Biden Taps Reparations Advocate for Treasury Transition

Mehrsa Baradaran / YouTube Screenshot
November 16, 2020

A major reparations advocate has a seat on Joe Biden's transition team.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, is helping Biden prepare to "hit the ground running on Day One" as a member of his Department of the Treasury agency review team. Baradaran is an outspoken advocate of reparations for black Americans, both as a means of correcting "white supremacy" and closing the racial wealth gap.

Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) dodged questions about reparations throughout the 2020 cycle. Baradaran took note of their refusal to stake out a firm stance on the issue. "Dear Kamala, Reparations or go home," she wrote in June 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 2017 book The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, Baradaran argues 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."

Before joining Biden's transition team, Baradaran helped Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg on policy proposals to address the racial wealth gap. Biden, who left reparations out of his racial equity plan, said 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 the campaign.

Harris has been similarly noncommittal. "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.

Other prominent Democrats such as Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and Stacey Abrams have gone further, backing reparations explicitly. The idea has also gained traction among liberal donors: In 2018, the Democracy Alliance circulated a document calling for a reparations agenda by 2022.

Baradaran and Biden's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.