Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wants To ‘Push Forward With Reparations’

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is weighing in on the reparations debate, an indication that the powerful first-year Congresswoman wants to move the conversation from whether we need reparations, to “How will we push forward with reparations?”

Speaking to Intercept editor Briahna Gray, Ocasio-Cortez indicated that Americans need to realize that reparations aren't only for people of color. “When we really do start to assert and believe and understand, [we] see how our destinies are tied,” she said. She added that there are many systems to dismantle, which gets “into this interesting area of where we are as a country, about identity.” Ocasio-Cortez continued, “What does it mean to be Black? Who is Black and who isn’t, especially as our country becomes more biracial and multiracial.”

Her comments are in line with those expressed by Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who recently told the Charleston Post and Courier that there are white Americans descended from once-enslaved peoples, and those people — who were not victims of systemic racism, from redlining and school segregation, to vast inequality in household wealth — would also have a claim to reparations payments that should go to disadvantaged people of color.

Clyburn and Ocasio-Cortez join several Democratic presidential hopefuls in the discussion about reparations. Clyburn and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker have proposed a “10-20-30” anti-poverty formula: 10 percent of federal funds would go to census tracts with poverty rate of 20 percent or more over the past 30 years. That would effectively target heavily minority communities, and hopefully narrow the income gap.

During the same conversation at South by Southwest, Ocasio-Cortez pointed to racial failures in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez called the program “an extremely economically racist policy that drew literal red lines around Black and Brown communities, and basically it invested in white America."

“It allowed white Americans to have access to home loans that Black and Brown Americans did not have access to, giving them the largest form of intergenerational wealth, which is real estate,” she continued. “It really accelerated many parts of an already horrific racial wealth gap that continues to exist today.” An Institute for Police Studies report released in 2019 found that “the median Black family today owns $3,600 — just 2 percent of the $147,000 of wealth the median white family owns.” Another report from The Ohio State University found that post-college Black Americans had $84,000 in median worth based on 2011 data — only slightly more than a white person with some college experience.

In the wake of the Great Recession and 2008 financial crisis, Black households lost most of the financial gains made during the previous decade, including net worth decreases. Those wealth values still haven't recovered.

Ocasio-Cortez's comments seem to be the latest indication that the future reparations discussions will not center on whether they will be done, but how.

About the Author

Jeremy Binckes is an experienced writer and editor who has reported on news, politics, culture and sports. He was most recently a news editor at Salon, and he has written articles for a number of publications.