David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Public Affairs Quarterly 21 (3):255-274 (2007)
The renewed interest in the issue of black reparations, both in the public sphere and among scholars, is a welcome development because the racial injustices of the past continue to shape American society by disadvantaging African Americans in a variety of ways. Attention to the past and how it has shaped present-day inequality seems essential both to understanding our predicament and to justifying policies that would address and undermine racial inequality. Given this, any argument for policies designed to pursue racial justice must be, at least in part, backward-looking, justifi ed partly as compensation for the effects of the wrongs of the past. However, some arguments about black reparations, both pro and con, are focused too far in the past. An unspoken assumption of much of the debate about black reparations is that these would be reparations for slavery. This, we argue, is a mistake. Racial inequality in the United States today may, ultimately, be based on slavery, but it is also based on the failure of the country to take effective steps since slavery to undermine the structural racial inequality that slavery put in place. From the latter part of the nineteenth century through the fi rst half of the twentieth century, the Jim Crow system continued to keep Blacks “in their place,” and even during and after the civil rights era no policies were adopted to dismantle the racial hierarchy that already existed. An important part of the story of racial inequality today is the history of housing and lending discrimination in the second half of the twentieth century (McCarthy 2002; 2004). Home equity, for many Americans, is a very important source of wealth, and the decades after World War II were ones of rapid home equity growth. They were the decades that saw the creation of a large, mostly suburban, middle class. But the middle class that was created was also mostly White, and this was due largely to government policies that (in many cases intentionally) excluded Blacks from the opportunities to get into the home market and benefi t from home equity growth. In this paper we argue that recent housing and lending discrimination constitutes an important basis for black reparations..
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