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Reparations, one family at a time




There’s been much discussion of reparations over the years and, while several countries have made progress in repairing some of the harm committed against historically oppressed populations, the U.S. government has remained resistant. But as we continue to fight for justice on a larger scale, we can start considering reparations on a personal level. Whether we’re white or not, let’s ensure our wills leave most of our wealth and property to historically marginalized people.

Most of us have neighbors or co-workers who are Black, Latin, Asian, Indigenous or who belong to another marginalized community or ethnicity. They don’t need to be our closest relations for us to include them in our will. God knows many of us have biological family members we’re not particularly close to, either.

When my partner died in 2005, he didn’t leave a will. Since we weren’t legally married, his estranged sister inherited the house, the car, the pension, the money in the bank — everything.

When I began another committed relationship a few years later and bought my first home, I immediately consulted an attorney to draw up a will leaving the house to my new partner. But I also included a secondary beneficiary. If my husband were to precede me in death, the property would go to a friend.

At the very least, we can all ensure that our second beneficiary be someone from a marginalized community.

Studies have revealed that a large part of the wealth gap comes from inherited wealth. A family that’s been in a position to pass down even a small amount of wealth, property or opportunity over generations will have a family member alive today who’s been able to attain a strong education and a good job, who probably owns a home rather than rents.

I’d never have earned my first college degree without my family’s support, and the down payment on my home was gifted me by my father.

I see a great many people in my position — white, educated, well-traveled, with “good” jobs — who look down on those struggling: “If I can do it, why can’t they?” They are oblivious to the ways our struggles, real as they are, were lessened by our privilege. I’m still living paycheck to paycheck, after all, and that’s with a tremendous head start in life.

Unfortunately, with corporations gaining more control over our lives, even those of us with privilege often have a lower standard of living than our parents. Everyone is struggling these days. And if we have children, we want to ensure they’re taken care of first after we’re gone. So not everyone will be in a position to pass on wealth to nonfamily members.

But some of us can. Perhaps we’re single. We’re childless by choice or circumstance. Perhaps we have children who have done well for themselves and don’t need all our money and property. Whatever the situation, some of us are in a position to make reparations on a personal level.

We should certainly keep pushing for tuition-free college and vocational training, universal health care, subsidized child care, fare-free public transit and other policies that help level the playing field and make life more livable for all people.

Most of us already have “causes” we’d like to leave money to, whether that be PBS or Greenpeace or the American Indian College Fund. We want to support organizations that demand the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes to benefit all of society. There’s a lot of competition for every penny we might leave behind.

But let’s consider adding the option of transferring some of our wealth to people in our lives from a historically marginalized community.

And let’s talk to a neighbor or an attorney today.

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