Asheville – Grant Millin, during public comment at the last Asheville City Council meeting, raised questions about equity in the city’s efforts to pay reparations. Reparations, in this context, are intended to undo injustices perpetrated during urban renewal more than those committed when slavery was considered an acceptable cultural norm in the Old South. To remedy the harms of bulldozing African-American communities for presumably public purposes, the city is proposing returning such lands now owned by the city to the black community. Exactly how that will be done, of course, requires a commission and a visioning process with a lot of public engagement.
Millin had phoned-in to lodge some complaints about the city’s selection for the person who would hold the title of reparations process public manager. The action is part of the second phase of the city’s reparations process. The first phase was “Information Sharing and Truth Telling,” and the third will be “Finalizing and Presenting the Report.” The manager’s responsibilities would entail tasks like deciding how to appoint members to the commission, continuing public engagement, deciding on what will constitute reparations, and assisting in the preparation of the final report.
To locate the manager, the city reached out to minority- and women-owned businesses and encouraged applicants to seek the same for subcontractors. The successful applicant was TEQuity, a minority- and woman-owned firm, which will subcontract with the nonprofit RTI International, which specializes in economic analysis. TEQuity will be paid $365,583 from the $2.1 million the city promised to pay in reparations this year.
Millin began by indirectly calling attention to something that appeared to be a blatant exercise in systemic, implicit racism. That is the assumption that black people are an amorphous, homogeneous blob such that what happens to one person of color happens to all of them. This was demonstrated by talk about repaying all black people for land that actually was taken only from a few. Millin said absolutely no attempt had been made to find out “exactly who” had been harmed by urban renewal. He was speaking logically, like a businessman, instead of accepting that the promise of reparations is more of an exercise in emotional consolation for, again, people who want to treat all black people as that blob wherein an affront or setback experienced by one person of color reverberates with equal impact on all members of the black community.
Secondly, Millin took issue with the impulsiveness behind offering up 52 acres of prime real estate for reparations. He said no attempt had been made to establish the provenance of the lands and discern exactly who had been impacted by urban renewal. Furthermore, no attempt had been made to have a skilled real estate appraiser assess the fair market value of the properties. If equity, in the vernacular sense of the word, was what the city sought, it seemed some amount of mathematical analysis should be part of the process.
Thirdly, Millin thought the city should be more transparent about the subcontractor it is engaging for the project. “What is her company about?” asked Millin. He saw TEQuity engaged in information technology, equity, and healthcare, but he was having difficulty conjecturing about its business plan and qualifications. “Does she have a website?” he asked. This person, he said, was going to be charged with handling Asheville’s reparations, a commitment that had made national news, and the whole world would be watching.
Back during the 2020 presidential campaign, Michael D. Tanner at the Cato Institute wrote a short piece on the subject of equity and reparations. He stated, “Systematic government action has deprived African-Americans of wealth and property that would otherwise be theirs. This much seems incontestable. From slavery to Jim Crow and beyond, the unfair treatment of African-Americans could not have occurred without the active participation of the US government.”
Restitution, however, would be on a par with putting the scent of perfume back in the bottle. There is the question of who should pay and who should benefit. If race is to be the criterion, what is to be done with the estimated 1/3 of African-Americans who have at least one white ancestor? And, what is to be done about “incomplete and inaccurate” records of slavery? How should Africans who first set foot in America after slavery ended or white persons with no slaveholders in their genealogy benefit? Then, there are many more considerations than skin color. “Reparations would be an invitation to perpetual litigation.”
Economists, wrote Tanner, have estimated African-Americans would be owed $10 trillion in damages from policies that undeniably put them on the low end of the playing field. While it is easy to be sympathetic, designing a solution is bound to be worse than mere political pandering. “Most discussion of reparations seems to boil down to little more than traditional tax-and-spend policies, prettified with new rationales. But government social welfare programs have a dismal track record when it comes to bridging the racial divide and empowering African-Americans. Doubling down on failed programs is not really making reparations.”
Furthermore, “the taxes necessary to pay the billions and even trillions of dollars being casually discussed would totally wreck the economy…. In what way would African-Americans gain from higher unemployment, slower wage growth, and less entrepreneurship? The goal should be to move the poor and people of color into the mainstream of a growing economy, not to make economic growth harder to come by.”