Last week, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s comment that reparations “for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible,” was not a good idea. He added, “We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, [and] elected an African American president.”
We…elected an African American president?!?
McConnell surely did not vote for the first Black president. And, he surely did not support any of the civil rights legislation to which he is alluding. That McConnell would suggest former President Barack Obama’s election was a reparation for the damage done to Africans living in America provides insight into the U.S. mindset on the subject.
Like McConnell, most Americans believe reparations have already been paid, simply because Blacks have gained personal liberty, citizenship, the right to vote, the right to date and marry White folks, as well as their very own Black president.
Civil rights legislation (which is still being fought for), however, did not level the playing field or make Black America whole, which is the point of reparations. Black people did not get full when the Obamas ate!
The dictionary defines reparations as “the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” The idea is for the damages suffered to be repaired.
It is likely that many are opposed to reparations partly because they have no idea of the scope and nature of “chattel” slavery or the racist history of neo-slavery that followed.
Chattel slavery in the Americas amounted to a holocaust. Reparations advocates are not simply alluding to redress for chattel slavery. Their demand for reparations includes the neo-slavery that followed, such as lynching, pogroms, land theft, rape, 1919’s Red Summer, redlining, racist discriminatory laws and the myriad terrors that have hounded Black people most of the last century.
It also includes present-day discrimination such as institutional racism, police terror, inequities and micro-aggressions — all of which prevent Black folks from living full and prosperous lives.
And someone should tell poor White folks: “This ain’t about you.” No one is foolish enough to ask for money from poor and working-class Whites, as they are quick to point out their ancestors were “po” and did not own slaves.
The demand for restitution is pointed squarely at the U.S. government and its power structure, which profited directly, and indirectly, from slavery. The government also owes for implementing a kind of “White affirmative action” program, which awarded benefits and instituted policies, regulations and legislation that has advanced White America materially at the expense of Black America since slavery.
So, it comes as no surprise that over 80 percent of Whites in this country are opposed to reparations if the latest polls are to be believed. It is not shocking, either, that a poll found nearly one-third of Black people are also opposed to reparations. Of course, they are opposed; the majority of White people are opposed!
Those negroes are afraid that some people — in the most litigious society in the history of humankind — would be offended if they had the nerve to desire payment for damages, in any form, for the heinous crimes committed against their ancestors, grandparents, parents, and this generation.
And, judging from some of the racial mythologies created by the majority in this country, some also view Black folks asking for reparations as being ungrateful. According to opponents, living in the U.S. should be enough reward for their ancestors having endured chattel slavery.
John McWhorter, a Black academic, has also foolishly advanced the perspective that the debt owed to Africans in the U.S. has been paid. In a 2001 essay, in which he excoriates Randall Robinson’s The Debt, McWhorter claimed that “for almost 40 years, America has been granting Blacks what any outside observer would rightly call reparations.”
How is that when many of the vestiges of neo-slavery still haunt us today? It is why police shoot and kill Black people with near impunity and, just as importantly, there is no national government effort to stop the extrajudicial murders.
We should always keep in mind that this power structure and this system didn’t commit unspeakable trespasses, heinous acts and human theft in order to one day give back the spoils of their criminality.
While making the case for reparations, it is important that we work for that which will bring the best of reparation: a society in which we are all treated equally and fairly as human beings; a society that helps folks put decent food in our stomachs, decent clothes on our backs and a decent roof over our heads; one that allows us all to take our talents as far as they can without hindrance or prejudice and we ALL are allowed to prosper.
This society as it stands — this social, political, economic system that uses White Supremacy to confuse and divide us (and refuses to acknowledge its debts or past crimes) — has to become a relic.
Justice, then peace.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.