Media activist Nando Vila makes what he calls a moral case for Americans to pay reparations to descendants of black slaves. As Vice President for Programming at the Fusion.net website, Vila said that the logic for reparations is this: "white people in America have systematically stolen wealth from black people for hundreds of years through slavery, Jim Crow laws, housing discrimination, and various other crimes." The evidence Vila cites is that white household, on average, are approximately 16 times more wealthy than black households in the U.S.
Vila examines the plans that academics and fellow activists to make slave reparations a reality. He looks at the work of Dr. William Darity of Duke University. In an interview with Vila, Darity sets out what would be the process of determining eligibility and the level of payment.
According to Darity, to receive slave reparations, applicants would have to show evidence of slave ancestry, while they would also have to demonstrate having self-identified on government forms as black, African-American, colored, or Negro for at least 10 years prior to the application. The baseline for the reparations, said Darity in an interview, is the "40 acres and a mule" promised by some federal authorities to manumitted slaves near the end of the Civil War in the 1860s. Precedents for reparations include the payments made to Japanese-Americans interned in American concentration camps during the Second World War.
Vila also cites Prof. Boris Bittker of Yale University who proposed back in 1973 a sum that would use the total number of African-Americans in the country and multiply that sum by the difference between the per capita income for blacks and white. In the early 1970s, that sum would have exceeded $34 billion and paid out over 20 years. Even so, Vila said that "…no amount of money could ever begin to redress the horrible crimes committed upon African Americans."
Vila suggests that one way to fund the payment of slave reparations would be to tax non-blacks at a higher rate than black Americans. Other options include additional debt obligations through the issuance of government bonds and defunding other government obligations such as national defense.
Vila wrote that reparations for 250 years of slavery, 75 of Jim Crow laws, and "continued insidious and systemic racism," and says "we owe a lot; more than we could ever pay." He called for repairing what he considers a moral injury. He wrote, "American democracy would not exist if not built on theft from black people. It’s time we publicly acknowledge and begin the process of atoning for it."
Among those who are also calling for slave reparations is activist Ta-Nehisi Coates – a writer and Howard University drop-out – who has written that reparations must compensate blacks, not only for slavery, but also for instances when whites lynched blacks and seized their property. Housing discrimination is yet another instance of discrimination that demands redress, according to Coates. Vila referred to Coates as the "most important political writer in America."
Other academics have debated how to make slave reparations effective. Prof Larry Neal of the University of Illinois calculated the difference between the wages that slaves would have received from 1620 to 1840, minus estimated maintenance costs spent by slave owners, and reached a total of $1.4 trillion in 1983. Once an annual rate of interest of 5 percent is added, the total comes to more than $6.5 trillion in 2014—just in lost wages. In a separate estimate in 1983, James Marketti calculated it at $2.1 trillion or $10 trillion today. In 1989, economists Bernadette Chachere and Gerald Udinsky estimated that labor market discrimination between 1929 and 1969 cost black Americans $1.6 trillion.
The issue of reparations has been taken up during the recent Democratic presidential debate when Coates took President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton to task for not supporting reparations.