As Americans debate how far the country should go to make amends for slavery and other racial injustices, a conversation reawakened by the killing of George Floyd, a city in North Carolina has taken the first step: It approved reparations for Black residents.
The city, Asheville, will provide funding to programs geared toward increasing homeownership and business and career opportunities for Black residents as part of a reparations initiative.
The measure was unanimously approved by the Asheville City Council this week, but it stopped short of stipulating direct payments, which are usually associated with reparations. City leaders said their goal was to help create generational wealth for Black people, who have been hurt by income, educational and health care disparities.
The city also apologized for its participation in and sanctioning of slavery, as well as other historical injustices perpetrated against Black people, who make up about 12% of the city’s population of 93,000.
Councilman Keith Young, who is one of two Black members on the council, was one of the measure’s chief proponents. He said during the group’s meeting that systemic change was long overdue.
“Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that basically fills the cup that we drink from today,” Young said.
But some said the reparations initiative did not go far enough. And others panned it outright.
William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University in Durham, N.C., wrote in an e-mail that he was “deeply skeptical about local or piecemeal actions to address various forms of racial inequality being labeled ‘reparations.’ ”
For reparations to be effective, he wrote, they would have to close the pretax racial wealth disparity in the United States, which would cost about $10 trillion to $12 trillion — three to four times more than total state and municipal spending.
“So piecemeal reparations taken singly or collectively at those levels of government cannot meet the debt for American racial injustice,” he wrote.
As part of the resolution passed by the council, city leaders in Asheville called on the state of North Carolina and the federal government to provide funding for reparations.
Councilwoman Sheneika Smith, who is Black, said during the council’s meeting that she had heard from residents who challenged the reparations measure.
“A lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten so far by e-mail is that, you know, ‘Why should we pay for what happened during slavery?’ ” Smith said. “And my pushback against that is reparations is more than restitution for what happened during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is a dark evil sin of chattel slavery that is the root of all injustice and inequity that is at work in American life today.”