The Impact of Historic Racism and White Privilege

e7d1e87eaba69ef7a146556be76b4df4.jpgYes! Magazine: A Nation Built on the Back of Slavery and Racism

Equal Justice Initiative: Confronting Our History of Racial Injustice




Table of Contents

The White Head Start from Slavery

The White Head Start Post Slavery

White Head Start from Legislation and Courts

Impact Today

Types of Reparations

Affirmative Action

False Perception of White Discrimination and the Myth of Reverse Racism

The White Head Start from Slavery

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Slavery ended in 1865 only 152 years ago.  The first African slaves arrived in the New World in the 1620s.  For 245 years white slave owners financially benefited and accumulated wealth from free labor.  Harper’s magazine estimated that slaves in the US did a quarter billion hours of free labor and it could require $97 trillion to pay for the hours of uncompensated work done during the slavery era.   These financial reparations do not include the cultural, psychological, sociological and family trauma, the continual  economic disadvantages and the continual discrimination black people experienced from slavery and post slavery oppression that can still be felt today.

  • Wealth accumulation
    • 245 years slave owners accumulated wealth from free labor
      • ¼ white Southerners owned slaves
      • Estimated billion hours of free labor
      • $97 trillion of back pay
      • “In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together. Slaves were the single largest financial asset of property in the entire American economy.” Yale historian David Blight
    • Domestic Slave trade
      • Displaced/separated 1.2 million black men, women, and children
  • Established white supremacy
    • Slave trade built/financed industrial Rev., Modern Europe, US
      • Ensure white supremacy founding principle in institutions like:
        • Colonialism, capitalism, democracy, laws, schools, property rights
      • Had to include white supremacy principles
        • Racism, ethnic cleansing, enslavement, racial hierarchy, trauma, internalizations, dehumanization, stereotypes, white privilege
      • Even if a white person’s ancestry doesn’t go back to slaves
        • Still benefiting from institutionalize white supremacy exists today

Yes! Magazine: A Nation Built on the Back of Slavery and Racism

“Although white supremacy has shaped Western political thought for hundreds of years, it is never named. In this way, white supremacy is rendered invisible while other political systems, socialism, capitalism, fascism, are identified and studied. In fact, much of white supremacy’s power is drawn from its invisibility, the taken-for-granted aspects that underwrite all other political and social contracts “ Robin Diangelo, White Fragilty

How Big Did US Slavery Get?

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“the accelerating curves of growth, would have been short-circuited if embryo industries had run out of cotton fiber. And that nearly happened. Before 1800, most of the fiber came from small-scale production in India, from the Caribbean, and from Brazil. The price of raw cotton was high, and it was likely to rise higher still, because the land and labor forces available for producing cotton were limited, and their productivity was low. High raw material costs constrained the expansion of the British textile industry…

…On May 19, 1815, four months after Jackson’s victory, New Orleans cotton entrepreneur William Kenner reported that “upwards of Thirty vessels were in the River” on the way to the city, because “Europe must, and will(,) have cotton for her manufacturers.” His Liverpool cotton brokers predicted that cotton prices “will not decline.” Before 1815 was half over, 65,000 cotton bales, made on slave labor camps in the woods along the Mississippi and its tributaries, arrived in New Orleans by flatboat. This was 25 percent of the total produced by the entire United States, and the land and dominion that southwestern slaveholders won in battles against the enslaved, against Native Americans, and against the British prepared them to launch even greater expansions in raw cotton production.”

In fact, the cotton supply was about to increase even more rapidly. By the time four more years had passed, and Rachel arrived in New Orleans, 60,000 more enslaved people had been shifted into Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama from the older South. By 1819, the rapid expansion of Mississippi Valley slave labor camps had enabled the United States to seize control of the world export market for cotton, the most crucial of early industrial commodities.

And cotton became the dominant driver of US economic growth. In 1802, cotton already accounted for 14 percent of the value of all US exports, but by 1820 it accounted for 42 percent—in an economy reliant on exports to acquire the goods and credit it needed for growth. New Orleans had become the pivot of economic expansion, “the point of union,” as one visitor wrote, between Europe and America, industry and frontier. Its proliferating newspaper columns were filled with long lists of ship landings and departures, ads for goods imported, brokers’ pleas for more cotton, offerings of commercial credit, and notices of bank directors’ meetings. Economic acceleration loomed-over Rachel in mountain ranges of cotton bales...

Yet the assumption that slavery would have ended is based on the idea that it was an inefficient form of labor that would soon be weeded out by economic realities. By 1860, this system had been growing for seventy years at a rate unprecedented in human history. It had broken its supposed limits again and again.Edward Baptist: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Further Readings

White Head Start Post Slavery


Source: Josh Tucker – Medium: Black History: A History of Permanent White Oppression, from 1619 to 2016

Evolution of Slavery

After Civil War Slavery was outlawed but it didn’t end. It transformed into:

  • Sharing Cropping (debt peonage), youth apprenticeships, land theft
  • Black codes, Jim Crow laws
    • Segregation and separate but unequal
      • Housing, healthcare, school, access to resources and opportunities, etc.
    • Convict leasing & vagrancy laws
      • Rise of criminal justice system based on black criminalization and legal slavery
    • White terrorism, voter suppression, and lynching
    • Political, economic, and social white supremacy

After 1960s Civil Rights Bills Jim Crow outlawed but allowed non explicit racism to continue

  • Continued race neutral racism based on racial bias and discriminatory outcomes, not intent
    • Housing discrimination, segregation, voter suppression, school discrimination, mass incarceration, etc.
  • Continued political, economic, and social white supremacy

bodytext2Yes! Magazine: A Nation Built on the Back of Slavery and Racism

Slavery Didn’t End in 1865 but Evolved

“Though legally emancipated from slavery and endowed with constitutional rights to participate in society as full citizens, black people soon learned that those rights were unenforceable in a white-controlled political system hostile to their exercise. This message was communicated through an intricate and complex system of racial subordination built after the Civil War to maintain and reinforce white supremacy in a world without chattel slavery. Constructed of law and custom, force and fear, disenfranchisement, convict leasing, and Jim Crow segregation, the system was fragile and fiercely guarded. “ Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative

(Short Video)
Mic: Slavery Didn’t End in 1865 but Evolved

Black Land Theft

  • 45 years after Civil War
    • Freed slaves & descendants accumulated 15 million acres of land
    • Mostly in south and generally used for farming
  • 1920
    • 925,000 black-owned farms
    • 14% of all farms in the US
  • 192075
    • 600,000 black farmers were pushed off there land
    • USDA lending discrimination, white supremacy, terrorism, theft, economic marginalization, etc.
  • 1975
    • 45,000 black-owned farms remained
  • Today:
    • Less than 2% of farmers are black
      • 1% of rural landowners are black
      • Of the 1 billion acres of arable US land, Black people today own a little more than 1 million acres

Ta-Nehisi Coates:Case of Reparations

“When Clyde Ross was still a child, Mississippi authorities claimed his father owed $3,000 in back taxes. The elder Ross could not read. He did not have a lawyer. He did not know anyone at the local courthouse. He could not expect the police to be impartial. Effectively, the Ross family had no way to contest the claim and no protection under the law. The authorities seized the land. They seized the buggy. They took the cows, hogs, and mules. And so for the upkeep of separate but equal, the entire Ross family was reduced to sharecropping. This was hardly unusual. In 2001, the Associated Press published a three-part investigation into the theft of black-owned land stretching back to the antebellum period. The series documented some 406 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars.” Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic

Yes! Magazine: A Nation Built on the Back of Slavery and Racism

MLK Jr. on Reparations before the Poor People’s Campaign

“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Further Readings

DC and many European nations did Compensated emancipation

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White Head Start from Legislation and Courts

1920px-American_Progress_(John_Gast_painting).jpgAmerican Progress is an 1872 painting by John Gast

Historical Legislation that Gave White People a Head Start

  • The Naturalization Act (1790)
    • Only “free whites” allowed to become naturalized US citizens
      • Right to vote, serve on juries, hold office, etc
  • The Indian Removal Act (1830)
    • Military enforced ethnic cleansing of Cherokee, Creek and other eastern Native American tribes to relocate west of the Mississippi River to give white settlers 25 million acres
  • The Homestead Act (1862)
    • Gave away Native American land to white settlers out west
      • Nearly 270 million acres of Indian Territory was converted to private property for white settlers
  • The Social Security Act of 1935
    • Provided a financial safety net for millions of workers and guaranteed that they would continue to be paid after retirement
      • Excluded agricultural and domestic laborers
      • Industries with large majorities of people of color
      • 65% of the African American workforce was excluded by this provision
  • The National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935
    • Gave labor unions the power of collective bargaining, defined unfair work practices, and established consequences if those rules were broken
    • Majority of unions excluded non-white workers
    • Less than 1% of black workers were in unions at this time.
  • National Housing Act (1934)
    • Established the Federal Housing Administration to give white families home loans.
    • People of color were considered too risky for these loans
    • 1934-1968 – 98% of home loans were only given to white people
  • The G.I. Education Bill (1944)
    • Funds and programs to help white service members continue their education, guaranteed private housing, and granted access to a public health care system.
    • Black veterans were excluded.

Historic SCOTUS Cases that Gave Whites a Heads Up

  • Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)
    • SCOTUS rules Bill of Rights didn’t apply to African Americans
  • The People v. Hall (1854)
    • Prohibited Chinese immigrants/citizens in California from testifying in court
  • United States v. Cruikshank (1876)
    • Ruled fed courts couldn’t prosecute white terrorists attacking black suffrage
  • Pace v. Alabama (1883)
    • Upheld interracial marriage as crime. Was overturned in Loving v. Virginia (1967)
  • The Civil Rights Cases (1883)
    • Struck down 1875 Civil Rights Act which mandated an end to racial segregation in public
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    • Upheld Jim Crow allowing segregated public institutions to “separate but equal
  • Cumming v. Richmond (1899) and Lum v. Rice (1927)
    • Defended white school segregation against black and Asian families
  • Ozawa v. United States (1922) and United States v. Thind (1923)
    • Ruled Japanese and Indian Americans weren’t white/ineligible for naturalized citizenship
  • Hirabayashi v. United States (1943) and Korematsu v. United States (1944)
    • Failed challenges to FDR’s EO for internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans
  • McCleskey v. Kemp (1987)
    • Ruled racial discrimination in criminal justice system did not violate the Constitution

The New Yorker: The Supreme Court Case That Enshrined White Supremacy in Law

“After Dred Scott, Plessy is probably the most notorious decision involving race in the history of the United States Supreme Court. It is the case identified with the principle of “separate but equal”—the theory that segregation is not per se discrimination. Plessy is the decision the Supreme Court had to overturn, in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, to declare that school segregation violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

From our perspective, therefore, Plessy looks huge. So it’s revealing that, as the journalist Steve Luxenberg tells us in “Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation,” little note was taken of the decision at the time. Even when principal figures in the case died, years later, their obituaries made no mention of it. It’s revealing because it suggests that Plessy should never have been brought in the first place. The decision did not create a new justification for racial segregation; it locked an old one into place.

Plessy was a test case. It challenged a law that Louisiana passed in 1890, the Separate Car Act, requiring railroads to maintain separate cars for white and “colored” riders—in order, according to the act, “to promote the comfort of passengers.” The penalty for breaking the law was a fine or a short prison sentence. Transportation had been segregated in parts of the country, both North and South, since long before the Civil War, and many cases had been brought by passengers complaining of discrimination, with mixed success. But in those cases segregation was a matter of company policy. In the Louisiana case, the constitutionality of a state law was at issue.

When the South began instituting Jim Crow, after the end of Reconstruction, laws mandating separate cars on trains appeared across the region. One of the first was passed in Florida, in 1887, followed by Mississippi, in 1888, and Texas, in 1889. When Louisiana passed its separate-cars law, a New Orleans lawyer and newspaper editor named Louis Martinet—his mother was born a slave; his father, a Belgian, bought her freedom—formed the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law, and set about building a case.

First, Martinet approached the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which agreed to act as a silent partner. It did not do so out of altruism. From a business point of view, segregation represented a cost—the cost of providing separate facilities for black customers. It would have been cheaper for the railroads if the state had mandated integration instead.

Then Martinet recruited a plaintiff, Daniel Desdunes, a young mixed-race musician whose father was on the Committee. On February 24, 1892, Desdunes boarded a train in New Orleans with a ticket for Mobile, Alabama, and sat in a car reserved for whites. He was duly arrested and charged, his case set to be heard by the criminal-court judge in New Orleans, John Ferguson. All had gone as planned, but then, in another case, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the Separate Car Act did not apply to interstate passengers. Because Desdunes had been going to another state, he could not be required to use a separate car, and the prosecution dropped the case.

The interstate-travel issue was a persistent wrinkle in the Jim Crow era, and it inspired some impressive judicial contortions. In 1878, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Reconstruction-era Louisiana statute requiring integrated facilities on steamboats. Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce. Because riverboats stopped in many states, the Court said, they could not be bound by the regulations of one state.

You might assume that a state law requiring segregated facilities on interstate carriers would be subject to the same prohibition. In 1890, however, the Supreme Court held otherwise. It declared that an interstate train was subject to a Mississippi law requiring separate cars for “colored” and white passengers for as long as the train was in Mississippi. The Court somehow parsed its way around its own earlier decision.

But now, because of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling, Martinet needed another volunteer scofflaw. Fortunately, he had one at hand: Homer Plessy. Like Desdunes, Plessy was light-skinned—“fair-skinned enough to cause confusion,” as Luxenberg puts it, suggesting that Plessy might have been accustomed to passing, as many nominally “colored” people in New Orleans did. He was twenty-nine years old, married, and in the shoemaking business. Like Desdunes, he followed the script. On June 7, 1892, he boarded a train, one travelling only within the state of Louisiana, and sat in the car for white passengers. When the conductor asked if Plessy was colored, he said yes, and was removed from the train and booked. (Train conductors were in a ridiculous position: even if the law required trains to have separate cars, riders could still sue the conductor for misclassifying them.)

Plessy came before the same Judge Ferguson, who ruled that, since there had been no claim that the cars for white and black passengers were not “equal,” there was no constitutional issue. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, adding that, if the Separate Cars Act were declared unconstitutional, many other state laws—on separate schools, intermarriage, and so forth—would be affected. The U.S. Supreme Court finally heard the case four years later, and on May 18, 1896, it issued its opinion.

As Luxenberg points out, the concept “separate but equal” (the phrase the Court used in Plessy was actually “equal but separate”) was hardly a novelty. It had been a customary way to throw out complaints about segregation since before the Civil War. In Plessy, the Court added a gloss that became almost as famous as the phrase itself: “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority,” it said. “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” As Charles Black, a Yale law professor, wrote of these sentences many years later, “The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.”

The assumption that separate facilities for blacks—railroad cars, steamboat berths, schools—were not inferior is a good example of the Supreme Court’s formalism in that period of American law. Everyone knew the assumption was false. The Jim Crow train car was sometimes called “the dirt car,” and “colored” schools were often shacks. It was also absurd to claim that the “badge of inferiority” was a black person’s construction. In Dred Scott, the Chief Justice, Roger Taney, had said that, constitutionally, black people were “a subordinate and inferior class of beings,” with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Warren Court would cite psychological studies showing that black children are harmed by segregation. That’s not something a nineteenth-century court would have considered appropriate (and some people did not consider it appropriate in Brown). In cases like Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court looked to the text of the statute. If the statute did not prescribe unequal conditions, then, legally, conditions were not unequal.”

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Impact Today

  • Average net worth of households
    • Black households is $6,314
    • White Households is $110,500
    • a typical White household has 16x the wealth of a Black household
  • Average household income for
    • White Americans is $71,300
    • Black Americans is $43,300
  • Poverty Rates
    • Black Americans: 26.2%
      • More than 2.5x than white poverty rate: 10.1%

  • Inherited Wealth
    • Estimated 35-45% of wealth is inherited
    • 1989 data on # of households who inherited wealth shows:
      • 6% of black households inherited wealth from previous generations
        • Average inheritance was $42,000
      • 24% (4x as much) white households inherited wealth
        • Average inheritance was $145,000
  • Most middle-class families gain wealth from equity in their homes
    • From past/present housing discrimination home ownership rates today:
      • White Americans is 73%
      • Black Americans is 43%

“Some economists estimate that up to 80% of lifetime wealth accumulation results from gifts from earlier generations, ranging from a down payment on a home to a bequest by a parent.” Dalton Conley, NY Times

James W. Loewen: Teaching what Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited about Doing History

“In 2016 the census reported that African American families made about six-tenths the median income of white families: $37,211, compared to $62,950. Even worse is the wealth gap. While the income ratio is about six to ten, the wealth ratio is far more severe, about one to twelve. That is, the median white family has 12 times as much wealth as the median black family. To some degree, this enormous wealth gap derives from the smaller income gap. A family making $37,000 can find it hard to save a dime. Meanwhile, a family making $63,000 can save $10,000 and still live far better than the median black family.

According to sociologist Dalton Conley, however, “The wealth gap cannot be explained by income differences alone.” Within any given in-come category, white families on much more than black families. For example, at the bottom of the spectrum (incomes less than $15,000 a year), the median African American family has a net worth of zero, while the median white family has $10,000 worth of equity. Intergenerational transfers provide the reason, Conley points out: “50% to 80% of accumulation results from gifts from past generations of relatives: a down payment on a first home, a free college education, a bequest from a par-ent.” In turn, by far the biggest single component of net worth for all fami-lies below the upper class is the equity they have built up in their homes over time.”

NY Times: “The Cost of Slavery

“The typical white family enjoys a net worth that is more than eight times that of its black counterpart, according to the economist Edward Wolff. Even at equivalent income levels, gaps remain large. Among families earning less than $15,000 a year, the median African-American family has a net worth of zero, while the corresponding white family has $10,000 in equity. The typical white family earning $40,000 annually has a nest egg of around $80,000. Its black counterpart has about half that amount.

This equity inequity is partly the result of the head start whites enjoy in accumulating and passing on assets. Some economists estimate that up to 80 percent of lifetime wealth accumulation results from gifts from earlier generations, ranging from the down payment on a home to a bequest by a parent.”


Institutional Racial Breakdown in 2016-2017

  • Congress: 90% white
  • Governors: 96% white
  • Top military advisers: 100% white
  • President and vice president: 100% white
  • Current POTUS cabinet: 91% white
  • People who decide which TV shows we see: 93% white
  • People who decide which books we read: 90% white
  • People who decide which news is covered: 85% white
  • People who decide which music is produced: 95% white
  • People who directed 100 top-grossing films of all time worldwide: 95% white
  • Teachers: 83% white
  • Full-time college professors: 84% white
  • Owners of men’s pro-football teams: 97% white
  • Billionaires: 96% white (estimate)
  • Millionaires: 76% white (2013 data)

Source: Yes! Mag: No, I Won’t Stop Saying “White Supremacy”

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Click for more Data on
Modern Racial Discrepancies and Inequalities

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Types of Reparations

PBS: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ full opening statement on reparations at House hearing

Click here for entire Hearing

National Black United Front: 40th National Convention: Black Political Power: The Case for Reparations


Reparations is a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government, corporation, institution or family responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves. In addition to being a demand for justice, it is a principle of international human rights law. As a remedy, it is similar to the remedy for damages in domestic law that holds a person responsible for injuries suffered by another when the infliction of the injury violates domestic law. Examples of groups that have obtained reparations include Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust, Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps in the United States during WWII, Alaska Natives for land, labor, and resources taken, victims of the massacre in Rosewood, Florida and their descendants, Native Americans as a remedy for violations of treaty rights, and political dissenters in Argentina and their descendants.


Reparations can be in as many forms as necessary to equitably (fairly) address the many forms of injury caused by chattel slavery and its continuing vestiges. The material forms of reparations include cash payments, land, economic development, and repatriation resources particularly to those who are descendants of enslaved Africans. Other forms of reparations for Black people of African descent include funds for scholarships and community development; creation of multi-media depictions of the history of Black people of African descent and textbooks for educational institutions that tell the story from the African descendants’ perspective; development of historical monuments and museums; the return of artifacts and art to appropriate people or institutions; exoneration of political prisoners; and, the elimination of laws and practices that maintain dual systems in the major areas of life including the punishment system, health, education and the financial/economic system. The forms of reparations received should improve the lives of African descendants in the United States for future generations to come; foster economic, social and political parity; and allow for full rights of self-determination.


Within the broadest definition, all Black people of African descent in the United States should receive reparations in the form of changes in or elimination of laws and practices that allow them to be treated differently and less well than White people. For example, ending racial profiling and discrimination in the provision of health care, providing scholarship and community development funds for Black people of African descent, and supporting processes of self-determination will not only benefit descendants of enslaved Africans, but all African descendant peoples in the United States who because of their color are victims of the vestiges of slavery. This is similar to the Rosewood, Florida reparations package, where some forms of reparations were provided only to persons who descended from those who were injured, died and lost their homes and other forms were made available to all Black people of African descent in Florida.


The Trans-Atlantic Slave “Trade” and chattel slavery, more appropriately called the Holocaust of Enslavement or Maafa,/ Maangamizi was and is a crime against humanity. Millions of Africans were brutalized, murdered, raped and tortured. They were torn from their families in Africa, kidnapped and lost family and community associations. African peoples in the United States and the prior colonies were denied the right to maintain their language, spiritual practices and normal family relations, always under the threat of being torn from newly created families at the whim of the “slave owner.” Chattel slavery lasted officially from 1619 to 1865. It was followed by 100 years of government led and supported denial of equal and humane treatment including Black Codes, convict lease, sharecropping, peonage, and Jim Crow practices of separate and unequal accommodations. African descendants continue to be denied rights of self-determination, inheritance, and full participation in the United States government and society. The laws and practices in the United States continue to treat African peoples in a manner similar to slavery – maintaining dual systems in virtually every area of life including punishment, health care, education and wealth, maintaining the myths of White superiority and African and African descendants’ inferiority.

This is a Swahili term meaning disaster that has been used for a number of years to describe these conditions and has been used most notably in the writings and presentations of Marimba Ani, Ph.D., noted African-centered anthropologist and activist.

Black Past: Callie Guy House (ca. 1861-1928)

Callie House is most famous for her efforts to gain reparations for former slaves and is regarded as the early leader of the reparations movement among African American political activists. Callie Guy was born a slave in Rutherford Country near Nashville, Tennessee. Her date of birth is usually assumed to be 1861, but due to the lack of birth records for slaves, this date is not certain. She was raised in a household that included her widowed mother, sister, and her sister’s husband. House received some primary school education.

At the age of 22, she married William House and moved to Nashville, where she raised five children. To support her family, House worked at home as a washerwoman and seamstress. In 1891, a pamphlet entitled Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freedmen began circulating around the black communities in central Tennessee. This pamphlet, which espoused the idea of financial compensation as a means of rectifying past exploitation of slavery, persuaded House to become involved in the cause that would become her life’s work.

With the help of Isaiah Dickerson, House chartered the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898, and was named the secretary of this new organization. Eventually, House became the leader of the organization. In this position she traveled across the South, spreading the idea of reparations in every former slave state with relentless zeal. During her 1897-1899 lecture tour the association’s membership by 34,000 mainly through her efforts. By 1900, its nationwide membership was estimated to be around 300,000.

House’s activism was not without controversy. Newspapers of the time often ridiculed her efforts and the federal government attempted to arrest her and other leaders of the association. In 1916, U.S. Postmaster General A.S. Burleson sought indictments against leaders of the association claiming that they obtained money from ex-slaves by fraudulent circulars proclaiming that pensions and reparations were forthcoming. House was convicted and served time in the Jefferson City, Missouri penitentiary from November 1917 to August 1918. Callie House died from cancer in Nashville, Tennessee on June 6, 1928, at the age of 67.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates: Reparations Are Not Just About Slavery But Also Centuries of Theft & Racial Terror

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Newsbroke: Diving into the history of reparations and looking at the legacy of the Reconstruction, or the “second founding of America

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole…

…the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. Reparations, beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future…

…Scholars have long discussed methods by which America might make reparations to those on whose labor and exclusion the country was built. In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income. That number—$34 billion in 1973, when Bittker wrote his book—could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two. Today Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School professor, argues for something broader: a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.”

  • H.R.40: Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act
    • Introduced in Congress many times since 1989
    • Yet to be passed
  • Possible reparation approaches
    • Direct stakeholder funds
      • direct cash grants without conditions to adults
    • First-time homebuyer programs
    • Tuition-free higher education
    • Endowments for historical and cultural institutions
    • National history education programs
    • Historical monuments and markers
      • Historical markers could mark buildings such as the US Capitol (“Built with Enslaved Labor”), sites of lynchings, and organized pogroms and riots, such as the 1924 attack on a black business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    • Roots journeys to Africa
      • initiative could enable people with African heritage to visit Africa, learn more about their historical roots, and deepen friendships and understanding with the African continent.
  • Black Lives Matter reparation approaches
    • Full and free access to high quality educational opportunities
    • Retroactive forgiveness of student loans
    • Guaranteed minimum livable income
    • Corporate and government reparations focused on healing ongoing physical and mental trauma, and ensuring our access and control of food sources, housing and land
    • Mandated public school curriculums to critically examine political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery
    • Funding to support, build, preserve, and restore cultural assets and sacred sites to ensure the recognition and honoring of our collective struggles and triumphs
    • Immediate passage of H.R.40


First attempt at Reparations: 40 acres and a Mule

  • 1865 General Sherman Promise
    • Based on meetings with black leaders
      • Land was number 1 demand from freed black people
    • Promised freed slaves 40 acres of confiscated confederate land
      • And an army mule
    • Divided 400,000 acres to 40,000 ex-slaves
    • Part of a larger lard reform/reparations debate
  • Freedmen Bureau Created
    • Continued this land reform for all free slaves
  • Less than a year after
    • President Johnson ordered majority of confiscated land be returned to former owners
    • 38,000 black people had their land confiscated to confederate plantation owners
  • 40 Acres and a Mule Today
    • Worth $6.4 Trillion

“Millions of white settlers who had acquired western land, confiscated from rebel native communities over the years, had been freed…(Freed) blacks were only asking fro the same from rebel Confederate communities. But racist ideas traionalized the racist policy; White settlers on government-provided land were deemed receivers of American freedom. Black people, recievers of American handouts..Since the federal government had started selling confiscated and abandoned souther land to private owners in 1863, more than 90% had gone to northern Whites over the widespread protests of local blacks” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

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Time: The House Hearing on Slavery Reparations Is Part of a Long History. Here’s What to Know on the Idea’s Tireless Early Advocates

Yet the debate about reparations for slavery is not a new one — and the history of the idea shows just how many roadblocks there are to a meaningful conversation about the topic. In fact, around the turn of the 20th century, the federal government exercised its power to silence the voices of thousands of formerly enslaved African Americans who sought restitution for their two and a half centuries of legalized enslavement.

While the 13th Amendment abolished chattel slavery in the United States in 1865, it made no provision for restitution to the formerly enslaved population, which numbered approximately four million. The policy popularly referred to as “40 acres and a mule,” a promise by the federal government to redistribute land to former slaves that had been confiscated from Confederate rebels during the Civil War, was immediately overturned by Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson, who reestablished white Southern rule. With the end of government support for land going to freedpeople, a sharecropping system arose in its place, leaving them economically destitute. In a letter to Democratic politician Walter R. Vaughan of Iowa in 1890, Frederick Douglass marveled that the American government had failed to compensate black people for 250 years of unpaid labor, which included building the Capitol and White House. “The Egyptian bondsmen went out with the spoils of his master, and the Russian serf was provided with farming tools and three acres of land upon which to begin life,” Douglass wrote, “but the Negro has neither spoils, implements nor lands, and today he is practically a slave on the very plantation where formerly he was driven to toil under the lash.”

During this time the first iteration of what became known as the “Ex-Slave Pension Bill” (H.R. 11119) was introduced in Congress at Vaughan’s request. The concept of an ex-slave pension was based on the post-Civil War program for disabled veterans (including blacks) established by the Bureau of Pensions. Vaughan articulated his pro-reparations views in a pamphlet titled Vaughan’s Freedmen’s Pension Bill. Being an Appeal in Behalf of Men Released from Slavery, in which he argued that reparations were equally beneficial to blacks and whites because the system would provide economic justice to former slaves and their spending would help boost the Southern economy.

Vaughan’s advocacy for ex-slave pensions fueled the national debate on reparations and gave rise to numerous organizations during the last decade of the 19th century, none more prominent than the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association (MRB&PA), which historian Mary Frances Berry has called “one of the largest grassroots movements in African American history.” That movement was led by a woman.

In her book My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations, Berry tells the remarkable story of Callie House, a seamstress-washerwoman, widow, mother of five and former slave turned activist, who co-founded the MRB&PA in 1898. The association aimed to provide mutual aid and burial expenses, and to lobby Congress to enact legislation that would compensate the formerly enslaved, especially the elderly, for their unpaid years of labor. “If the Government had the right to free us,” House stated, “she [the U.S.] had a right to make some provision for us and since she did not make it soon after Emancipation she ought to make it now.” House’s passion and ability as a grassroots organizer were unmatched as she crisscrossed the nation urging blacks to exercise their Constitutional rights. In 1899, the first bill introduced on behalf of the association in both houses of Congress (S. 1176) was simply titled, “A Bill to provide pensions for freedmen and so forth.” By the early 20th century, according to government figures, the MRB&PA had an estimated 300,000 members, all “demanding a law ordering reparations for slavery.”

But the federal government was not amused. In fact, House became a target. The Post Office Department used its anti-fraud powers against the movement, especially against the MRB&PA, issuing a fraud order against House in September 1899. Though House fought back, the harassment continued, as notices were issued to local post offices ordering them to deny any money orders made out to the association or any of its officials. Association literature and letters, or anything addressed to the association officers, were not allowed to be distributed. The campaign to stop House, “a thirty-three-year-old former slave, seamstress and laundress with no right to vote,” as Berry highlights, continued for almost two decades.

Yet, despite the government’s relentless character-assassination campaign, which tarnished her reputation even among African Americans, in 1915 House’s group sued the federal government.

The historic case Johnson v. McAdoo is the first documented federal litigation for reparations for slavery. The class-action suit started from the idea that $68,073,388.99 that had been taken as a cotton tax was actually owed to the people who had produced that cotton. The District Court in the nation’s capital, and the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal, which held that the U.S. was safeguarded against such suits. And after House had the audacity to bring her suit, in 1917 the MRB&PA leader was arrested, convicted of mail fraud and jailed. Despite her conviction, ex-slaves continued to petition the federal government. The reparations movement remained on life support until 1922 when the federal government finally succeed to shut it down.

In 1995, the Johnson v. McAdoo rationalization was repeated when African American plaintiffs, under the collective name “Cato,” attempted to sue the United States for reparations in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Again, a judge claimed U.S. immunity. As historian Ana Lucia Araujo writes in her book Reparations for Slavery: and the Slave Trade, “Because the government of the United States must agree to be prosecuted, a successful outcome for these lawsuits is ‘nearly impossible.’”

Nearly a century after the original lawsuit, and more than 150 years after the end of slavery, that logic remains difficult to get around — but they who feel that Callie House’s logic also holds are clearly not done fighting.

National Archives: No Pensions for Ex-Slaves

How Federal Agencies Suppressed Movement To Aid Freedpeople

The Union victory in the Civil War helped pave the way for the 13th amendment to formally abolish the practice of slavery in the United States. But following their emancipation, most former slaves had no financial resources, property, residence, or education—the keys to their economic independence.

Efforts to help them achieve some semblance of economic freedom, such as with “40 acres and a mule,” were stymied. Without federal land compensation—or any compensation—many ex-slaves were forced into sharecropping, tenancy farming, convict-leasing, or some form of menial labor arrangements aimed at keeping them economically subservient and tied to land owned by former slaveholders.

“The poverty which afflicted them for a generation after Emancipation held them down to the lowest order of society, nominally free but economically enslaved,” wrote Carter G. Woodson in The Mis-Education of the Negro in the 1930s.

In the late 19th century, the idea of pursuing pensions for ex-slaves—similar to pensions for Union veterans—took hold. If disabled elderly veterans were compensated for their years of service during the Civil War, why shouldn’t former slaves who had served the country in the process of nation building be compensated for their years of forced, unpaid labor?

By 1899, “about 21 percent of the black population nationally had been born into slavery,” according to historian Mary Frances Berry. Had the government distributed pensions to former slaves and their caretakers near the turn of the century, there would have been a relatively modest number of people to compensate.

But the movement to grant pensions to ex-slaves faced strong opposition, and the strongest came not from southerners in Congress but from three executive branch agencies. It was opposition impossible to overcome.

Land Allocation Efforts Stymied by the Johnson Administration

In the late stages of the Civil War and in its aftermath, the federal government (primarily Republicans) tried to relieve destitution among freedpeople and help them gain economic independence through attempts to allocate land. These efforts, both military and legislative, help explain why African Americans thought that compensation was attainable.

Special Field Orders No. 15, issued by Gen. William T. Sherman in January 1865, promised 40 acres of abandoned and confiscated land in South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida (largely the Sea Islands and coastal lands that had previously belonged to Confederates) to freedpeople. Sherman also decided to loan mules to former slaves who settled the land.

But these efforts were rolled back by President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Proclamation of May 29, 1865. By the latter part of 1865, thousands of freedpeople were abruptly evicted from land that had been distributed to them through Special Field Orders No. 15. Circular No. 15 issued by the Freedmen’s Bureau on September 12, 1865, coupled with Johnson’s presidential pardons, provided for restoration of land to former owners. With the exception of a small number who had legal land titles, freedpeople were removed from the land as a result of President Johnson’s restoration program.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Act had been established by Congress in March 1865 to help former slaves transition from slavery to freedom. Section four of the act authorized the bureau to rent no more than 40 acres of confiscated or abandoned land to freedpeople and loyal white refugees for a term of three years. At the end of the term, or at any point during the term, the male occupants renting the land had the option to purchase it and would then receive a title to the land.

But Johnson’s restoration policy rendered section four null and void and seriously thwarted bureau officials’ efforts to help the newly emancipated acquire land.

In June 1866 the Southern Homestead Act was enacted. It was designed to exclusively give freedpeople and white southern loyalists first choice of the remaining public lands from five southern states until January 1, 1867.

But homesteading was problematic on many different levels. The short period allotted by Congress (six months) worked against freedpeople because most were under contract to work or had leased land, through the bureau’s contract labor policy, until the end of the year.

Refer to Caption
Certificate of membership in the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association. (Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

Congress also underestimated the time it would take for freedmen and loyal whites to successfully complete the process of securing a homestead. This process involved filing claims, waiting indefinitely until offices opened or reopened, and working to secure enough money to purchase land. Concurrently, freedpeople faced southern white opposition to settling land.

Moreover, Congress provided no tools, seed, rations, or any form of additional assistance to freedpeople, and most freedpeople’s earnings just covered the bare necessities of life. Maintaining a homestead without assistance was almost impossible under those circumstances.

On March 11, 1867, House Speaker Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania introduced a bill (H.R. 29) that outlined a plan for confiscated land in the “confederate States of America.” Section four of the proposed bill explicitly called for land to be distributed to former slaves:

Out of the lands thus seized and confiscated, the slaves who have been liberated by the operations of the war and the amendment of the Constitution or otherwise, who resided in said “confederate States” on the 4th day of March, A.D. 1861 or since, shall have distributed to them as follows namely: to each male person who is the head of a family, forty acres; to each adult male, whether the head of the family or not, forty acres; to each widow who is the head of a family, forty acres; to be held by them in fee simple, but to be inalienable for the next ten years after they become seized thereof. . . . At the end of ten years the absolute title to said homesteads shall be conveyed to said owners or to the heirs of such as are then dead.

Stevens knew that if federal land redistribution legislation failed to pass, freedpeople would be at the whim of former slaveholders for years to come. In support of his bill, he stated, “Withhold from them all their rights and leave them destitute of the means of earning a livelihood, [and they will become] the victims of the hatred or cupidity of the rebels whom they helped to conquer.”

Refer to CaptionSenator Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful Radical Republican leader, was a staunch advocate for emancipation and championed civil and equal rights for blacks. (111-B-1458)

Republicans, during the 1868 campaign, even promised 40 acres and a mule to freedpeople. A couple of decades passed before any further concerted efforts were made to provide economic relief and security for ex-slaves, and when there was another major effort, it was not by the government but by former slaves and their allies.

Ex-Slave Pension Movement Begins as the Century Ends

By the last decade of the 19th century, the idea of trying to procure the enactment of pension legislation for ex-slaves for their years of unpaid labor was put into action.

The concept of ex-slave pensions was modeled after the Civil War–era program of military service pensions, and the first ex-slave pension bill (H.R. 11119) was introduced by Rep. William Connell of Nebraska in 1890.

It was introduced at the request of Walter R. Vaughan of Omaha, a white Democrat and ex-mayor of Council Bluffs, Iowa. He did not believe that it, or subsequent bills, should be identified as a pension bill but instead as “a Southern-tax relief bill.” Vaughan recognized that pensions would financially benefit former slaves and would indeed be a semblance of justice for their years of forced labor. But the outcome he looked for involved ex-slaves spending their pensions in the South in order to give the devastated southern economy a financial boost.

The push for ex-slave pensions gained momentum in the 1890s and continued into the early 20th century. This grassroots movement was composed largely of former slaves, their family members, and friends. It emerged during the nadir of American race relations, roughly 1877 into the early 20th century.

Racial segregation officially became the law of the land with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessey v. Ferguson decision, which upheld racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. Lynchings and race riots were at an all-time high, while civil rights and legal recourse for blacks were virtually nonexistent. Throughout the South, black men were disenfranchised and could not serve on juries.

The pension movement flourished in spite of, or even because of, these obstacles.

There were a number of ex-slave pension organizations within the movement—the National Ex-Slave Pension Club Association of the United States (Vaughan’s Justice Party); the Ex-Slave Petitioners’ Assembly; the Great National Ex-Slave Union: Congressional, Legislative and Pension Association of the U.S.A.; the Ex-Slave Pension Association; the Ex Slave Department Industrial Association of America; and others—but there is a paucity of documentation for groups other than the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association of the United States of America (MRB&PA). The ex-slave pension organizations did not work together collectively, but there is evidence that officers of at least a few of these organizations were interested in joining forces and consolidating their groups.

The MRB&PA was chartered on August 7, 1897, and had a dual mission: to petition Congress for the passage of legislation that would grant compensation to ex-slaves, particularly elderly ex-slaves, and to provide mutual aid and burial expenses.

The association collected membership fees in order to help defray lobbying costs, printing/publication expenses, and travel expenses of the national officers. Monthly dues were reserved for mutual aid purposes (to aid the sick, the disabled, and for burial expenses). Ex-slaves and their allies gave their meager resources to help further the movement because they believed in the organization’s mission. Dedication and charisma characterized the leaders of the association and enabled them to mobilize the masses.

By the late 1890s, the MRB&PA was the premiere ex-slave pension organization, claiming a membership in the hundreds of thousands. In addition to having a strong grassroots following, the MRB&PA was highly organized. The national officers established a charter, drafted a constitution and by-laws, held annual conventions, formed an executive board, started local chapters mostly in the South and Midwest, established enrollment fees and dues, advertised through circulars and broadsides, and advocated unity of purpose.

The organization supported a proposed pension payment scale based upon the age of beneficiaries that appeared in every ex-slave bill from 1899 onward. Ex-slaves 70 years and older at the time of disbursement were to receive an initial payment of $500 and $15 a month for the rest of their lives; those aged 60–69 years old would receive $300 and $12 a month; those aged 50–59 years old would receive $100 and $8 a month; and those under 50 would receive a $4 a month pension. If formerly enslaved persons were either very old or too ill to care for themselves, their caretakers were to be compensated.

Once a freedperson reached a certain age threshold, he or she would then be eligible for the higher pension. This proposed ex-slave pension payment scale is very similar to the Civil War pension gradation scale for soldiers with disabilities. Soldiers who became disabled as a result of military service received pension payments based on the nature of their partial disability and military rank. Over time, the Civil War pension program came to resemble a system of pensions for elderly veterans just as the ex-slave pension movement’s main focus was to secure pensions to particularly aid the elderly.

Refer to CaptionCallie House, a widow, mother, and former slave, became a national leader of the ex-slave pension movement. (Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

The association’s headquarters was in Nashville, Tennessee, where two of its most notable leaders, Isaiah H. Dickerson and Callie D. House, lived. Dickerson, an educator and minister, was the general manager and national promoter of the organization. House, a widow, laundress, mother of five, and former slave, was elected as the assistant secretary of the association in November 1898. She soon became a national promoter of the movement alongside Dickerson.

As the association’s membership grew, government surveillance intensified. However, Dickerson, House, and other association officers were not aware of the federal government’s intense interest in their organization and plans to undermine it and the larger movement.

Association Faces Strong Opposition to Pensions from U.S. Government

Three federal agencies—the Bureau of Pensions, the Post Office Department, and the Department of Justice—worked collectively in the late 1890s and into the early 20th century to investigate individuals and groups in the movement.

The officials who pursued the investigations thought the idea of pensioning ex-slaves was unrealistic because the government had no intention of compensating former slaves for their years of involuntary labor. Harrison Barrett, the acting assistant attorney general for the Post Office Department, admitted in an 1899 circular that “there has never been the remotest prospect that the bill would become a law.”

In a February 7, 1902, letter to the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the commissioner of pensions blamed the ex-slave pension organizations for arousing false hopes for “reparation for historical wrongs, to be followed by inevitable disappointment, and probably distrust of the dominant race and of the Government.”

Special examiners of the Law Division of the Bureau of Pensions attended slave pension association meetings, took depositions from officers (national and local), and sent letters to officers and members to determine if officers were representing themselves as officials appointed by the United States Government.

The Bureau of Pensions also sent circulars to agents affiliated with various ex-slave pension organizations. Although these circular usually carried the disclaimer, “While any class of citizens has an unquestioned right to associate for the purpose of attempting to secure legislation believed to be advantageous,” these words were often simply a formality. The bureau’s inspectors did not find evidence to incriminate any of the influential MRB&PA officers whom they suspected of fraud.

The Post Office Department took action when it presumed that the U.S. mails were being used to defraud ex-slaves. The Post Office used its extensive antifraud powers against the movement, issuing fraud orders to organizations and officers.

On September 20, 1899, Barrett issued a fraud order against the MRB&PA and its national officers (Dickerson, Rev. D. D. McNairy, Rev. N. Smith, Rev. H. Head, and House), forbidding the delivery of all mail matter and the payment of money orders.

Once the mail was intercepted, it was either returned to senders marked “Fraudulent” or simply withheld from the intended recipients. The fraud order and obstruction of mail proceeded even though the Post Office had no concrete evidence that the association had acted illegally.

In letters to both Barrett and Nashville Postmaster A. W. Wills, Dickerson, House and other officers invoked their first amendment rights (namely their right to assemble and right to petition the government), 14th and 15th amendment rights (citizenship rights and voting rights), and highlighted the dire condition of old ex-slaves.

In both correspondence and depositions, national and state officers of the MRB&PA also repeatedly denied the accusation that the movement was fraudulent or a lottery. They even hired an attorney to represent them and try to get the fraud order revoked. These efforts were futile. The Post Office Department was determined to maintain the fraud order set in motion in 1899 against the association and its founding officers and was continually searching for ways to limit their influence.

The Department of Justice gathered information to probe the activities of the officers, especially House, not to counteract any fraudulent beliefs. The MRB&PA provided the department with a list of local agents in order to show that they were not a sham organization, but the government disregarded this proof.

There were individuals who, under the guise of supporting the movement, took advantage of ex-slaves. They were either affiliated with an ex-slave organization or pretended to be affiliated with the movement to swindle money. To counter any misuse of funds within their organization, the MRB&PA had a grievance committee that would determine if an officer was guilty of squandering funds, and it took necessary action against him or her.

The goal of the investigations by the Bureau of Pensions, Post Office Department, and Justice Department was not to determine whether former slaves had a legitimate grievance or claim, but to stifle the movement.

The pension bills submitted to Congress received little serious attention. The Senate Committee on Pensions examined S. 1176 (a bill essentially similar in language to all of the other bills) and wrote an adverse report. This committee received its information (and thus a tainted view of the movement) from none other than the Post Office Department and the commissioner of pensions. The report described freedpeople in the movement as “ignorant and credulous freedmen,” and the committee concluded that “this measure is not deserving of serious consideration by Congress” and recommended “its indefinite postponement.”

Refer to Caption

Senate Bill 1176 is representative of the ex-slave pension bills introduced in both houses of Congress. This bill s new feature was the proposed pension payment scale based upon the age of beneficiaries. (Records of the U.S. Senate, RG 46)

When House learned of the committee’s report, she drafted a letter to the commissioner of pensions refuting its allegations and explaining the objectives of the association. She invoked both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Because one of the main objectives of the association was petitioning Congress for pensions to aid old ex-slaves, House reminded the commissioner that “the Constitution of the United States grants it[s] citizens[s] the priviledge [sic] to petition Congress for a redress of Greviance[s] [sic] therefore I cant see where we have violated any law whatever.”

In 1901 Dickerson was found guilty of “swindling” in city court in Atlanta, Georgia. The press reported that he would have to pay a $1,000 fine or be sentenced to one year on the chain gang. The conviction was overturned later that year by the Georgia State Supreme Court, which reasoned that in order to be convicted of swindling, Dickerson would have had to have claimed that an ex-slave pension bill had passed and become law or that an appropriation had been made to pay pensions, and not simply that he was advocating for the passage of pension legislation.

Then in May 1902 a special examiner of the Bureau of Pensions conducted an inquiry into Dickerson and drafted an affidavit of the investigation but found nothing incriminating. When Dickerson died in 1909, House soon became the leader in the forefront of not only the MRB&PA but of the movement.

After Congress responded so unfavorably to the pension movement, House took the issue to the courts.

In 1915 the association filed a class action lawsuit in federal court for a little over $68 million against the U.S. Treasury. The lawsuit claimed that this sum, collected between 1862 and 1868 as a tax on cotton, was due the appellants because the cotton had been produced by them and their ancestors as a result of their “involuntary servitude.”

The Johnson v. McAdoo cotton tax lawsuit is the first documented African American reparations litigation in the United States on the federal level. Predictably, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied their claim based on governmental immunity, and the U.S. Supreme Court, on appeal, sided with the lower court decision.

The Post Office Department was unrelenting as it continued to search for means to limit House’s influence and curtail the movement. After a prolonged investigation, House was arrested and indicted on charges of mail fraud. She was accused of sending misleading circulars through the mail, guaranteeing pensions to association members, and profiting from the movement. She denied ever assuring members that the government would grant pensions or that a law had been passed providing pensions for ex-slaves. There was also no evidence that she profited from the movement.

The Post Office identified activities as mail fraud without definitive evidence, and their decisions to deny use of the mails were nearly impossible to appeal.

After a three-day trial in September 1917, an all-white male jury convicted her of mail fraud charges, and she was sentenced to a year in jail at the Missouri State Prison in Jefferson City. She was released from prison in August 1918, having served the majority of her sentence, with the last month commuted.

This movement, against insurmountable odds, pressed for the passage of pension legislation to no avail. But being labeled as fraudulent—especially by determined federal agencies—sealed its fate.

Vice: Being Black in America Is a Health Risk. It’s Time for Reparations.

Cash would not only be a form of repayment, it would also undeniably improve people’s health.

While history offers ample justification for reparations, there’s an especially undeniable set of circumstances that illustrate the need to move forward with H.R. 40: Black people in the United States have, since slavery, been systematically overexposed to health risks while also being deprived of healthcare. This lethal combination continues to cause suffering and death, as well as a massive and measurable loss of wealth, because it is expensive to be sick in the U.S.

A healthcare-specific argument for reparations, then, should not be controversial. Public policies have made generations of Black people sick, and those losses ought to be paid back, in cash. Arguments for reparations are often dismissed by detractors who say they personally can’t explain how reparations would work and therefore, by some failure of logic, conclude no one possibly can.

But H.R. 40 could set out to calculate how much families have lost, from hospital charges to days of missed work, and arrive at a dollar amount that Black Americans are owed—unless Congress decides they would rather not know the answer.

It’s not hard to put numbers to this.

The disparities by the numbers

There’s no denying that being Black in America is a health risk. Racial health disparities have been extensively documented when it comes to asthma, arthritis, aggressive breast cancer, kidney disease, heart failure, maternal mortality, lung disease, chemical exposures, and overall life expectancy.

“Racial health disparities have existed as long as medicine has existed in this country,” said Brian Smedley, executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity.

The persistence of these disparities is astounding. In 1896, the sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois showed that Black children under five were three times more likely to die than white kids; today, Black infants are still twice as likely to die as white babies. In 1915, Booker T. Washington estimated that 45 percent of Black deaths were completely preventable. Nearly 100 years later, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars investigated why so many more Black Americans die before they turn 65 than white Americans. They found that 70 percent of the gap in early deaths was from treatable conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and appendicitis.


Illustration by Mona Chalabi. Source: BMJ, 2005


Illustration by Mona Chalabi. Source: BMJ, 2005

How many people have died from racial health disparities? In 2005, David Satcher, the former surgeon general, and colleagues, published an analysis of 40 years of death rates using data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In 1960, racial health disparities took the lives of more than 60,000 Black Americans. By 2000, the number had reached nearly 84,000. While the number of people dying from racial disparities has decreased since the early 2000s, let’s put this into perspective: For decades, the number of people dying from racial health disparities in the U.S. was even higher than the number dying from opioid overdoses today—yet only one of these crises was ever splashed all over the media and designated a national emergency.

You don’t have to go too far into the past to find the underlying causes of these health disparities

From the Middle Passage to slave labor camps to Jim Crow to the present, at the root of these disparities is segregation, which, as a matter of public policy, sorted Black people into places that incubate illness. The effect, according to Rodney Hood, the former president of the National Medical Association, in a 2001 column on reparations, has been to repeatedly lock Black people into “contagious, cruel, and stressful” environments while also locking them out of healthcare.

Mary Anne Adams is a 64-year-old Black woman who was born during the reign of Jim Crow in Oxford, Mississippi. The South that Mary Anne was born into by law restricted Black people from receiving healthcare. Jim Crow laws segregated hospitals in Mississippi and made it illegal for nurses to treat Black men in Alabama. One out of three hospitals in the South would not treat Black people even in emergencies, according to a study published the year after Mary Anne was born.

Though Mary Anne was one of 10 children, none were born in hospitals—indeed, fewer than 10 percent of all Black infants were born in hospitals in Mississippi at that time. “I have no recollection of Black women going to a hospital to give birth,” Adams said.

The outcome is what you would expect: Before the federal government forced desegregation in hospitals, more than six times as many Black babies were dying of diarrhea and pneumonia than white infants in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Missouri, a series of conscious policy decisions segregated the city, ultimately creating an 18-year Black-white disparity in life expectancy. As VICE has previously reported, the real estate industry put an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and white tears into this effort, starting with a 1916 racial zoning ordinance, which kept Black people from moving onto blocks that were mostly white. When the Supreme Court ended the ordinance, industry leaders turned to racial deed covenants, which said white home buyers couldn’t rent to Black people. When the courts stopped them from using those covenants, they created residential security maps, which allowed lenders to deny Black people mortgages on the basis of “undesirability” or other less overtly racist-sounding euphemisms. This practice, known as redlining because of the red color applied to the “undesirable” areas on maps, resulted in only 3.3 percent of Black people in St. Louis having mortgages by the early 1960s.

The result of these and other practices, such as designing highways that cut off Black neighborhoods, has been to trap Black people in places with greater exposure to environmental threats like air pollution and lead poisoning, while cutting off access to social goods like quality food and pharmacies.

Not only do these environments lead to Black communities facing higher rates of health problems, but at every step of the healthcare-seeking process, Black people run into man-made barriers: There are often fewer choices of providers in their communities, transportation barriers to seeing those providers, and higher costs to get the care needed. Even if people can clear those hurdles, there’s a risk of not receiving the same quality treatment as white patients for the same conditions, too often with deadly consequences.

For example, people with aggressive prostate cancer need surgery or a combination of radiation and hormone therapy. “Our data show that Black men with this form of prostate cancer are less likely to get any treatment in such circumstances,” said Quoc-Dien Trinh, an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. “If Black men don’t get treated when they have lethal cancer, then obviously they will appear to die more often from this form of cancer.”

Exactly how much do Black people pay?

Since the nation has been indifferent toward the human cost of these racial health disparities, scholars have tried to provoke concern by calculating their financial cost.

“We believe that policy makers should be motivated by the social justice argument, however for some that’s not enough,” said Darrell Gaskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions. “We wanted policymakers to know that injustice comes with a hefty price tag.”

The price tag Gaskin and colleagues calculated totaled $45.3 billion in healthcare costs and another $9.6 billion in lost wages for Black Americans in 2009 alone. While insurance covered an estimated 40 percent of those healthcare costs, Black people spent a staggering $12.5 billion out of pocket in just one year because of racial health disparities.

“It’s a combination of both the direct and indirect costs of medical care,” said John Ayanian, professor of medicine and director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan. “If conditions like diabetes or asthma or high blood pressure are not diagnosed early, those conditions will worsen and people will develop more complications, and those complications can cause significant direct medical costs—particularly if people are uninsured or underinsured.”

“There are also substantial indirect costs, when people have to take time off from work because they or a family member is ill or losing a job because of their health,” Ayanian said.

Black women with breast cancer, for example, are five times as likely to lose their private insurance and more than twice as likely to lose their jobs than white women with breast cancer. One reason, according to Jenny Spencer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is that the “time cost” of cancer is different for Black women. “Black women may be disproportionately likely to have jobs that do not offer flexibility in hours or paid sick leave,” Spencer said. In North Carolina, women also often have to drive a long distance or pay for a taxi or bus to get to a cancer clinic.

When Louise Tatum, of the South Side of Chicago, was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she felt failed by her community hospital, which lost her records and sent letters to the wrong doctor. Tatum, who is Black, travels an hour each way in a shared van for daily radiation treatments. A half-hour procedure is turned into a two-and-a-half hour journey at least, a consequence of how segregation puts distance between people and the services they will die without. “I almost urinated twice in the van, because no one would drop me off,” she said of one recent trip.

Since she started treatment, Tatum has lost her job. “There are not many things I can do,” she said. “I have swelling where I had my surgery and now I have radiation every single day. I haven’t had income since October.”

Black people individually pay a staggering price for health disparities, both because of how much they lose when they are sick, like Tatum, and how much more they have to pay because their disease is often much worse by the time they get care. Take the racial disparity in stroke: when a Black person has a stroke, they face an average cost of $25,782, while white people with the same condition are looking at $15,597. Black people pay roughly the same $10,000 racial tax for heart failure ($82,929 vs. $73,985).


Illustration by Mona Chalabi. Source: Neurology, 2006


Illustration by Mona Chalabi. Source: Neurology, 2006

Or consider that Black children more frequently need to visit the emergency room for asthma attacks—at an average cost of $2,116, according to Medical Expenditure Panel data—since they’re at greater risk of not having a primary care provider than white children. In Chicago alone, Respiratory Health Association researchers found that Black kids were five times as likely as white kids to visit the ER and determined that preventable charges totaled $6.1 million annually. That doesn’t include the costs of missed days of school and childcare.

Two of Rolinda Robinson’s daughters suffered from severe asthma attacks. Living in the Austin area of the West Side of Chicago, Robinson often drove her children nearly a half hour in the middle of the night to an emergency room she trusted, only to wait two or three hours to be seen. “We would be sitting in the emergency room until the next day to the point where I would be so drained that I could not go to work the next day, as well as she would be so sick that she would not be able to go to school or daycare,” Robinson said.

Though Robinson had health insurance for most of her children’s lives, her insurance did not cover all of the expenses that come with being a single parent trying to care for children with asthma. “There was the constant cost of going back and forth to ER, the gas to get there, paying for parking, and missing time off work,” she explained.

One of the straightest lines we can draw between a racial health disparity and lost wages is lead poisoning. For at least 20 years, it has been known that Black children are at a much greater risk of lead poisoning, a clear consequence of housing segregation that exposes them to lead-based paint and contaminated soil and water.

Lead poisoning has a destructive effect on health, which directly affects a person’s lifelong ability to make money: Children endure behavioral and cognitive problems that may hinder their chances at doing well in school and on tests. “There is strong evidence that exposure to lead in early childhood negatively affects a developing brain and has long-term negative effects on both cognitive achievement and behavior,” said Anna Aizer, an associate professor of economics and public policy at Brown University. “These children will grow up to earn less in adulthood.”

Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that a loss of one IQ point from lead poisoning may lead to a loss of more than $22,000 in lifetime earnings (adjusting for inflation). Now consider that 14 percent of the children poisoned in Flint, Michigan, had very high blood lead levels—above 10 micrograms, which works out to a lifetime loss of at least $162,800 in earnings per child. It is medically impossible to reverse the damage done to the nervous systems of these children. But it is very possible to compensate them for unnecessary harm.

Improving the financial health of Black Americans is critical for improving their mental and physical health

Cash is certainly not an on-off switch to fix racial health disparities (especially maternal mortality, which affects every socioeconomic class of Black women), nor can any amount of money make right the loss of so many lives. Yet, there is evidence that cash reparations would not only be a just form of repayment, but a massive evidence-based health intervention.

Public health scholars David Williams and Chiquita Collins have shown that improving the financial health of Black Americans is critical for improving their mental and physical health. When the racial economic gap was narrowed between 1968 and 1978, so too narrowed the racial health gap (this trend reversed with the widening economic gap in the 1980s).

Both Julián Castro and Elizabeth Warren have endorsed H.R. 40. Cory Booker said he will introduce a companion bill in the Senate; Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke all said they would sign it if they become president. Some candidates support reparations but have crossed out the cash payment option: Pete Buttigieg said he isn’t in favor of direct cash transfers; neither is Bernie Sanders, who said we need a solution other than “just writing out a check.” While former Vice President Joe Biden has not endorsed H.R. 40, Kate Bedingfield, his Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director, said Biden “believes that we should gather the data necessary to have an informed conversation about reparations, but he has not endorsed a specific bill.”

The healthcare case for reparations is about, as Kamala Harris argues, “the effects of generations of discrimination and institutional racism” on public health outcomes. (Harris has suggested reparations in the form of trauma treatment and mental healthcare, though she stopped short of endorsing cash payments to families.)

And reparations is also not about taking something away from white people to pay Black people. “Slavery was a federal and state institution,” explained Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the sponsor of H.R. 40. “I am not going to ask my neighbor who may happen to be white for a check. I am not interested in a check from individuals. I am interested in institutions who created the framework for this elongated period of slavery.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his case for reparations, argued that “special measures for the deprived have always been accepted in principle,” and suggested an analogy to the G.I. Bill of Rights for Black people and others who have been disadvantaged—one that would compensate with advantages in school, loans, jobs, and, yes, a check.

Such has been the approach to reparations in Chicago, where, in 2015, the city council voted to give $5.5 million to survivors of police torture, along with health services, job training and placement, college tuition, small business assistance, a permanent memorial, and a class on reparations to eighth-through-tenth grade students.

“No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries,” King wrote. But however you calculate it, a price can be placed on health disparities—and paid with interest.

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Chuck Collins: This is what reparations could actually look like in America

Historical precedent

“While a politically toxic concept today, there is precedent for reparations in the US—if not on this sort of scale. In 1988, US president Ronald Reagan formally apologized for the US government’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and, under the provisions of the Civil Liberties Act, paid $20,000 in reparations to over 800,000 victims of internment. Over $1.1 billion was initially allocated and an additional $400,000 was appropriated later to cover claims.

There are also examples of such payout globally. In accordance with a 1952 agreement, Germany has paid over $89 billion in reparations to victims of the Holocaust during World War II. German officials continue to meet with groups of survivors and their advocates to revisit guidelines and ensure that survivors receive the benefits. As recently as 2015, both Greek and Russian parliaments voted to demand that Germany pay them for the damage inflicted by Nazi occupation.

And yet, discussions about reparations in the US tend to stall before they get started. It’s true that questions about the mechanism and source of funds are complicated. Should the focus be on slavery, or should it include the broader manifestations of white supremacy? Who qualifies? Should we allocate direct cash grants or invest in programs that can more broadly work to expand black wealth? How can reparations lead to a broader understanding and healing between collaborators and perpetrators?

While difficult, however, these questions are not insurmountable.

Who pays?

“Many whites with little in the bank to show for their racial advantage will understandably be frustrated by the concept of reparations. If they never owned slaves—and neither did their ancestors—why should they have to pay? By the same token, many first- or second-generation Americans, whose European ancestors fled their own hardships to come to the US, feel miles and centuries apart from slavery.

The key point, however, is the unpaid labor of millions—and the compounding legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, discrimination in mortgage lending, and a race-based system of mass incarceration—created uncompensated wealth for individuals and white society as a whole. Immigrants with European heritage directly and indirectly benefited from this system of white supremacy.

It is true, of course, that many people have not shared in the economic gains equally, thanks to four decades of hyper-inequality. Today, the wealthiest 100 billionaires in the US have as much wealth as the entire African-American population combined. For this reason, I propose two concrete mechanisms to fund a national Reparations Trust Fund. The first is a graduated tax on wealth and inherited wealth. Households with wealth in excess of $5 million would pay a 1% tax, but rates would climb for billionaire households.

Secondly, I propose that the fund be capitalized in part by hefty penalties on wealthy individuals and corporations that attempt to move their funds “off-shore” or into complicated trusts to avoid taxation and accountability. There would also be stiff penalties assessed on wealth managers who aid and abet these wealth escapes by creating trusts and off-shore subsidies for the sole purposes of tax dodging.

Part of the austerity that many of our communities now face is the result of the estimated 8% of the world’s wealth that is now hidden off shore. (See Gabriel Zucman’s book Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens for more info.) Both a tax on wealth and stiffer penalties on tax dodging would have beneficial impacts on the larger economy for all workers, not just those who faced racial exclusion.

The road to reparations

The first step, politically speaking, would be for Congress to create a national commission. The work of such a commission would be to wrestle with the particulars of reparations and repair. Since 1989, Congressman John Conyers has repeatedly filed legislation to create this commission—HR40—but it continues to languish in committee. The number 40 in the bill’s name alludes to unfulfilled promises made to formerly enslaved Africans by the Homestead Act of the late 1800s. The act promised former slaves “40 acres and a mule.”

The commission could investigate many different forms of reparations. In his book published, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, Randall Robinson talks about a wide range of ways that reparations could be used, including the funding of cultural institutions, community initiatives, direct cash grants, and targeted wealth-building programs.

The commission could also determine eligibility. Scholars like William Darity will argue that eligibility should be tied to those who can demonstrate they have ancestors who suffered from forced migration and slavery, not those who came to the US voluntarily. For those who do qualify, the money could be paid in a lump sum. But that’s not the only form reparations could take shape. Some options include:

Direct stakeholder funds. These could take the form of direct cash grants without conditions to adults. Additional funds could be targeted for matching savings programs, homeownership, business start-ups, and other wealth building opportunities. Funds could be allocated to optional and free financial literacy training programs to enable people to make the most of their “stake.” (This is not out of paternalism but rather a recognition that along with unequal wealth comes the unequal knowledge of the workings of capital, saving, and investment—and that these tools can be powerful).

First-time homebuyer programs. The government could offer subsidized home mortgages similar to those that built the white middle class after World War II, but targeted to those excluded or preyed upon by predatory lending. Programs should also be available to descendants who were barred opportunities to get on family wealth creation programs.

Tuition-free higher education. Free tuition and financial support at universities and colleges for first-generation college students could be covered under reparations provisions.

Endowments for historical and cultural institutions. Reparations funds could provide one-time capital endowments to create and sustain museums and historical exhibits that teach the history of slavery and its aftermath, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

National history education programs. Alongside German reparations for Nazi Germany, there has been a national investment in education about the history of the Holocaust. The “Facing History and Ourselves” curriculum is now used in thousands of US high schools. A similar investment should be made to disseminate the history of African Americans to all segments of the society.

Historical monuments and markers. Throughout Germany, there are historical markers informing people about the legacy of the Holocaust. Over 30,000 commemorative bricks have been installed outside homes and apartment buildings where Jews, gays and lesbians, Roma people, and other targets of the Nazi regime lived prior to deportation to death camps. German residents have daily reminders of this history through what are called Stolperstein: “stumbling stones.” In the US, historical markers could mark buildings such as the US Capitol (“Built with Enslaved Labor”), sites of lynchings, and organized pogroms and riots, such as the 1924 attack on a black business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This would be particularly important in terms of broader education and reconciliation of those who were privileged by racially discriminatory policies.

Roots journeys to Africa. Tens of thousands of Jewish young people from the US go to Israel each year, part of a “making Aliyah” pilgrimage that helps them deepen their religious and cultural identity. These birthright trips are funded by the Israeli government and private agencies in order to promote resettlement in Israel as well as to facilitate deeper ties between that country and US citizens. A similar initiative could enable people with African heritage to visit Africa, learn more about their historical roots, and deepen friendships and understanding with the African continent.


To ignore the legacy of slavery and discrimination requires a debilitating denial on the part of whites—even those whose ancestors arrived from other lands in more recent times, and especially for those at the top of the wealth pyramid.

Science tells us “there is no such thing as race.” Yet for centuries, economic rewards have been allocated based on the level of melanin in our skin. I do not believe that we will ever be able to truly repair and heal from the material and psychological legacy of grouping people by race without an intensive process of introspection and, yes, material reparations.”

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Source: jujueda

Jack Peat: UK taxpayers were paying compensation to slave traders until 2015

Further Readings


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Affirmative Action

Wikipedia: Affirmative Action: United States

“The concept of affirmative action was introduced in the early 1960s in the United States, as a way to combat racial discrimination in the hiring process, with the concept later expanded to address gender discrimination. Affirmative action was first created from Executive Order 10925, which was signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6 March 1961 and required that government employers “not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin” and “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”.

On 24 September 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11246, thereby replacing Executive Order 10925 and affirming Federal Government’s commitment “to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each executive department and agency”. Affirmative action was extended to women by Executive Order 11375 which amended Executive Order 11246 on 13 October 1967, by adding “sex” to the list of protected categories. In the U.S. affirmative action’s original purpose was to pressure institutions into compliance with the nondiscrimination mandate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Acts do not cover veterans, people with disabilities, or people over 40. These groups are protected from discrimination under different laws.

Affirmative action has been the subject of numerous court cases, and has been questioned upon its constitutional legitimacy. In 2003, a Supreme Court decision regarding affirmative action in higher education (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 US 244 – Supreme Court 2003) permitted educational institutions to consider race as a factor when admitting students. Alternatively, some colleges use financial criteria to attract racial groups that have typically been under-represented and typically have lower living conditions. Some states such as California (California Civil Rights Initiative), Michigan (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), and Washington (Initiative 200) have passed constitutional amendments banning public institutions, including public schools, from practicing affirmative action within their respective states. Conservative activists have alleged that colleges quietly use illegal quotas to increase the number of minorities and have launched numerous lawsuits to stop them.”

New York Times: History of Affirmative Action

The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations

“The urge to use the moral force of the black struggle to address broader inequalities originates in both compassion and pragmatism. But it makes for ambiguous policy. Affirmative action’s precise aims, for instance, have always proved elusive. Is it meant to make amends for the crimes heaped upon black people? Not according to the Supreme Court. In its 1978 ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court rejected “societal discrimination” as “an amorphous concept of injury that may be ageless in its reach into the past.” Is affirmative action meant to increase “diversity”? If so, it only tangentially relates to the specific problems of black people—the problem of what America has taken from them over several centuries.

This confusion about affirmative action’s aims, along with our inability to face up to the particular history of white-imposed black disadvantage, dates back to the policy’s origins. “There is no fixed and firm definition of affirmative action,” an appointee in Johnson’s Department of Labor declared. “Affirmative action is anything that you have to do to get results. But this does not necessarily include preferential treatment.”

Yet America was built on the preferential treatment of white people—395 years of it. Vaguely endorsing a cuddly, feel-good diversity does very little to redress this.

Today, progressives are loath to invoke white supremacy as an explanation for anything. On a practical level, the hesitation comes from the dim view the Supreme Court has taken of the reforms of the 1960s. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. The Fair Housing Act might well be next. Affirmative action is on its last legs. In substituting a broad class struggle for an anti-racist struggle, progressives hope to assemble a coalition by changing the subject.

The politics of racial evasion are seductive. But the record is mixed. Aid to Families With Dependent Children was originally written largely to exclude blacks—yet by the 1990s it was perceived as a giveaway to blacks. The Affordable Care Act makes no mention of race, but this did not keep Rush Limbaugh from denouncing it as reparations. Moreover, the act’s expansion of Medicaid was effectively made optional, meaning that many poor blacks in the former Confederate states do not benefit from it. The Affordable Care Act, like Social Security, will eventually expand its reach to those left out; in the meantime, black people will be injured.

“All that it would take to sink a new WPA program would be some skillfully packaged footage of black men leaning on shovels smoking cigarettes,” the sociologist Douglas S. Massey writes. “Papering over the issue of race makes for bad social theory, bad research, and bad public policy.” To ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on a foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society (black vs white) are the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying. The lie ignores the fact that reducing American poverty and ending white supremacy are not the same. The lie ignores the fact that closing the “achievement gap” will do nothing to close the “injury gap,” in which black college graduates still suffer higher unemployment rates than white college graduates, and black job applicants without criminal records enjoy roughly the same chance of getting hired as white applicants with criminal records.”

White racism vs. White resentment

“I understand what Andrew and Publius were getting at when they argued that white racism was less common in the South than people think. This just isn’t 1965. This isn’t even 1985. But I have to differ with Publius on this idea that “white resentment” is somehow a different animal. And I especially have to differ with Andrew that Affirmative Action is responsible. Many of you know where I stand on Affirmative Action–I think it is, how shall we say, problematic. But that feeling does nothing to ameliorate my fundamental distaste for whites who use Affirmative Action as a proxy to “resent” blacks.

Ezra basically nails it:

The end of privilege — though of course, white privilege didn’t end, it was only somewhat reduced — hurts. Ending slavery meant destroying a lot of privilege, and it created a war. Reconstruction disrupted a lot of privilege and it produced countless lynchings and murders. Ending segregation destroyed a hefty amount of privilege, and it spurred societal tumult and vicious violence. By contrast, affirmative action was a relatively modest policy with fairly minimal effects on privilege, and it merely resulted in a potent political issue for conservatives. But to call white resentment the “poisoned fruit” of affirmative action is extremely strange. White resentment has been around a lot longer, and stems from people’s desire to protect the fruits of a gross and grave injustice.

Indeed. I’m going to take this a step further–The idea that Affirmative Action justifies white resentment may be the greatest argument made for Reparations–like ever. Let’s grant that white people have the right to resent black people because of 40 years of race preferences. But black people suffered through 300 years of race preferences which included, but weren’t limited to–slavery, pogroms, wanton rape, land theft, and wealth transfer. Southern whites (the very people who perpetrated much of that sad history) can have their resentment, unashamed and public–right after they give us the deed to the entire Deep South. Sounds fair to me. What’s that you say? Most whites didn’t own slaves? And your grandfather hated the Klan? My sentiments exactly.  Most black people don’t benefit from Affirmative Action either. So what are we saying here?

Racial resentment is just racial grievance—for white people. If it’s absurd to hear Civil Rights era black folks attributing the entire fate of black people to racism, than its just surreal to hear white folks chalking their problems up to Affirmative Action. One doesn’t have to be pro-Affirmative Action to see the hypocrisy in those who say to blacks, heaving under a legacy of hate, “get over it” and then turn to Southern white “resenters,” merely grappling with equality, and say “I understand.”Just to bang on this racial resentment thing a little harder, I think it’s no mistake that Geraldine Ferraro basically used this same phraseology when making her case against Obama. The whole phrase strikes me as a politically correct term for bigots. Frankly, believing that Affirmative Action actively influences your economic prospects as a white person, is only slightly more logical that believing that gay marriage will somehow affect marriage overall. But I suspect that they’re both proxies for folks  who have a long history of resenting blacks and gays which stretches way past the advent of Affirmative Action or gay marriage.One can have a principled case against Affirmative Action. But to resent black people–as a group–because of Affirmative Action is, really, the essence of racial prejudice. It’s a judgment passed on a whole group, based on a minority of that group. We lefties get banged over the head–rightly so–for, at times, being mealy-mouthed and soft-headed. Fair enough. All I’m asking for is some consistency.”

NY Times: Racial Justice Demands Affirmative Action

“Affirmative action has proved to be one of the most effective tools for expanding opportunity and promoting diversity for students of color. Race-conscious admissions policies have made campuses across the country more representative of our society. In doing so, they have helped remedy inequality created by centuries of discrimination.

Affirmative action has also become a symbol, maybe the most powerful symbol for some whites, of African-American advancement. It is a commitment to opening spaces once reserved for whites, and a reordering of power in ways that value African-American, Asian, Native American and Latino lives, voices and demands. Although it has been relentlessly attacked over the past 40 years, affirmative action has undermined the racial exclusivity of our nation’s universities.

If anything, we need to open those avenues wider, not close them. Although the progress we have made in recent decades is undeniable, it is fragile and incomplete; countless African-American, Native American, Asian and Latino students are still excluded from quality education at all levels. Undoing affirmative action now would reverse the gains we have made and dim the prospects for greater progress.

That would be a devastating outcome, not only for Americans of color but also for the entire nation. We have long known that diverse student bodies are in everyone’s interest. College campuses are important engines of integration because they help break down racial barriers that cause distrust.

NY Times: An End to the Class vs. Race Debate

New York Times: Justice Dept. to Take On Affirmative Action in College Admissions

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False Perception of White Discrimination and the Myth of Reverse Racism

Many recent studies show majority of white people believe discrimination against white people is just as bad if not worst than discrimination against black people

PRRI: Diversity, Division, Discrimination: The State of Young America | MTV/PRRI Report

More than 1 in 3 white young people believe “reverse” discrimination is a serious problem.

  • About one-third (36%) of white young people say discrimination against white people is as serious as that experienced by minority groups. Only 16% of black, 19% of API, and 28% of Hispanic young people agree.
  • White young men are more likely than white young women (43% vs. 29%, respectively) to say discrimination against whites is as serious a problem as discrimination against other groups.
  • A majority (55%) of white Americans overall—including roughly equal numbers of white men (55%) and white women (53%)—agree that discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against black people and other minority groups.

Nearly one-third of young people, and almost half of white young men, say efforts to increase diversity harm white people.

  • About one-third (32%) of young people, including 38% of white young people, believe efforts to increase diversity almost always come at the expense of whites.
  • White young men are more divided. Nearly half (48%) believe diversity efforts will harm white people, while more than half (52%) disagree. Only 28% of young white women believe efforts that promote diversity harm white people.

Young men and women have starkly different views on gender discrimination.

  • More than six in ten (63%) young women believe that women face a lot of discrimination in the U.S., while only 43% of young men say the same.
  • A majority (56%) of young men, including nearly two-thirds (65%) of white young men, say that women do not confront a substantial amount of discrimination in the U.S. today.

Market Place: Half of white millennials say discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against people of color

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Gen Forward Survey: The “Woke” Generation?Millennial Attitudes on Race in the US

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According to Everyday Feminist: Here’s Your Proof That White Americans Don’t Face Systemic Racism

For one, a startling number of Americans – 49% – think that “discrimination against whites” is “as big a problem as discrimination against” black people and other people of color. Research by The Washington Post corroborates this poll: “Whites now think bias against white people is more of a problem than bias against black people.”

Before you start blaming Trump supporters for these results, a recent poll of 16,000 Americans revealed that Clinton supporters, too, have some serious work to do. For example, 20% of Clinton supporters described Black Americans as “less intelligent” than White Americans. And, not so long ago, two Black women exposed the racism of “progressives” when they dared interrupt Bernie Sanders at a rally in Seattle.

This is a problem all across the board.”

The Root: Is Reverse Racism A “Thing?”




Cultural Bridges to Justice:  Training and Resource for Building Just Communities

Reverse Racism

(a)            “People of color are just as racist as white people.”

(b)            “Affirmative Action had a role years ago, but today it’s just reverse racism; now it’s discriminating against white men.”

(c)            “The civil rights movement, when it began was appropriate, valuable, needed. But it’s gone to the extreme. The playing field is now level. Now the civil rights movement is no longer working for equality but for revenge.” or

(d)            “Black Pride, Black Power is dangerous. They just want power over white people.” (Include here any reference to pride and empowerment of any people of color.)

Reality Check and Consequence

(a)            Let’s first define racism:

Racism = Racial Prejudice (white people and people of color have this)


Systemic, Institutional Power (white people have this)

To say people of color can be racist, denies the power imbalance inherent in institutionalized racism.

Certainly, people of color can be and are prejudiced against white people. That was a part of their societal conditioning. A person of color can act on their prejudices to insult even hurt a white person. But there is a difference between being hurt and being oppressed. People of color, as a social group, do not have the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group. An individual person of color abusing a white person – while clearly wrong, (no person should be insulted, hurt, etc.) is acting out a personal racial prejudice, not racism (by this power definition.)

(b)            This form of denial is based in the false notion that the playing field is now level. When the people with privilege and historical access and advantage are expected to suddenly (in societal evolution time) share some of that power, it is often perceived as discrimination.

(c + d)            c is a statement by Rush Limbaugh. Though, clearly he is no anti-racist, both c + d follow closely on the heels of “reverse racism” and are loaded with white people’s fear of people of color and what would happen if they gained “control.” Embedded here is also the assumption that to be “pro-Black” (or any color) is to be anti-white. (A similar illogical accusation is directed at women who work for an end to violence against women and girls. Women who work to better the lives of women are regularly accused of being “anti-male.”)

The Atlantic: The Myth of Reverse Racism

“Contrary to initial indications, the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice won’t be dismantling affirmative action after all. At least, that’s the current word from Trump administration officials, after a New York Times article claimed the department would be using the broad powers of justice to take on universities that it decided had discriminated against white people. The DOJ since clarified that it was gearing up to investigate complaints from dozens of organizations alleging that certain universities used quotas—which are illegal—to limit the number of Asian American enrollees.Still, the beacons have been lit, and America’s annual heated argument about affirmative action has begun anew, this time against the background of racial tensions that have helped define the early goings of the Trump presidency. As always, those tensions and long-held beliefs about racial advantages rule the debate.As my colleague Alia Wong notes, that debate is still hamstrung by a number of misconceptions about affirmative action, including the tendency to flatten issues pertaining to Asian Americans. These misconceptions are often exploited to serve the interests of white resentment that’s surrounded the use of race in job and university-application processes since the 1960s. To quote a 1995 Boston College Third World Law Journal  article: “The deployment of Asian Americans as an exemplary group in race relations is nothing new. The model minority myth of Asian Americans has been used since the Sixties to denigrate other nonwhites.”
The Times article jumped immediately to that white resentment. It identified “affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants” as the key target for the Justice Department. It also cited the former Reagan administration and Bush administration official Roger Clegg, who claimed that “it is frequently the case that not only are whites discriminated against now, but frequently Asian Americans are as well.”While the Times’s focus on “reverse racism” may not have entirely captured the actual policy issue in front of the DOJ, the connection was understandable. White animus against affirmative action is a driving force in the debate over race-conscious admissions.The usage of “reverse racism” and “reverse discrimination” arose in direct response to affirmative and race-based policies in the 1970s. Even as outright quotas and more open attempts to equalize the numbers of minority enrollees were defeated, the term stuck. A 1979 California Law Review article defines reverse discrimination as a phenomenon where “individual blacks and members of other minority groups began to be given benefits at the expense of whites who, apart from race, would have had a superior claim to enjoy them.”

Reverse racism—or any race-conscious policy—became a common grievance, one that helped shape a certain post-civil-rights-movement view of America where black people were the favored children of the state, and deserving white people were cast aside.

A recent Twitter thread from the Refinery29 writer Ashley Ford illustrates an example of just how common and extreme that grievance has become. She recounted personal anecdotes about acquaintances who assumed that black people could simply attend college for free:

In a follow-up story, Ford describes two prevailing responses to the thread. “There were many people who were shocked to hear anyone could believe Black people got to go to college for free,” she writes, “and others who insisted we actually do.”

It’s difficult to quantify the extent to which this distorted fear of “reverse racism” actually animates opposition to race-conscious admissions, but there are clues as to its ubiquity. Every few years, donors use those kinds of grievances as a rationale for creating white-only scholarships, such as the $250 Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship offered by Boston University’s chapter of College Republicans. Op-eds and lawsuits from individuals who believe they faced discrimination in admissions processes often rely on claims of reverse racism. The controversial Fisher v. University of Texas lawsuit was one such case that spawned columns alleging extensive reverse racism. (In that case, the Supreme Court upheld UT Austin’s affirmative-action program, which allows the consideration of race for certain applicants, on the condition that the school regularly assess the program’s merits and ensure all other methods fail to produce adequate student diversity.)

Data show that many Americans do perceive reverse racism to be a significant societal problem. A 2016 Public Religion Research Institute poll indicates that half of all Americans, 57 percent of all white people, and 66 percent of the white working-class believe that discrimination against white people is as big a problem in America as discrimination against black people.Other studies take that claim further, suggesting that white belief in reverse racism has steadily increased since the civil-rights movement and in their view has become the dominant racial bias in America. This trend appears to parallel the rise of Donald Trump, as a 2016 HuffPost/YouGov poll found that Trump voters think anti-white discrimination is a much more prevalent problem than is discrimination against any minority group.With respect to higher education in particular, a 2005 Gallup Poll found that, given a scenario with equally qualified applicants, white people were more likely to believe a black candidate would have a higher chance of getting into a given school than a white candidate of equal caliber. White people are generally much more likely to oppose affirmative action than they were two decades ago, and several polls indicate that the majority of white people do oppose it now.

Fears of reverse racism fly in the face of data. White students still make up almost three-quarters of all private external scholarship recipients in four-year bachelor’s programs, almost two-thirds of all institutional grants and scholarship recipients, and over three-quarters of all merit-based grants and scholarships, although white people only make up about 62 percent of the college student population and about half of all people under 19. White students are more likely than black, Latino, and Asian students to receive scholarships.

Also, existing data suggest that race-conscious admissions policies are the main factors keeping overall enrollment roughly representative of America’s racial demographics. A FiveThirtyEight analysis from 2015 found that colleges in states with affirmative-action bans are less representative of the state’s demographics than colleges that are still allowed to consider race. Other simulations suggest that replacing race-conscious policies with colorblind policies that take into account applicants’ socioeconomic status yields less racial diversity on college campuses.

Still, in today’s political climate, sentiment is probably more important than reality. And that’s why the move by the DOJ matters, even though it’s limited to an investigation on behalf of Asian-American plaintiffs. Asian Americans have often been treated as “a racial wedge to disenfranchise other communities of color.” In short, achievement by Asian Americans is used by people decrying reverse racism as the grounding logic to assail race-based programs. Those attacks are useful to white grievance only insofar as they remedy widespread perceptions of white disadvantage. For example, white support for a perceived “meritocracy” without affirmative action plummets amid overrepresentation of and competition from Asian American students, according to one 2013 study.

A 1993 article in this magazine by Stanley Fish perhaps best describes the paradox of that grievance. “Reverse racism is a cogent description of affirmative action,” Fish wrote, “only if one considers the cancer of racism to be morally and medically indistinguishable from the therapy we apply to it.” The current debate provides a showcase on just how—despite all evidence—the cancer and remedy have converged.

‘Reverse Racism’ Is A Giant Lie – Here’s Why


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