Posted on May 5, 2020

Coronavirus is Making the Case for Black Reparations Clearer Than Ever

William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, Newsweek, May 5, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis only heightens the urgency of black reparations. Long overdue, they are now more essential than ever.

Mounting statistics confirm disturbing evidence of racial disparities in reported coronavirus deaths. In Wisconsin, perhaps the state with the most extreme ratio of black morbidity, black people represent 6 percent of the population and 40 percent of the deaths. Those African American deaths have occurred at a rate 700 percent higher than black people’s share of the state’s population. In our home state of North Carolina, black people account for 22 percent of the population but close to 40 percent of the deaths.

So what explains these disproportionately large numbers of black people dying of the coronavirus?

Black people are overrepresented in jobs designated as socially essential but paying low wages in transportation, food and health services, as well as child and elder care. These are jobs where the physical distancing now needed for health safety is not possible. Consequently, African Americans are reduced to a Hobson’s choice: either having a greater risk of outright job loss or continuing employment in unsafe occupations. Horrifying as these deprivations are, they are not new. They are just the latest example of how racism and discrimination play out in America.


Ultimately, white supremacy has produced three stages of grievous racial injustice: slavery, legal segregation in the United States (America’s apartheid regime), and ongoing discrimination in housing, employment, policing, access to credit and health care, compounded by mass incarceration. These three stages of atrocities establish the case for black reparations.


Black reparations refer to America’s denial of the promised 40-acre land grants to newly emancipated black people at the end of the Civil War. {snip} To bring the native black share of the nation’s wealth at least into equivalence with its share of the population would require $10 trillion to $12 trillion.

A suitably crafted reparations initiative can erase the racial wealth gap by raising the black level to equal the existing white level. Indeed, as we write in our new book, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, “We view the racial wealth gap as the most robust indicator of the cumulative economic effects of white supremacy in the United States.”


The deeper root of black susceptibility to COVID-19 is greater black financial peril, indexed by the gulf in black and white wealth. Four white American billionaires—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg—have about as much wealth as 90 percent of black Americans.

The federal government can pay for reparations. The rapid enactment of the legislation of a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package proves Congress can find the needed money when motivated to do so. We know, now, the debt can be paid. We only need the will to do it.