A home but no inheritance: The Case for Reparations

Thinking about the (property-devaluing/racial demographic) changes in my parents’ neighborhood, the 25 (!)  years left to save up before I can collect Social Security (if it exists then) and the black-white wealth gap after reading “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ epic piece in The Atlantic.


In painstaking detail, TNC makes a dispassionate (and absence of passion is important, because to critics, having any feels about racism invalidates any claim) argument for some sort of national bookkeeping on what was stolen and what is owed. Not based on slavery, but housing discrimination and its effect on black families’ ability to create economic stability.

TNC writes about the creation of the black ghetto in Chicago through redlining and contract leasing. One day soon, I plan to chronicle the changes in the neighborhood where I grew up – the ones you can measure, like property values and racial demographics, and the ones that are harder to quantify, like the sense that the neighborhood is in a steep, irreversible decline.

Thirty-four years ago, my family was the only black one on the street – a point that so irritated the white family next door that they moved not long after we arrived. Over the years, white families have disappeared and black ones are in their place. Now a few houses are for rent. We think one is Section 8. My dad had to call the police on some folks who had a loud party (like speakers in the yard party) that continued past 1 a.m. Cars are parked in front yards. Yards are unkempt. Front porches are home to stair climbers and other equipment not meant for the porch.

This home will not be an inheritance. It will not be passed from generation to generation. My parents are retired, in their 70s. Their opportunity to build wealth is gone.

The average white family has 20 times more wealth than the average black family. Most wealth is passed down from generation to generation. Most of a black family’s wealth is in their primary home.

And even though by every quantifiable measure – college degrees, good credit, no consumer debt, two-parent family, no unwed births, pants that never sag, etc., etc. – my parents did all the right things, it won’t matter. They were not able to “perform” their way into wealth.

I cannot capture how breathtakingly depressing it is to be reminded again and again how steep the odds are against you.

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