CN July 24, 2014

On today’s show – a bit of a history lesson, largely from a few decades ago.
You’ve probably entertained this thought yourself – why is it, a hundred years after slavery, that black America still seems so far behind? In educational achievement, employment and just financial stability, African Americans consistently lag behind other ethnic and racial groups.

Well, let’s run a scenario. Let’s say your parents or grandparents were unhappy in Logan Square  in, oh, 1965, and they were able to scrape together a little down payment and buy one of those new ranch-houses in Niles for 39,000 dollars. When they passed away in the 90’s they were able to hand you and your sister that house, now worth about 270k, and a couple of IRA’s, enough to get you and your sister started on a fairly stable life, despite the economic downturns.

But now let’s adjust the scenario. You’re black and living in west Lawndale, and you, too have worked hard and saved a little bit of money. But there are no federal loan programs for you, because the banks and the government drew a red line around your neighborhood on a map. So the only way to buy that little house on 61st street was to buy it on contract from the seller. You make your payments for years, but you have no equity and the owner (who, by the way isn’t really the owner, but a predatory real estate dealer who got the house by scaring its former white owners out and picking the house up for a few thousand dollars) – that owner is free to ladle on all sorts of charges and fees, and makes no repairs on the house, so if you do make it through the contract sale, chances are you’re pretty much broke, and the neighborhood is filled with foreclosed or low-value houses, so you’ve spent your money and you have almost nothing to show for it.

That’s our question for today. What happens when generations of a family cannot accumulate wealth and pass it onto their kids? Is there anything that can be done to turn that situation around? What about a form of reparations? Not for slavery, as if that weren’t enough, but for the racist, predatory economic policies that were created, not in distant history, but in most of our lifetimes, and validated by our own local and federal governments? Can we do something about that?

Our conversation today is inspired by a striking piece in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, called the case for reparations.

Our panelists are Hal Baron – historian, activist and former Director of Policy for the Harold Washington administration, and Salim Muwakkil, WVON host and senior editor at In These Times.



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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