First, for the sake of argument, let it be said that it is possible to find a way to decrease the disparity that exists between different races and economic strata. What is the “best” way to reach this goal? “Best” here is defined as 1) finding a way that will not lead to greater animosity between individuals for the sake of making them more equal; 2) finding a way that will encourage further decreases in disparity in the future, and not just a bandage to put on a wound that keeps on festering and 3) finding a way that makes those who gain by a decision not feel demeaned or patronized, but rather better about themselves and their culture.
One possible way of decreasing disparity, as discussed in Robert Allen’s Past Due: The African American Quest for Reparations and The Economics of Reparations by William Darity Jr. and Dania Frank, where Blacks feel that “justice must be served” (Allen 325) and there is a social movement for Blacks to gain “compensation for the enslavement of their ancestors” (Darity and Frank 334). However, would such a mandated reparation payment resolve the actual disparity that exists? Would it reduce the animosity between individuals? Would it encourage further decreases in disparity in the future and not just cover up a deep societal cut? And, lastly, would reparation make people feel proud rather than demeaned or patronized?
In Robert Allen’s classic Black Awakening in Capitalist America, Allen, himself, answers these questions by stating that one of the pitfalls of such a reparation movement could actually be the ongoing empowerment and economic advancement of the new black elite at the expense of the masses of working class and poor peoples. This can be called “embourgeoisment” or the “bourgeoisification” of reparations.
Darity and Frank note that there are different ways that this money could be distributed, and it is necessary to determine the ramifications prior to distribution. It is true that a significant reduction in economic inequality may be a necessity for equal opportunity. However, are just these reparations enough to further Black economic independence, especially with such poor populations still existing in this country—as well as worldwide? Further, going back to the same three questions above, do such reparations actually end racism or just heal it for a the short term?
In the chapter “Interracial Goals,” Arthur Lewis looks at the three approaches of a homogeneous state, the raceless state and the plural society in terms of helping the different races live together in peace. He analyzes how each of these three approaches has worked in society to date and notes that the first two the homogeneous state and the raceless state are not feasible. The first will not work, because partition cannot be effected equitably and without leaving too many people on the wrong side of the border; the second similarly will not be feasible unless both majority and minority parties wish to live together on such terms. Thus, one is left with the third approach of the plural society. Lewis notes that as a long-run goal it is inferior to the other two alternatives, because it keeps group differences alive and away from rather than toward economic equality. It also does not answer the three questions above in a positive fashion. The only thing that can be said is that for the short-run “it is a refuge from cleavage and strife” or the “best that we can do for the time being” (25). That is not saying very much, surely.
It appears, then, that of the different ways to meet these three questions noted above, that it may be best to find ways to reduce disparity by changing public policy in areas such as housing and home ownership. The changing determinants of Inter-racial home ownership disparities: New York City in the 1990s and “A dream deferred or realized: the impact of public policy on fostering black homeowners in New York City throughout the 1990s by Lance Freeman and Darrick Hamilton, both show how the “prescription for change” is taking not one action, but several: 1) Combating racial discrimination in housing through vigorous enforcement of anti-bias laws; 2) Continuing and strengthening policy reforms such as the Community Reinvestment Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act; and 3) Improving financial literacy and education and information on access to credit.
The authors admit in The changing determinants of Inter-racial home ownership disparities: New York City in the 1990s that “For both blacks and Hispanics, their characteristics account for the majority of their home ownership deficits” (320) Thus, “even if” all of the disparate treatment were eradicated, there would still remain huge gaps in home ownership. Yet, they conclude “it may be possible” as seen with the positive results in the 1990s, “to take steps to avoid compounding racial and ethnic inequality through housing policy, which in turn could lead to a positive cycle of wealth accumulation for these groups” (320)
Once again, such conclusions by Freeman and Hamilton are not anything to cheer about. Policy changes in housing may bring some changes, but the disparity still remains. Unfortunately, that is the conclusion of all these approaches. Regardless of what approach is taken, the racial and economic disparities remain. As with anything else, one has to look at the best case scenario. It appears that policy change is this best case. First, it does not appear to increase animosity between the races; second, it seems to be more than just putting a bandage on a festering sore—people actually have a home to call their own for the first time; and third, it does not demean or patronize people. These homeowners are proud of their new housing and the improvements in their lives. They do not believe they are being handed something for nothing. In the United States, racial inequality continues to exist, even 50 years after the Brown decision. Incidents of police brutality and racial profiling show that civil rights enforcement remains a necessity.
Although there is a sizeable black middle class, the number of poor blacks is just as prominent. Controversies among both whites and blacks on the way to resolve this situation continue. Unfortunately, it is clear that the goal of racial equality remains an ongoing struggle within the United States and around the world. As Richard America notes, Americans are accountable for their own sins.
Allen, Robert. Black Awakening In Capitalist America: An Analytic History. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1993
Allen, Robert. “Past Due: The African American Quest for Reparations.” Black Scholar, 28.2 (1998): 2-17
America, Richard. “The Theory of Restitution.” A Different Vision: Race and Public Policy. Ed. T.D. Boston. London: Routledge, 1997. 154-162
Darity, Jr. William and Dania Frank. “Economics of Reparations.” American Economic Review, 93.2. (2003) 334-337
Freeman, Lance and Darrick Hamilton. “The changing determinants of inter-racial home ownership disparities: New York City in the 1990s.” Housing Studies 19.2: (2004). 301-323.
Freeman, Lance and Darrick Hamilton. A dream deferred or realized: the impact of public policy on fostering black homeownership in New York City throughout the 1990s. American Economic Review. (2002) 92.2: 320-321.
Lewis, W. Arthur. Racial Conflict and Economic Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.