Ron Daniels, Convener of the National African American Reparations Commission and President & Founder of Institute of the Black World 21st Century, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss reparation payments to Black residents.
KRISTIN MYERS: Now it’s something that we’ve discussed on this show several times before, that’s reparations. Now that’s the process of giving money to American descendants of slaves, not just as restitution for 400 years of slavery, but for the social and economic gaps that have existed ever since. Now the city of Evanston, Illinois, that’s right outside of Chicago, became the first to enact reparations for its residents in a program that, to start, is distributing $25,000 each to about 15 qualified households.
So let’s chat about this more. I want to bring in Ron Daniels, Convener of the National African American Reparations Commission and President and founder of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century. So Evanston will be a pilot for so many other cities and states. I’m wondering if you think that success in Evanston could really lead to successful programs elsewhere?
RON DANIELS: Oh, absolutely. And it’s a– it’s a milestone, and it’s a model. And we’re particularly proud in the National African American Reparations Commission for having played a crucial role in bringing this about, because we went in to make sure that the definitions, the criteria, and everything were in place. And so yes, this housing program is the first project to come off the– in terms of the initiative, but there will be many others.
And there are a number of cities across the country that are taking an interest, Providence, Rhode Island, for example, Asheville, North Carolina, Greenville, North Carolina, Burlington, Vermont. So there are a number of cities across the country. So the importance of Evanston is that it is a blueprint, it is a model.
And let me just say that while people talk about cash payments and money and that we kind of recoil a little bit about that, because reparations is really not only about a check. It’s about much more than that. So in the future of the housing program, the program in Evanston, Illinois, for example, might do health care. It might do economic development.
There can be both direct benefits, but there may be what we call community benefits as well. But no question but that this is a huge development, and it will also give a boost to the effort to do reparations at the national level by way of HR 40, the bill to set up a commission to develop reparations proposals for African Americans.
KRISTIN MYERS: Now you mentioned some of those other cities, like Asheville, North Carolina, that are, at the moment, considering enacting reparations for their residents. I’m wondering if you think that reparations, at least right now, is best done on a local city level or perhaps even a state level, one, to make it actually get passed? HR 40, that bill that you mentioned, has been introduced in Congress for decades now, and it has not gone anywhere.
But we, of course, have seen great strides being made on a more local level. So is that the most pragmatic approach to get reparations actually moving in the United States? And do you think that perhaps these local governments are best tasked to making sure that the residents are getting reparations in the best way to create equity inside of those cities and states?
RON DANIELS: Well, I think it’s really both. There’s, I think, a kind of synergistic relationship between these. And let me just say, we have to also give a big shout out to the state of California. The state of California, under the leadership of Shirley Weber, a professor who was chair of the– of the Black Caucus, Legislative Black Caucus in California, was able to get California to pass a bipartisan bill and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, which is– mirrors HR 40.
So we have a model at the municipal level in Evanston. And we now have a model in the state of California. But let me just say this, that the local reparations are important. But as you look at Evanston, it’s $10 million over 10 years. And so already you have residents correctly saying but that’s not enough, we need more and whatever, and they’re correct.
So Evanston is really sort of an incremental step forward. The big picture is really the federal level. And yes, HR 40 was initially introduced by Congressman John Conyers in 1989 and was essentially an educational bill. But I have to beg to differ. The bill that’s before the Congress of the United States right now is on the verge of passage.
In the last Congress, I think we had– and we coordinate, by we, I mean the National African American Reparations Commission, a huge coalition that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Congress Center for– Center for American Progress, Human Rights Watch, the National Council of Churches, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, N’COBRA, so there’s a huge momentum. In the last Congress, we had 173 sponsors. We’re now approaching about 175 on the House side. It’s been introduced as S 40. And the Senate has, as of last week, 19 sponsors.
The president of the United States, Biden has said he is open to actually signing the bill. So we have made huge progress in terms of HR 40. And that is important, because that’s where the real– the real dollars are. This is– when we’re talking about the need for trillions of dollars over x numbers of years, it has to be the federal legislation that ultimately will actually provide the kind of resources to reinvest in communities and create the kind of equity that you referenced earlier.
KRISTIN MYERS: What happens after reparations? Because reparations, of course, might help folks, you know, buy a house, go to college. But we have seen that Black Americans are more likely to return or fall into lower socioeconomic classes. So after we’ve distributed those checks or participated in those housing and education programs, how can we ensure that even after we’ve moved Black Americans closer to their white counterparts, at least when it comes to the starting line, that we keep the race equitable all throughout?
RON DANIELS: Well, I think that– that has to do with the shape of the proposals that are going to be debated and ultimately rolled out at the federal level. Because at the end of the day, as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has so eloquently put it, and incisively put it, really, reparations is the only overarching policy that gets at the heart of structural institutional racism. The inequalities, the wealth gap, all of these are reflective of America’s original sin, and that is– or one of the original sin, because the first one was the dispossession of Native Americans.
The second, of course, was enslavement and all of, as you referenced, the derivative racially-exclusionary policies, the GI Bill, the FHA, all of these, and redlining, which is the case in Evanston. So when we– so we’re talking about really, how do we change the economy? We’re looking at creating a more democratic economy in this country, and reparations is one of the tools. It is– and actually, the principal tool by which that will be accomplished.
So we’re talking big change here in terms of the debate about how we move forward. America will never, ever be the same again, and for the better, because we will have cleansed racism and structural institutional racism out of our system and created a more equitable system where there’s more social ownership, a less gap between those who are wealthy and those who are less fortunate. So I– I’m really optimistic that this is– we’re on the brink of something really wonderful in terms of creating a new America.
KRISTIN MYERS: Absolutely. We can only hope and wait to see what kind of progress can be made with this and other reparations policies around the country. Ron Daniels, Convener of the National African Americans Reparations Commission and President and founder of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century. Thanks so much for joining us today.
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