A Majority of Detroit Wants Reparations for Black Residents. What Happens Next?
Chanelle Chandler, Yahoo, April 7, 2023
As Detroit moves ahead with a plan to provide reparations to Black residents, a recent survey sheds new light on Detroiters’ perceptions of racial inequality, and the role the government should play in addressing such issues.
According to a March survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study and the Center for Racial Justice, about 63% of Detroit residents support some form of reparations and about 70% say addressing racial and ethnic inequality should be a high policy priority for elected officials.
The survey comes after a successful 2021 campaign led by Keith WIlliams, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, to make Detroit the first city in the country to include a reparations initiative on the ballot. The initiative, called Proposal R, would create a reparations task force to make recommendations on housing and economic development to address the decades of discrimination and inequality that Black Detroiters endured. The proposal passed with 80% of the vote.
The 13-member task force has been charged with determining how, exactly, the city will implement and fund its reparations program, and who will be eligible. Among its responsibilities are investigating the devastation tied to the legacy of slavery and the perpetual damage of the Jim Crow era, and producing short-, medium- and long-term recommendations for housing and economic development programs aimed at creating and boosting opportunities for Black Detroiters.
Ahead of the task force’s first meeting on April 13, researchers at the Center for Racial Justice wanted to get a deeper understanding of Detroit residents’ support for reparations and their perceptions of racial inequity more broadly.
According to the survey, “although most Detroiters support reparations and view policies that address racial inequity as a high priority, there is significant variation in Detroiters’ level of support for reparations based on their perceptions of racial inequity.”
The survey revealed that about 70% agree that the legacy of slavery and discrimination continues to affect Black Americans and are more likely to support reparations, compared with 30% who disagree. A substantial majority of Detroiters, 71%, also believe that the average Black person is worse off than the average white person when it comes to income, wealth and overall finances. Those people are more likely to support reparations compared with residents who do not believe the average Black person is worse off.
Although 13% of those surveyed said they oppose reparations, just over 40% of those who were opposed said that addressing racial and ethnic inequality should still be a high policy priority for the local government.
Detroit, which is home to almost 500,000 Black residents, about 78% of its population, is one of the poorest major cities in the U.S., with over a third of its residents living below the poverty line.
In a resolution supporting the ballot initiative, Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield cited the historic racial disparities between whites and African Americans that need to be addressed, such as discriminatory housing practices, as well as inadequate access to clean water and sufficient sanitation.
In March 2022, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced plans to replace I-375 with an urban boulevard to activate economic development and create easier access to neighborhoods that had been cut off by the highway. In September, the Biden administration awarded Detroit $105 million in a grant from the Department of Transportation for the project, which includes the construction of a 190,000-square-foot structure featuring a hotel, housing units, a conference center and a business collaboration space, among other things.
But Williams questioned whether elected officials in Michigan like Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who are white, are the right people to lead such an initiative.
“It’s time for the country to come to grips with what happened to Black folks,” Williams said. “You can’t repay for the lost lives or the broken hearts, but you can repay for some of the money that was taken from us and the wealth that was stolen from us.”