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Report: Detroiters' views on reparations linked to perception of racial inequity

Detroit Skyline
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Detroit skyline

A majority of Detroiters support reparations for Black Americans, and their support is strongly tied to their perceptions of the racial wealth gap, the legacy of slavery, and other forms of racial inequity.

That’s according to a new report from the University of Michigan’s Center for Racial Justice.

Among the Detroiters who believe the average Black person is worse off than the average white person in terms of income and wealth, a majority support reparations and policies that address racial inequity.

Jasmine Simington, who co-authored the report, said recent history could help explain people's willingness to back policies designed around racial equity.

"COVID, George Floyd, inflation, all of these things, I think all of these crises ... are shifting public perception about the role of government in both preventing and also, kind of, just easing the instability of everyday life," she said.

While the report focused specifically focused on monetary reparations for Black Detroiters, Simington also mentioned government programs that are not called "reparations," but are intended to reduce harms that disproportionally affect people of color. Those are programs like housing assistance and down-payment assistance, like the one announced this week in Detroit.

Erykah Benson, another of the report's co-authors, said the report is evidence that people's attitudes about history are connected to their stances toward contemporary policies.

"What people believe about the legacy of structural racism and its ongoing impacts today can say a lot about what people imagine in terms of what's possible for repairing those historic harms," she said.

"Teaching the children about the legacy of the history of the United States is going to have consequences for what they feel is possible, and what they feel is at stake for the country," said Benson.

The report found 63% of Detroit residents support some form of reparations, and 70% say addressing racial inequality should be a high policy priority for elected officials.

Thirteen percent of Detroiters oppose reparations, yet 41% of those who oppose reparations still say addressing racial inequality should be a priority.

Research shows racial inequality is stubbornly persistent in Detroit. A 2021 report from Detroit Future City found in the past decade, median income increased 60-percent for white Detroiters compared to 8-percent for Black Detroiters.

Detroiters voted in 2021 to create a reparations task force. The 13-member task force was selected this year and is set to start having public meetings this spring.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story duplicate words in a quote from Erykah Benson. That has been corrected.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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