The issue of reparations as a topic of mainstream discussion has been a long time in coming. Decades. The form of that conversation has also changed. Initial discussions amongst many Black folks usually consisted of asking the question “Are we owed reparations?” to which the answer would usually be “We’ll never get reparations” (which was not the question).
We’ve gone from disbelief and surrender to fervent belief and critical mass activism to secure reparations. This is a positive development.
Unfortunately, Jon Jeter’s recent piece on reparations “Reparations: a philosophical exploration,” harkens back to the days of disbelief and surrender. In those days, when asked if we were owed reparations, a second popular answer would be “We’d simply spend it all,” or “We’d just give it right back to the White man.”
This is a popular belief that cannot be denied, even today when the tide has somewhat turned. So imagine my horror when I read where Jeter didn’t simply state this, but in fact argued for it.
I was aghast at the suggestion that reparations would be good economic policy for ameriKKKa, since “… the concentration of property in White hands acts as a drag on the economy, reducing buying power and shrinking the consumer demand that the macro-economy relies on to grow.”
Aghast that the monies owed to us due to terror and discrimination could be used to help get terrorizers and discriminators back on a sure economic footing.
Reparations are “the making of amends for a wrong that has been done; to repair; to make whole again.” We need to understand the horror and the viciousness and the evil that was slavery. Once we understand that, we will understand clearly that there is absolutely no way the United States government can ever print up enough money to repay us. Therefore, why on earth and six other planets would we want to give it right back to the U.S. in order to save her?
Reparations from the United States government for the unpaid labor of enslaved Africans are a just demand. They are a righteous demand; they are a legitimate demand. But a reparations demand that is divorced from a mass movement to end State violence, a reparations demand that is divorced from a liberation movement—in other words, simply “cuttin’ a chec”—is a grave error. At its best, it is an empty, meaningless demand.
At its worst, it is a petit-bourgeois ploy for a small group or groups of elite Blacks (business owners, intellectuals, “handpicked spokespersons for the race,” etc.) to accumulate capital and resources to leverage as power at the expense of the masses of Black folks. This leveraging of power would be used to maintain this group or groups of Black folks as a continued buffer to broker “on behalf of” the mass of grassroots Black folks and the purveyors of White Supremacy who currently hold power in the U.S.
Power over, not with or for
That, in and of itself, is enough to keep us occupied. Coming up with an economic plan specifically to save ameriKKKa should not factor into the matter.
When we look at the issue of reparations from an historical standpoint, we see that reparations are usually paid after hostilities have ended. Hostilities against Black folks in the U.S. have in no way, shape, form or fashion ended. In fact, these hostilities appear to have actually intensified.
A just reparations demand to the U.S. must be an immediate end to all hostilities by the United States government against people of African descent. The White Supremacist State must immediately cease and desist. Strengthening her economically is not how that’s done.
Demanding reparations only while anti-Black State violence is alive, healthy, hungry and on the prowl for Black bodies to devour will not heal our communities from the trauma and violence that White Supremacy needs in order to live. If free admittance to any institution of higher learning in the U.S. for the descendants of Africans held as slaves was part of a reparations package, for example, what good would that do us if our children can still be murdered like Jonathan Ferrell or brutalized like Martese Johnson or Jordan Miles at any given moment of the day?
What good are reparations for low- or no-cost housing loans and/or forgiveness or erasure of mortgages if our children can still be murdered with impunity while lying on couches next to their grandmothers? While playing with toy guns in community parks? While walking through gated communities carrying Skittles and iced tea?
Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an activist and writer based in Los Angeles, California.