions of policing the enslaved (slave patrols and overseers).
Land ownership was gifted to white Americas from the American government by the U.S. Army with the 1830 Indian Removal Act and the 1862 Homestead Act, which forcibly removed First Nation people from their ancestral lands and gave the land to Europeans. This continued with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which further increased the United States land mass to include the territories of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 only allotted citizenship to “free white persons” living in America, making only people of European ancestry eligible to vote, hold office, and own property, while excluding First Nation people, African, Asian, and Latinx Americans from citizenry and its accompanying privileges.
The Depression gave rise to the New Deal programs that continued to provide wealth and safety nets for white families, including the landmark Social Security Act of 1935, which guaranteed them income after retirement, but excluded two occupations: agricultural workers and domestic servants; roles predominately held by those of African descent and other minorities. As low-income workers, African Americans also had the least opportunity to save for their retirement and create wealth to pass to their children. Instead, their children often inherited their debt or had to financially support their parents at retirement.
The second New Deal program was the Wagner Act, which granted unions the power of collective bargaining and helped millions of white workers gain entry into the middle class, while excluding non-whites and denying them access to better-paying jobs, union protections, better health care, job security and pensions.
Third, the Federal Housing Administration helped create wealth through home ownership for many white families, while using practices known as redlining to deny these benefits to Blacks. Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion in home loans — approximately 98% went to whites. Even though the GI Bill gave African American veterans the opportunity to make use of the housing provisions, many banks generally didn’t give loans for mortgages in Black neighborhoods, and African Americans were primarily excluded from buying a home in the white suburban neighborhoods. As a result, the government helped to create segregated communities.
Today, many Black and Latinx mortgage applicants are still 60% more likely than whites to be turned down for a loan, even after controlling for factors related to employment, finances and neighborhoods.
General William Sherman made a case for reparations when he issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 (series 1865) during the American Civil War, on Jan. 16, 1865, awarding formerly enslaved families 40 acres of land and a mule. However, this was never enacted. Today, when economists try to put a dollar value on how much white Americans profited from 200 years of unpaid labor, including interest, it is estimated at nearly $100 trillion. This does not include the impact of Jim Crow laws, which further impoverished conditions for African Americans while improving circumstances for many whites through gains from reserving the best jobs, neighborhoods, schools and health care systems for the latter.
With generations of racial preferences and affirmative actions for whites, the wealth gap between a typical white family in 2016 is nearly 10 times greater than a typical African-American family, according to the Brookings Institute. Much of that wealth difference can be attributed to the value of their home and inheritances from parents.
After centuries of affirmative actions for whites, is there any question why reparations are still needed for African Americans?
Christiana Best-Giacomini, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.
Source: Hartford Courant