The work to convince Boston residents or the public at large to support the idea of economic reparations for the descendants of enslaved people will not be easy, the leader of the city’s NAACP chapter acknowledged, but she said it’s work that nevertheless must be done.
“We have to address both racial and economic injustice. The enslavement of people — the enslavement of Black people — really is, at its root, an economic conversation,” the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Boston Chapter, Tanisha Sullivan, said.
Sullivan was speaking to WBZ’s Jon Keller during his weekly political segment. According to Sullivan, the Boston City Council’s unanimous December decision to establish a task force aimed at exploring reparations for Black Bostonians is a necessary step in a process that must ultimately address the negative impact, economically, that is felt by descendants of enslaved people.
Information provided by the Brookings Institute shows the average Black American family has just one-tenth the wealth of a white family, and a Black college graduate one-seventh the wealth of a white college graduate.
Sullivan says the NAACP worked hand-in-hand with members of the city council to get the ordinance calling for a reparations study approved, and that now she looks forward to learning exactly what effect slavery had on Black Bostonians.
“I am really looking forward to, quite frankly, Jon, to our collective discovery, in many respects, of the role that we here as Bostonians and in Boston really played in the institution of slavery,” she said.
Keller was quick to point out that such task forces — not just in Boston but nationally — have been established before, held their studies, issued findings but resulted in no actual policy changes.
“The word reparations, poll after poll shows, has political toxicity attached to it,” Keller said. “Some people view it as, you know, ‘why do I have to pay for injustices that I’ve never participated in or perpetrated?’ How do you get past that?” he asked.
Sullivan said that, too, is part of the process.
“Yes, it is going to be hard. I want to…I can’t underscore that enough, that this is going to be a challenge” she said. “I also think it’s important to note that we’ve got many examples of reparations — repair — which is really about justice.”
Sullivan said the study is just the first step in a multiple phase effort and that it will help city officials “uncover and discover the history related to Black folks and the enslavement of Black folks here in Boston.”
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has approved the task force’s formation, according to her office.
“For four hundred years, Black Americans have been denied pathways to build generational wealth, secure stable housing, and live freely through the brutal practice of enslavement, and policies like redlining, the busing crisis, and exclusion from City contracting,” Wu said through a spokesperson. “Our administration remains committed to tackling long standing racial inequities— through increasing access to homeownership, boosting equitable contracting opportunities, improving health outcomes, and investing in public education.”
Sullivan’s stop with Keller comes ahead of the NAACP’s National Convention, which was originally scheduled to be held in Boston in 2020 but canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. This year’s convention will begin July 26 and will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.