NYU prof: What if White Americans' taxes were investigated for ties to slavery?

The University of California-Berkeley hosted a panel titled “The Future of Freedom: Reparations after 400 Years."

NYU Professor Michael Ralph suggested that White Americans should submit their taxes to see what connection they might have to slavery.

A New York University professor suggested that White people should be forced to submit their taxes to be checked for ties to slavery.

On Nov. 18, the University of California-Berkeley hosted a panel titled “The Future of Freedom: Reparations after 400 Years.” The goal of the panel was to “consider what the question of reparations means for this freedom’s fulfillment and what kind of future could follow for African-Americans beyond 400,” according to the video description. 

The panel consisted of professors Bertrall Ross and Jovan Scott Lewis, both of UC-Berkeley; Katherine Franke of Columbia Law School, and Michael Ralph of New York University.

Each professor provided past examples of reparations given to marginalized people, and said these could be examples of how to pay reparations to African Americans for 400 years of “systemic and violent racism.” 

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A topic of discussion was determining who should pay for reparations, as well as who would qualify. Toward the end of the panel, Ralph suggested that White people submit their tax records to be investigated for any ties to slavery.

Ralph suggested that “every White family” would have to submit their tax records, and based on those documents, “someone” could assess if they were connected to slavery. 

“I also think in terms of, you know, the flip side of the question of who is the injured party, who is the victims, is like who must pay for this and who is accountable, and I was thinking like, as my other panelists were talking, what if there was, like, a financial version of 23 and Me, where every White family had to submit their tax records over the generations and someone could figure out if they were tied/involved with slavery somehow?” Ralph asked.

“What we’d find, probably, is that so many people are connected to the history of slavery who don’t think of themselves or their ancestors as having been slave holders or something, you know? And I think that in the same way that the overwhelming majority of White people in this country have benefited from slavery, the overwhelming majority of Black people in this country have suffered somehow and been injured by enslavement and its legacy,” he added.

Ralph said that he would be okay with going ahead with this proposed research because he feels it’s something more widespread than DNA.

“We can dig into this question and sort of establish who owes what to whom, but it will be something more broad than something strictly into the DNA,” Ralph explained. “It’s more about the sort of political category of Whiteness and political category of Blackness and what that has meant for the people who are sort of, routinely sort of conscripted to those roles, sort of like recruited to those roles...So ultimately, you know, those are the people who benefit and the people who are injured, and therefore, that’s sort of how we must adjudicate those debts.”

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Regarding which Black people should receive reparations, Franke said that rather than giving it to certain people whose ancestors were enslaved, all Black people should be able to get reparations.

“Reparations should be available for Black people, not just the descendants of enslaved people,” Franke said. “Never mind the practical problems of limiting reparations only to those who can prove a DNA related connection to someone who is enslaved, because those records don’t exist.”

Ralph, who lists “slavery and incarceration” as two of his areas of research/interest, told Campus Reform he sees reparations the same as repairing everyday wrongdoings.

”My thoughts are consistent with the widespread practice of adjudicating injury to promote redress for the victims of civil offenses (as mundane as a car accident) or as grand as atrocities (including war, genocide, and slavery), and presume we are in agreement that the Transatlantic is an atrocity,” Ralph said.

Roqua Montez, executive director of media relations for UC-Berkeley, did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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