How do I pay reparations?
May 11, 2017 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I am a white person. I will soon be inheriting a lot of money. This money is not mine, my family profited from the labor and enslavement of black and brown people for centuries and continuing today. I want to give all of this money away. What is the best way to go about doing this?

I am personally in favor of giving the money to individuals for maximum autonomy but have a lot of questions as to how to make that possible. I'm familiar with the website reparations although this doesn't quite seem like the appropriate avenue for giving cash. I am also thinking about if this is something that I want to do very publicly (as Coates argues in his Atlantic article) or anonymously because I don't want credit or thanks for this act. What else has been written about this debate?

If giving money directly to individuals is not possible, what groups are organizing around reparations? Particularly interested in groups in the Bay Area.

Not interested in a debate around reparations or what I should or shouldn't do with my money. Looking for real steps and solutions to distribute this money as equitably as possible.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a specific geographic area that this money came from? I would start by looking at those communities and what's going on there.

If this came from a business venture of some kind if there any way to track down descendants of those slaves or workers? A university in the area who focuses on genealogy and historical records of the area?
posted by raccoon409 at 3:09 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might look at the Movement for Black Lives policy platform on reparations for some ideas. At the end of each policy section they list groups working on the issue.

Right now groups are fundraising for Mama's Bail Out Day, which is obviously not reparations but is working against structural racism if you're open to options that aren't direct reparations.
posted by snaw at 3:14 PM on May 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Consider endowing a scholarship. The impact the money makes can be greatly enhanced by making it early in life.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:20 PM on May 11, 2017 [65 favorites]

Also worth looking at: if there are any other potential heirs, if you start publicly giving away large sums, they may challenge the inheritance where they would not have in the ordinary course of things. There's a lot to be said for anonymity.
posted by corb at 3:24 PM on May 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like GiveDirectly, which gives money directly to people who are the least well off in their villages in Africa (they have programs in a couple specific countries). Besides the just-giving-people-money aspect, they are also good about being accountable and keeping track of whether people who get the money are actually better off afterwards.

I'm not sure this is actually what you want, it sounds as if maybe you're trying to benefit people in the US specifically.
posted by triscuit at 3:40 PM on May 11, 2017

I like the scholarship idea - endow them at historically black colleges.
posted by COD at 3:47 PM on May 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Could you do something like what John Oliver did? He spent $50 to form a company, then bought and forgave 15 million in medical debts for about $60K. Maybe you could do the same thing for unfair bail costs, which disproportionately affects poor African Americans and prevents many from escaping poverty.
posted by sapere aude at 3:51 PM on May 11, 2017 [76 favorites]

I think the money has to go back to the people it was stolen from, the people who were directly victimized by the accumulation of this wealth. I don't know exactly how you locate these individuals and/or their heirs if these people, but that's who deserves it.

I like the idea of forming a company and funneling the funds through that. I think you need a lawyer, a tax professional, and some sort of detective/historian to do this correctly. I imagine a University with a robust history department might be able to help with locating the people and families or communities you'd like to make reparations to.
posted by jbenben at 3:58 PM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Consider having a discussion with a tax attorney to better understand the tax implications not only for you, but for your recipient(s). That may help you determine a good structure for handing it out.

Also consider giving to organizations that aren't registered charities but are doing really good work to uplift the Black community. One example is the Trans Women of Color Collective, run by Lourdes Ashley Hunter.
posted by zebra at 4:02 PM on May 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


You'll be hard pressed to do better than endow a series of scholarships. Don't just look at black schools. Create scholarships all over for black and brown students.

Want extra cool points? Name the scholarships after brown and black heros.

PLEASE DON'T spend the money on some fancy building with your name on it for anyone. That only helps your ego. Put the money in a place to directly help individual students. And note: the schools will try to twist that--don't let them--make it clear what 100% of the money is for.
posted by Murray M at 4:54 PM on May 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

I do some organizing work with SURJ Bay Area (a group of predominately white folks doing racial justice work), and this is definitely a question we wrestle with (though usually on a smaller scale) and our fundraising committee puts on workshops on reparations periodically. Feel free to PM me if you want to get connected with (white) folks there who may be able to help work through this question with you.
posted by kylej at 4:54 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

The actual amount of money you are talking about will be critically important in terms of what your best options are to meet your stated goals. You might consider updating anonymously with that information.
posted by Perplexity at 5:58 PM on May 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

$1 spent on high-quality early childhood education yields $7 to $9 in future benefits for every dollar invested, and disproportionately benefits poor minority families. It's one of the most effective forms of spending to reduce poverty and inequality.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:05 PM on May 11, 2017 [37 favorites]

Kind of a tangential suggestion, but you might find some good links or ideas from Resource Generation, which "organizes young people with wealth and class privilege in the U.S. to become transformative leaders working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power."
posted by aka burlap at 8:12 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


- a scholarship for black students who are the first from their family to attend college.

- a donation to The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

- a donation to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 9:11 PM on May 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'd look into free daycare options. There are some that exist already and that benefits the children and the parents, especially the mothers. If it's programmatic it's more beneficial imho than gifting it. It helps the whole community.
posted by fshgrl at 10:07 PM on May 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Taking a cue from sapere aude, form a company to fight the prison phone monopolies and offer decent rates to inmates.
posted by at at 10:48 PM on May 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would suggest thinking about what specific form of institutionalized racism (and legacies of slavery) you most want to help address.

Incarceration & prison-industrial complex? Community bail funds exist in Chicago, NYC and many other cities. our money would continue to circulate as people show up for their court dates and get to keep their jobs and lives intact instead of getting stuck in jail awaiting trial.

Red-lining and housing discrimination? The Human Utility pays water bills in Baltimore and Detroit to help keep people in their homes with potable water. Or give to an organization working on eviction defense in your city.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:11 AM on May 12, 2017

The folks at the Henrietta Lacks Foundation do excellent work.

I also agree with folks who are suggesting investing in education (especially early childhood / community stuff) or donations to the NAACP.
posted by Tamanna at 3:19 AM on May 12, 2017

Yeah, scholarship.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:29 AM on May 12, 2017

Am I the only one who thinks a scholarship will only reach a subset of individuals who overcame a variety of other barriers? I was raised in the south and very few people "made it out of the ghetto" so depending on your value system OP, a scholarship might actually be a little elitist.

If I had large sums of cash and wanted to give something back for the privilege I had as a white person from let's say a plantation family, I would invest in nonprofits trying to keep young black kids from joining gangs, early intervention, elementary school arts programs, low-cost health clinics in poor black neighborhoods, rural mental health initiatives and community centers. Possibly also diabetes education because poor people often end up with diabetes. If your money is from sugar this would have poetic justice too.

I would avoid giving to the Salvation Army and similar facilities because their admin cost is high. I would instead give to grassroots nonprofits.
posted by crunchy potato at 5:59 AM on May 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

Safety Pin Box is a project started by two black women organizers. They operate on a subscription model, collecting funds that they distribute to other black women, and in return sending out a set of monthly tasks for white people who want to do ally work (though they do also take one-time donations). From their FAQ:
Each month, recipients will be chosen at random from our pool of “Black Women Being” applicants based on funds raised from that month's subscriptions. Any and all Black women/femmes doing any work towards the liberation of Black people are encouraged to apply... The Safety Pin Box is designed to specifically benefit Black women as individuals. Black women, who may or may not be with an official organization, do a majority of the labor for Black liberation work and are also the least likely to be financially sustained while doing it. Organizations have their own ways of getting money, but we believe supporting individual Black women is important too.
Another thought, as you figure out your plans for the money, would be to put it in a black-owned bank or credit union. A lot of these banks serve neighborhoods and communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to financial services, and also provide loans that help people start businesses and buy homes.
posted by josyphine at 6:29 AM on May 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

Let me add to the endowed scholarship idea, which I think is a good one. You can be incredibly specific when you endow a scholarship. For example, some scholarships in my department are of the form: "must be an x major, in their second year, planning to work in y field." So you can really target your money for maximum impact.
posted by dbx at 8:56 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just saw the film I'm Not Racist ... Am I?, and there are several anti-racism groups represented in the film.

Some questions to ask yourself: What effect do I want my donation to have?
Do I want to give on a local, state, national level and which locality, state, nation(s)?
Do I want to aid individuals or groups?
Do I want to give it all away, or set up an ongoing trust?
If it's a large enough amount of money, is there a project you want to fund?
I'm sure there are more questions.

Google philanthropy, more, more. Maine has a Philanthropy Center, maybe your state does, too. Take the time to do the research and think about how you want to do this. You will want to talk to someone about tax implications.
posted by theora55 at 11:24 AM on May 12, 2017

You know the old saying: help the people help themselves.

You could establish yourself as a business angel geared towards black (African-American) or African entrepreneurs with limited access to cash.

crunchy potato came up with some good ideas too
posted by Kwadeng at 5:54 AM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's something similar to what I suggested above.

What It Costs to Give Black Mothers a Second Chance
posted by sapere aude at 4:30 PM on May 22, 2017

This is a different kind of suggestion, not about helping people's economic situation, but I'll throw it out there in case it sparks something useful: pay to improve availability of relevant genealogical resources for descendants of enslaved people.

One of the legacies of slavery is the anonymization/erasure of individual people from the historical record and the total disruption of family history. It's hard to identify and trace individual enslaved people. (Maybe you've even experienced this if you tried to identify any of the people held by your ancestors?).

You could put money toward mitigating that erasure and connection-severing, to make it easier for the descendants to find their family members. If you know the place where your ancestors held slaves, you could support research/ digitization/ posting online of records (sale documents, manumissions, correspondence of slaveholders who might mention an ancestor, etc) from that place.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 PM on May 22, 2017

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