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All my life, I’ve heard that the United States is the richest country in the history of the world. But over those same years, as oppressed people have demanded that this country right so many of its wrongs, the excuses have been endless. Chief among them has been that the United States simply does not have the money for something like reparations for 400 years of government sanctioned slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, oppression, and discrimination that continued until this very day.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed that lie more than any single moment in my lifetime. In a matter of days, with little research, debate, disagreement, or oversight, the United States government started doling out not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars with ease. I’ve never seen anything like it. Trillions more will likely be approved next month. Trillions more after that. And let’s be clear — only a tiny fraction of that is going to the CDC or hospitals on the frontlines of stopping this pandemic. Hundreds of billions of dollars are going into a slush fund overseen by Donald Trump. Irresponsible corporations that have paid their CEO’s billions of dollars across the years will get bailed out. Those trillions of dollars will hardly even trickle down to everyday people.
But now we know at the drop of a dime, if the United States wants to spend trillions of dollars on something, it can. One sophisticated plan had the true costs of reparations at about $17 trillion dollars. It could be spread out over time. Duke University economist and reparations expert, Sandy Darity, estimated that if every African American was given the financial equivalent of what was originally promised, 40 acres a mule, it would cost $2.6 trillion dollars. This is less than what the United States government has spent in the past 60 days on the CARE Act and more. In other words, the money is there.
But the will isn’t. Intuitively, in my bones, I knew this was true, but now the full truth is out in the open for all to see. The United States could’ve paid reparations generations ago. In the 1970s, the economic gap between white Americans and African Americans was estimated to be in the ballpark of $500 billion dollars. Now it has exploded exponentially.
What we really see is that this country could’ve paid for many things that it has ignored in our lifetime — like a nationwide high-speed rail system or universal healthcare for all — other countries put those things in place long ago and are all the better for it. We’ve always had the money to make this country fair, equitable, and accessible to all. Our leaders, from the top down, with very few exceptions, just faked like it wasn’t possible. Now that we know it is, my question is: what will we demand?