On March 14th, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard the recommendations of a committee formed to explore reparations to Black residents of San Francisco. The Committee recommended that Black residents receive a $5 million payment, debt relief, a guaranteed annual income, and housing to remedy injustices created by slavery and ongoing discrimination in housing, health, education, and the job market. In the past 50 years, the percentage of San Francisco residents who are Black has dropped by more than half to 6%. Thirty-eight percent of unhoused people in the gentrifying city are Black.
“What we are asking for and what we’re demanding for is a real commitment to what we need to move things forward,” said Tinisch Hollins of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee, whose full report is due in June (ABC News).
The announcement prompted “surprising” pushback from several politicians’ liberal constituents, even though many non-Black people in the heavily Democratic city supported statements in favor of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Though the San Francisco Bay Area’s GDP is $577 billion, the recommended $5 million payment per person is likely politically infeasible, especially with the gloomy economic outlook for tech corporations (Statista). But before writing off such demands as inherently implausible, we ought to put them in the proper context.
Less than a week before the Committee released its results, one of the largest banks in the United States collapsed. After wealthy investors sowed panic on Twitter about Silicon Valley Bank’s viability, depositors tried to withdraw $42 billion in a single day (The Guardian, MSN). Over 93% of the $161 billion invested in the bank was uninsured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (Bloomberg). When Silicon Valley Bank imploded, that money disappeared. To maintain the stability of financial markets, the Biden administration declared that all institutions that deposited money in the bank could withdraw the full amount.
The Biden administration emphasized that taxpayers would not fund this bailout. The money to pay Silicon Valley Bank depositors would come from the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund, which is funded by bank fees and investment earnings. The Fund has more than $100 billion. Only a few U.S. residents knew that the Fund existed before this announcement, much less that it contained such a staggering sum. The Department of the Treasury will make an additional $25 billion available for an emergency loan program for financial institutions through the Federal Reserve (Federal Reserve).
There are roughly 34 million Black adults in the United States (Pew). That means the Deposit Insurance Fund has enough money to pay each Black person in the United States around $3,000 today without Congressional authorization or a cost to U.S. taxpayers. It’s also enough money to buy each unhoused person in the United States a $170,000 house (Statista) or instantly cut all U.S. medical debt in half (KFF). The total cost of the disastrous, illegal “War on Terror” would have been enough to pay each Black person in the United States over $200,000 (Brown University).
When military aggression or corporate profits are at stake, billions of dollars materialize overnight. But when oppressed communities ask for the necessities for a dignified life, the wealthiest government on the planet acts as if it can barely make ends meet. In fact, the Federal Reserve is currently trying to induce a “modest increase in unemployment” to cut wages, working to “damage the labor market in order to bring inflation down” (The Hill).
The dominant economic system not only allows for but requires the impoverishment of historically disenfranchised communities to keep working. Why would we seek to dampen those communities’ demands for justice instead of demanding the abolition of the system that keeps them out of reach? As cascading crises at major financial institutions like Silicon Valley Bank, Credit Suisse, and First Republic raise fears of a global recession, emergency measures have been rapidly unveiled to protect corporations and investors (The Guardian). We should focus on emerging from the impending financial crisis with a system that works just as quickly to empower the impoverished, shelter the unhoused, and provide reparations for the descendants of the enslaved and displaced.
• Conversations about reparations have been sidelined by the belief that they are too expensive and impractical.
• Hundreds of billions of dollars are mobilized overnight to fund military aggression and protect financial institutions.
• Under our current political and economic system, extraordinary measures to protect financial markets are seen as urgent, while projects to support the thriving and survival of oppressed communities are dismissed as utopian.