Asheville, NC City Hall

By Jessie Mitnick, age 12

Asheville, North Carolina, is acknowledging its racist actions and policies by giving reparations to its Black community. On July 14, the Asheville City Council voted unanimously to provide reparations and apologize for their engagement in slavery. 

Discrimination on the basis of race has existed in the United States since its founding in 1776. For 246 years, Black people were held as slaves and legally considered property. Even after the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, other forms of racism, such as police brutality, voter suppression and the mass incarceration of people of color, have lived on. 

Over the next year, the city of Asheville will be creating a commission that will recommend how best to use reparations which are meant to help close the racial wealth gap between the Black and white community that resulted from slavery. The reparations will target issues such as fair pay, fair access to healthcare, education and employment, safety in all communities, equity within the criminal justice system, as well as promoting the increase of Black home and business ownership and opportunities as a means to promote financial security through generations.

Asheville isn’t the first city to provide reparations to its Black residents. At the end of 2019, Evanston, Illinois, created a reparations fund that comes from a tax on recreational marijuana, which became legal in Illinois in January 2020. In Asheville, city councilmembers are requesting the state of North Carolina and the federal government provide the funding for its reparations.

The racial wealth gap is an ongoing issue in the United States. The Brookings Institution reported that 2016 studies showed the net worth of a typical white family is 10 times higher than that of a Black family. The average white high school dropout has a higher net worth than the average Black college graduate. This gap means that Black Americans on average have less access to healthcare, higher education and other economic opportunities than white Americans.

In an interview on CBSN, Eddie C. Brown, CEO and founder of Brown Capital Management, talked about the racial wealth gap in the United States. He discussed how only a tiny percentage of Black peoplehimself includedhave risen to the top of their professions. He told his interviewers that only five of the Fortune 500 companies have African American CEOs. In comparison, since 2015, the percentage of Fortune 500 companies that have white CEOs has been around 89% or 90%.

Asheville activists and residents had different reactions to the news about reparations. David Herbert, a social justice activist, expressed hope that the call for reparations will lead to a sustained movement to heal the damages of slavery. “You can’t separate yourself from history,” Herbert said in an interview with IndyKids.

But others, such as Elaine Gales, a Black North Carolinian and former resident of Asheville, believe Asheville’s pledge is not enough. “I absolutely believe more is needed with regard to reparations,” Gales told IndyKids. “The government could assist by giving adequate funding to families that are paying more than 30% of their income on rent, give equitable interest rates on mortgage loans, give subsidies for rent and housing.” Gales points out that often Black residents don’t make enough money to pay for the gentrified housing which is available in Asheville. “So, if they aren’t helping with rent, then they aren’t really helping at all.” 

Gales was skeptical about exactly who would benefit from the proposed reparations plan in Asheville. “Those that were impacted most because of the lasting effects of slavery and unequal treatment, which includes the criminal justice inequality,” she said, “will still not gain from the plan as currently presented.”

 

Glossary

Reparations: The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged
Voter suppression: A strategy used to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting
Equity: Where “equality” generally refers to equal opportunity and the same levels of support for all segments of society, “equity” goes a step further and refers to offering varying levels of support depending upon need to achieve greater fairness of outcomes