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Providence’s Reparations Program Is ‘Race-neutral’

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Providence R.I. recently allocated $10 million to its Providence Municipal Reparations program. The city is the latest to work towards correcting its history of discrimination against Black residents. However, the “race-neutral” program is already raising eyebrows as it is not just open to Black and Native American Providence residents–white residents are also welcome to apply.

Providence’s reparations program in 2020 came on the heels of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. After the tragedy, The African American Ambassador Group was enlisted to create a 194-page report detailing Providence’s involvement in the slave trade. The report also detailed years of racist policies against the city’s minority population. In August, the Providence Municipal Reparations Commission elected not to issue direct payments to residents. A modest $1 million has been carved out to go toward home ownership, financial literacy, workforce training, small businesses, grants and more.

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Providence has 190,000 residents. Forty-four percent of the community is Hispanic/Latino, 33% white people who are not Hispanic, 16% Black, 8% multiracial and 6% Asian.

“This is a short-term response to a 400-year problem because it makes people feel better,” Justice Gaines, local Black poet and community organizer, told Washington Post. “My big fear is that there are now White people in our state who could say we already gave them reparations,” and nothing more needs to be done.”

Applicants must be a Providence resident of either Native American or Black ancestry to qualify. Residents earning $50,000 a year or less — or are living in specific neighborhoods will also qualify, which according to the Post, is likely to include many of the city’s white residents.

Larry Warner, the chief community impact and equity officer at the United Way of Rhode Island, doesn’t think the race-neutral status negates the purpose of the program.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem if race isn’t lost in the conversation,” Warner told the news publication. “And I think you can’t have a conversation about equity without including a conversation about race, because at the end of the day, it’s systemic and structural racism that created the conditions that communities are either still challenged by or are recovering from.”

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