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Since the election of the first African American president, Barack Obama, some commentators have characterized America as "post-racial." Without clearly defining that term, these commentators have made clear its implications--to wit, race no longer matters in our society. (1) Blacks (the term is used interchangeably with African Americans here) can achieve worldly success and personal happiness in twenty-first-century America without regard to their race. Skin color is no longer an impediment. (2) Exhibit A is the election of President Obama. (3)
I wish to challenge this view of contemporary America and, in so doing, make the case for the necessity of the U.S. government's atonement for slavery and Jim Crow. (4) In spite of President Obama's election, there is in my view a very good reason why the federal government should atone--by which I mean apologize and provide reparations (5)--for slavery and Jim Crow: living victims. Beyond the obvious fact that many African Americans (including myself) lived during portions of Jim Crow, the great majority of blacks today, including those who were born after the Jim Crow Era, are victims of both slavery and Jim Crow. Hence, even the victims of slavery are not all dead. (6)
My argument rests upon a particular understanding of racial dynamics in "post-racial America." As I will explain, post-racial America is a society defined by continuing and contrasting racial dynamics. (7) Next, within my living-victims thesis, I will argue that these contrasting dynamics exist as a lingering result of slavery and the Jim Crow Era. (8) Finally, I will argue that this contrast can be resolved by a bill similar to the GI Bill.
II. "POST-RACIAL AMERICA"
What I offer is an empirical definition of post-racial America. This is a society defined by contrasting racial dynamics: unprecedented individual racial opportunities and success, on the one hand, and continuous racial despair for blacks as a group, on the other hand. Hence, the term post-racial America is both reality and myth. It is the former because race does not seem to matter much for many individual blacks. These outliers are experiencing unprecedented worldly success. Individual advancement goes beyond the election of a black president. As Wendy Koch observed at the time of President Obama's inauguration in 2009:
President Obama is not the only black leader making history. As of last month, a record five African Americans lead state legislative bodies, and the number of black state lawmakers has reached record levels. Those leaders are part of a growing movement of African Americans Serving in state legislatures, often steppingstones to higher office. The number of black state legislators has risen from 401 in 1986 to a record 628, accounting for 9% of state lawmakers. ... (9)
Blacks have succeeded individually not only in politics but in other areas of American life as well, including higher education, (10) law, (11) and big business. (12)
These racial achievements have not, however, been experienced across the board. Black society as a whole continues to experience racial privation. For example, African Americans as a group lag far behind whites in the area of infant mortality. "Nationwide for 2007, according to the latest federal data, infant mortality was 6 per 1,000 for whites and 13 for blacks." (13) Considerable racial disparity also exists in net family wealth, which is the net value of bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, and other financial assets held by a family. (14) The median net worth of white families is ten times greater than that of black families. (l5)
Most significantly, the disadvantages are not ad hoc or simply statistical snapshots. They are systemic and continuous since the end of Jim Crow. African Americans as a group have experienced capital deficiencies--financial, (16) human, (17) and social (18)--not for one, five, ten, fifteen, twenty-five, or even thirty years, but for some forty-years continuously--the entire post-Civil Rights period. (19) Racial disparities created during slavery and perpetuated during Jim Crow did not, in other words, end with the death of Jim Crow in the early 1970s. There was no falloff of capital deficiencies in African American society at the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the beginning of the post-Civil Rights period. Society never repaired the damage of slavery and Jim Crow. It is the continuing racial harm that largely defines the problem of race in our society today. The following Section and charts present a few of the facts and figures that give shape and meaning to the American race problem today. (20) This data covers both ends of social stratification in black America: the poor and the middle class.
The data shown in Figure 1, (21) which focuses on families, reveals trends that are very similar to the trends shown in Figure 2, (22) which deal with individuals. Figure 3 shows poverty rates for female-headed families. (23) The level of white, non-Hispanic (hereinafter referred to as "white") poverty has been fairly constant since 1973, but the percentages of black and Hispanic families below the poverty level have declined some since 1992. As a result, the difference between the minority and white poverty rates has shrunk slightly since 1992.
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It is important to note that the same factors do not determine or influence relatively high black and Hispanic poverty rates. …