Opposition and Misperceptions of Black Reparations

The following is an excerpt from the new preface of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, Second Edition by William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, available now from your favorite bookstore.

Opposition to Black Reparations

Two major strands of raw opposition to reparations arise out of misperceptions. One category of misperceptions involves the causes of racial economic inequality, particularly racial wealth inequality. This set of false beliefs treats the source of black-white economic disparity as dysfunctional or self-defeating behaviors on the part of black Americans themselves. We devote the entirety of chapter 2 of From Here to Equality to a dissection of this array of inaccurate presumptions.

A second category of misperceptions involves the historical record of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, false beliefs driven by the sustained poisonous authority of Lost Cause ideology. The nation’s failure to “de-Confederatize” has left intact a mendacious image of dignity for the secessionists’ racist narratives about black ability, intelligence, and character, and outright lies about the nation’s nineteenth-century history—all reaffirming the nation’s commitment to white supremacy. We devote portions of chapter 3 and chapter 8 and all of chapter 12 of this book to refutation of these errors. These false beliefs, running in a straight line from the Confederate secession, energized the attempt to overthrow the U.S. government on January 6, 2021.

“Simply put: The best historical, conceptual, and empirical case for reparations for Black Americans.”—Ibram X. Kendi


Blatant opposition represents an obvious obstacle to black reparations. But there are more subtle obstacles, additional barriers created by presumed supporters of redress. The first of these is the growing movement for so-called reparations at the local and state levels or financed by individuals and private organizations.

As we noted above, state and local governments’ efforts to fund a full reparations plan are destined to fall short of the mark. We estimate the city of Evanston, Illinois, which professes to have inaugurated the nation’s first municipal reparations plan, would require about $3.85 billion to close, independently, the $350,000 per capita racial wealth gap. The city’s annual budget is closer to $350 million.

Under its “reparations” plan, Evanston has appropriated $10 million, funding sufficient only to provide $25,000 housing vouchers to 400 of its 11,000 eligible black residents. The $25,000 vouchers, potentially going only to about 4 percent of Evanston’s population eligible for reparations, will fall $325,000 short of the amount required to erase the racial wealth gap, even for each lottery winner who receives a grant.

“Darity and Mullen challenge the United States to bear the moral weight of the legacies of slavery and deeply entrenched racism: to reject trifling, half-hearted measures and to approach—and perhaps even achieve—wholeness through reparations.”—New York Review of Books

Asheville, North Carolina, has proposed to set aside $2.1 million for its “reparations” plan. Set that figure and the city’s annual budget of $200 million against the $3.15 billion needed for Asheville to close the racial wealth gap for its approximate 9,000 eligible black residents. Amherst, Massachusetts, a much smaller town that also has indicated its desire to pursue local “reparations,” has an eligible black population of about 2,000 residents. The cost it will incur to eliminate the racial wealth gap for all 2,000 is $700 million. The town’s budget is $85 million.

California has established a reparations task force charged with bringing proposals for restitution for the state’s black residents to the Assembly. It is impossible for the task force to design a plan that will eliminate the racial wealth gap for eligible black Californians, about 2 million in number, since the cost would be $700 billion, more than double the state’s current $260 billion annual budget.

Piecemeal or local reparations are not capitalized sufficiently to eliminate the racial wealth gap. It would be better for towns, cities, and states inspired to support reparations to invest resources in lobbying and petitioning the U.S. Congress to adopt a national reparations plan and to refer to their local initiatives as “racial equity” projects rather than “reparations.”

William A. Darity Jr. is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University.  

A. Kirsten Mullen is a writer, folklorist, museum consultant, and lecturer whose work focuses on race, art, history, and politics.