“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates
Many social media outlets are discussing an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates called, “The Case for Reparations” which discusses the ways in which black bodies were used, abused, victimized and stolen by the U.S. [as well as in other white-dominated spaces]. Coates brilliantly demonstrates the ways that black lives TODAY are still greatly impacted by slavery, Jim crow legislation, and racist systems in the U.S. More importantly though, Coates brings the reparations narrative to the forefront.
Discussing reparations in the U.S. is uncomfortable for many. Reparations suggest that certain populations should be given something tangible to make up for a debt, admitting that these groups were victimized by a larger system.
Admitting that black folks deserve reparations essentially means that as a culture, we are admitting that black folks have not been (and are currently not) treated equally, and that is scary when postracial sameness is advertised. The myth that we ALL have an equal chance of achieveing the American dream is threatened by discussions surrounding reparations. It’s difficult imagining how reparations would be accepted considering black people are largely considered “welfare” kings and queens who are lazy. “Why do they deserve MORE handouts?”
The invisibility of overt racism today prevents the reparations narrative from happening. We pretend that we’re equal. We buy into the magical wish that if we ALL just work really hard, we can all achieve great things. Many of us know that that’s simply not true. Unmasking the American myth of “working hard” unveils the racism and sexism that actually exists at the foundation of that dream.
[contextly_sidebar id=”fc8d894cc4b056d38e6adb4a6198a2ef”]The reparations narrative moves beyond just stating that “slavery was wrong.” In reality, slavery is at the heart of this issue, but we have to be willing to understand how black people are still disenfranchised under the American system today…the same system that enslaved black folks. Most of us already know America is overtly racist, however, we are immediately silenced every time we talk about our disadvantages.
In 2001, the Associated Press published a three-part investigation into the theft of black-owned land stretching back to the antebellum period. The series documented some 406 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars. The land was taken through means ranging from legal chicanery to terrorism. “Some of the land taken from black families has become a country club in Virginia,” the AP reported, as well as “oil fields in Mississippi” and “a baseball spring training facility in Florida.”
White America has profited off of the terrorism of black people for generations….yes, even today. Certain freedoms and advantages that white people experience today would not exist if it weren’t for the dehumanization and criminalization of black bodies. Admitting this is uncomfortable for many privileged folks because it suggests that their accomplishments and rewards are not necessarily attributed to their own behaviors. [Welcome to the club!]Yes, although you may have never chained a black enslaved person to the wall doesn’t mean that you don’t benefit from the degradation that black people experience.
To simply ignore the disadvantaged state of black life in the US is to profit from it. Unfortunately, we live in a state where patriotism is conflated with silencing the voices of brown Americans who want justice. Perhaps it’s easier for white America to point out terrorists in other nations, while committing terrorist acts in their home country.
“Working hard” and the bullshit American dream represents this nostalgic idea of what good ol’ America used to be….even though it was always a racist white boys party…with black people hanging in trees. American media keeps propelling these sentimental images of the “past” when people worked hard in some racist attempt to fetishize an honest America. Unfortunately, the American dream has always been cloaked in a white robe.
Somehow white American media culture has successfully made black people the terrorists. They show fetishized images of black people in prison gear, chained to courtoom tables every night on our local news stations, like committing crimes is a gene passed along in black skin. They create a panic, a fear; however, these images are decontextualized. They talk about poor black people without ever mentioning slavery, Jim crow, or racist housing policies that keep black people in certain positions.
Black people have been the scapegoats for white America for a long time.
With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating.
What are the ways that we can help make up for the debt America owes to those whose families have been raped and robbed? Many black people come from strategically disadvantaged positions so we can’t compete equally with others. Racism blatantly exists and impacts the ways in which black people can live their lives. It impacts the ways that we can imagine ourselves. The fact that the reparations discussion has been so hushed up is part of the strategic attempt to “move on”….or in other words, to forget how a white system brutalized a group of people and continues to get advantages from that brutalization.
All too often, the reparations discussion gets tangled up in the “who should get the reparations?” garbage, or “how would that even work?” script. Perhaps we can look to the ways in which white people in the U.S. currently acquire advantages and land as a guide. If many of these folks are acquiring businesses, money, and land from their families, perhaps we are owed that from our government since they slaughtered our family members.