And Tuesday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by the two Black supervisors, Nate Miley and Keith Carson, to support community reparations for African Americans. It built on a June 2011 resolution. The resolution, according to a press release from Miley’s office, “detailed the oppressive and lasting effects of racist local policy including the loss of economic stability and gain, comparably worse medical outcomes and life expectancies and psychological suffering.”
The resolution calls for “all cities, law enforcement agencies, organizations, institutions and individuals who have advanced or benefited from racial inequality” to apologize and change policy to combat racism as well as providing funding for reparations.
I will confess that a few months ago the thought of reparations would have raised the hairs on the back of my neck. That was before I started studying and listening to Black church leaders share their experiences. That deepened my understanding significantly.
I re-listened to a Q Ideas talk by the Rev. Duke Kwon, the lead pastor at a multi-ethnic church (Grace/DC, Meridian Hill in Washington D.C.). He laid out the Biblical case for restitution, citing 400 years of theft from Black people. He related the Bible story of Luke 19 about the tax collector Zacchaeus and suggested it doesn’t matter how many generations have passed. He contended that the Bible calls us to love our neighbor and do so sacrificially.
It was a challenging message when I heard it the first time and it remains so.
Watching many discussions brought home to me that I have a heritage, but Blacks whose bodies and lives were stolen as slaves have no African family history. Their last name was that of their owner. To hear leading black pastors such as T.D. Jakes of Dallas recount his influence in the pulpit vanished to being just another Black man when he was driving his car.
When I realized how federal housing policy, established in the 1930s, essentially banned making federally-backed loans in Black neighborhoods, it brought home how it robbed many Blacks of the investment that for most families produces the most wealth over time. Today homes in historically Black neighborhoods appraise for less than similar houses in different neighborhoods.
A 2018 report by the left-leaning Brookings Institution reported that the appraisal gap is $48,000, while a 2020 study in Minneapolis put the number at $33,000. Another 2020 study reported that the gap has doubled between 1980 and 2015 despite the fair housing laws. And there were factors beyond the federal “redlining” policy.
The county resolution should spark needed discussion. It’s also important that the discussion include the disastrous effect of the 1960s Great Society legislation that established the welfare state. Prior to that, 70% of Black children grew up with a mother and a father—today about 75% are born to single mothers. There are two generations of Black men who have been raised without any fatherly influence—a factor seen in the gang violence that plagues many Black neighborhoods.
It’s a complicated tough issue, but, as believers, we are called to value all people as unique creations of a God who loves them. That love perspective needs to lead the discussion.