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Evanston Becomes The First US City Paying Reparations To Black Residents — Here's How It Will Work

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Evanston, Illinois has become what is considered the first city in the US to begin offering reparations to Black residents who have been historically discriminated against in the Chicago suburb.

Officials in Evanston voted to release the first batch of funds through a program designed to take accountability for discriminatory housing practices that have targeted and deprivileged Black communities for more than a century.

How will the reparations program in Evanston work?

The initiative will distribute $25,000 each to 16 eligible black households to use for home repairs or as down payments on property.

To be eligible for the program, residents must have lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 or be a direct descendent of a person who lived in Evanston at that time during the suburb's redlining practices. Participants must also prove that they were victims of discrimination in housing because of policies in the city at that time.

Funds for the reparations will largely come from a new tax on legalized marijuana. This means the general population of Evanston will not experience any drastic changes in order to pay back Black communities.

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Evanston has a long history of disenfranchising Black residents.

The decision to offer reparations to the Black community stems largely from a 2020 report that surveyed the suburbs’ explicit and implicit segregation of Black people in the area in the 1900s.

The report explains how Black people faced restrictions on where they could live dating back to 1855, when the first Black resident arrived. These restrictions continued to have an impact on how these areas were funded and supported up until the 1960s.

And even after explicit rules around where and how Black people could live were removed, the effects of segregation continue to infringe upon on Black people’s ability to thrive economically and socially.

Through this kind of segregation and other unfair housing practices, Black residents of the city were impeded from owning homes and building intergenerational wealth, the effects of which have been long-lasting.

To this day, white residents of Evanston out-earn Black residents by $46,000 a year. The reparations will be a means of tightening this gap by offering funds for community development.

"We had to do something radically different to address the racial divide that we had in our city, which includes historic oppression, exclusion, and divestment in the Black community," Alderman Robin Rue Simmons said of the reparations.

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Evanston’s reparation program is the first of many steps to elevate Black communities across America.

The new program is one of the earliest signs of action being taken from the long-standing conversations around reparations.

What was once a fringe issue in the Black community is rapidly becoming a topic of national concern as more organizations push for Black people to be compensated for the discrimination they experienced — and still do.

In early March, Catholic priests in the Jesuit order pledged $100 million to the Black community to make amends for their involvement in slavery.

Meanwhile, US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has sponsored new legislation that creates a commission to develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

Her legislation has been backed by Amalgamated Bank who is calling for the government to play an active role in economically compensating African Americans for systemic racism.

The bank also urged the government to issue an explicit apology for slavery's foundation in today's economy.

These reparations are a valuable, tangible effort to push for an increasingly anti-racist America and address some of the many obstacles Black communities face in the fight for social, economic, and political equality.

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The reparations have not come without objections.

Organizers behind Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations have questioned the value of these reparations by arguing that they will only fund a limited number of Black households rather than benefit the community as a whole.

Others reject reparations on an ideological level by arguing that there is no economic value that is commensurate with the suffering experienced by Black people.

Scholars like Shelby Steele have been outspoken for years about how they believe reparations detract from Black people's self-determination and ability to get ahead without aid.

Additionally, as Alderwoman Cicely Fleming pointed out in a statement, limiting the program to housing limits personal choice around how people can use reparation funds.

"True reparations should respect Black people's autonomy and allow them to determine how repair will be managed, including cash payments as an option," she said. "They are being denied that in this proposal, which gives money directly to the banks or contractors on their behalf. If we're doing reparations, let's do reparations right."

The debate around reparations stirs up an important conversation around what it means to be anti-racist and how much can or should be done to truly address the failings of the past.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.