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Biden enlists reparations advocate for Treasury transition

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Presumptive President-elect Joe Biden just tapped Mehrsa Baradaran for a major seat on his transition team. She is a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Baradaran is the author of “The Color of Money” which details the racial wealth gap. She is a reparations advocate and a systemic racism expert. Baradaran will “hit the ground running on Day One” as a member of his Department of the Treasury agency review team.

Baradaran believes in reparations as a means of correcting “white supremacy” and for closing the racial wealth gap.

Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris avoided questions on racial reparations during their 2020 presidential campaign and even before that in the primaries. Baradaran challenged them on their refusal to stake out an actual stance on the issue. “Dear Kamala, Reparations or go home,” she wrote in June of 2019. “Biden just dodged that reparations question like a much nimbler and younger man,” she said in December 2019, referencing a Democratic primary debate.

In her book, Baradaran contends that closing the racial wealth gap requires acknowledging past wrongs and providing compensation for damages. “A reparations program could take many forms from simple cash payments or baby bonds to more complex schemes such as subsidized college tuition, basic income, housing vouchers, or subsidized mortgage credit,” she writes. Baradaran’s book inspired Netflix to donate $100 million to organizations that “support Black communities.”

Baradaran is known for her scholarship in financial inequality and is among more than a dozen California academics, government officials, and private-sector lawyers named to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team this week.

Prior to joining Biden’s transition team, she assisted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg on policy proposals to address the racial wealth gap. Biden has previously vowed he would study the issue. “[Biden] believes that we should gather the data necessary to have an informed conversation about reparations, but he has not endorsed a specific bill,” a spokeswoman said during his campaign.

Kamala Harris has not committed to reparations either, although she has made it known that she supports the idea, “When you are talking about the years and years and years of trauma that were experienced because of slavery, because of Jim Crow and because of all that we have seen in terms of institutional and legal discrimination and racism, this is very real and it needs to be studied,” she said during a CNN town hall in April 2019.

A number of high-profile Democrats are backing reparations. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Stacey Abrams are among those loudly calling for them. Liberal donors have also jumped on board. In 2018, the Democracy Alliance circulated a document calling for a reparations agenda by 2022.

The Biden-Harris transition team will have an estimated 500 members.

Also among the prominent racial justice and community economic development advocates that will join the transition team are the following:

  • Lisa Cook is an economist at Michigan State University and a member of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s steering committee. Cook has written on gender and racial disparities of income and wealth and is a member of the transition team for the Federal Reserve and banking and securities regulators.
  • Don Graves, who leads the Treasury transition team, was head of corporate responsibility at KeyBank until he joined the campaign in September. In 2017, he helped negotiate an agreement between Key Bank and community groups that committed the bank to lend $16.5 billion and provide $175 million in grants to benefit low-and-moderate income communities.
  • Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Credit Union and a longtime community development financial institution (CDFI) practitioner and advocate for over 30 years, is on the transition team for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Tene Dolphin, the first executive director for the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce, is on the transition team for the Department of Commerce.
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