Freedom, Markets, and Well-Being Fall 2022

Darity on Reparations


Darity and Mullen make a case for reparations for African Americans where reparations refers to “a program of acknowledgment, redress, and closure for a grievous injustice” (p. 1). The emphasis in the reading we did was on the redress part. After recounting the history of how Black people were treated in America, the details of the program of reparations they describe in chapter 13 mostly concern monetary payments.

Darity and Mullen consider several ways of estimating the size of the bill. Most of these look at the economic losses suffered by slaves and their descendants while some focus on the value of the broken promise made of forty acres of land and a mule after emancipation. This material drops out of their analysis, as they reject all attempts at historically based accounting. Instead, they say that they “view the racial wealth gap as the most robust indicator of the cumulative economic effects of white supremacy in the United States” (p. 24). They estimate that it would cost between $7.95 and $10.7 trillion to close this gap (p. 25).

In advance of our discussion

Philosophers have a helpful distinction between forward looking considerations and backwards looking considerations.

Forwards looking considerations evaluate a course of action by looking at its consequences in the future. Will reparations close the racial wealth gap? Will they make opportunities more equal? Will they make race relations better or worse? Those are all forward looking considerations.

Backwards looking considerations ignore the future consequences of an action and look solely towards the past. You promised, so you have to make good on it. He stole the money and so he has to pay it back. The promise or theft is in the past and because of what happened in the past, someone has to do something now, either to make good on the promise or to rectify a wrong.

In my experience, discussions of reparations tend to bounce from one kind of argument to thet other when, I think, they would go better if the two were kept apart.

In our actual discussion, I think Elena made an excellent point that the phrase “ongoing discrimination” bridges both backwards and forwards looking considerations. For the most part, I think that Darity and Mullen stick with backwards looking considerations, but Elena correctly noted that is an exception. I happily concede I was wrong to suggest otherwise.


What is the basic racial demography of the United States? The Census Bureau is here for you. They estimate that there were 331,893,745 people in the US in July 2021. This is the racial distribution of that population.

Race and Hispanic Origin Percentage of the population
White alone 75.8%
Black or African American alone (a) 13.6%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone (a) 1.3%
Asian alone (a) 6.1%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone (a) 0.3%
Two or More Races 2.9%
Hispanic or Latino (b) 18.9%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino 59.3%

(a) in that chart means the number includes people who only report one race. (b) reminds you that since Hispanics may be of any race, they are also included in applicable race categories.

That last point deserves some explanation. “Hispanic” is not a racial category as far as the government is concerned. There can be White Hispanics and Black Hispanics. Why? Think about Cuba. So if you ask “how many White people are there in the US?” you can get two different answers depending on whether you mean non-Hispanic White or White including some Hispanics. That is why there are two entries for “White” that sum to more than 100%. The first six lines total 100% and the last seven lines total 102.4% (I’m not sure where the extra 2.4% comes from).

In any event, I was wrong about the size of the Black population. I said it was 10% but it is actually closer to 14%. Still, the basic point remains that it is very far from 50%.

Here are the details of the Census Bureau’s definitions.

The U.S. Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and these data are based on self-identification. The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include racial and national origin or sociocultural groups. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture, such as “American Indian” and “White.” People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.

OMB requires that race data be collectd for a minimum of five groups: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. OMB permits the Census Bureau to also use a sixth category - Some Other Race. Respondents may report more than one race.

The concept of race is separate from the concept of Hispanic origin. Percentages for the various race categories add to 100 percent, and should not be combined with the percent Hispanic.


White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as “White” or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.

Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as “Black or African American,” or report entries such as African American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian.

American Indian and Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. This category includes people who indicate their race as “American Indian or Alaska Native” or report entries such as Navajo, Blackfeet, Inupiat, Yup’ik, or Central American Indian groups or South American Indian groups.

Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. This includes people who reported detailed Asian responses such as: “Asian Indian,” “Chinese,” “Filipino,” “Korean,” “Japanese,” “Vietnamese,” and “Other Asian” or provide other detailed Asian responses.

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who reported their race as “Fijian,” “Guamanian or Chamorro,” “Marshallese,” “Native Hawaiian,” “Samoan,” “Tongan,” and “Other Pacific Islander” or provide other detailed Pacific Islander responses.

Two or more races. People may choose to provide two or more races either by checking two or more race response check boxes, by providing multiple responses, or by some combination of check boxes and other responses. For data product purposes, “Two or More Races” refers to combinations of two or more of the following race categories: “White,” “Black or African American,” American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,” or “Some Other Race”


Darity, William A., and A. Kirsten Mullen. 2020. From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. doi:10.5149/9781469654997_darity.