This year, America reaped its weight in grief and exhaustion from young Black people. We are under no illusion that there is anything that this country is ready—or willing—to offer in order to meaningfully make up for it.
Moreover, the reductive framework reparations have been assigned in the predominantly White spaces in which they would need to be applied to impact Black people is almost patronizing for those of us coming up in the world now.
How do you “clock in” the hours spent living under the weight of the knowledge that you are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 while still being expected to go about your daily life? What is the dollar value on all the time we have lost calling for and actualizing change? From taking to the streets for protests to showing up and cultivating reform at the administrative level, young Black people’s contributions in the last year cannot be measured so easily.
Since we do live in a capitalist society, money is crucial to success and—more importantly—survival. Because poverty is an interracial possibility (though less prevalent as a reality for some), money becomes a good middle ground in discussions of race, equity and justice.
And to be fair, there is an intimate relationship between class conflict, capitalism and race. In order to examine any particular aspect or solution to be found between the three in America, all must be understood at some level.
However, while money is at the heart of the mechanisms behind systemic oppression as well as other facades racism wears, it is limiting to suggest that it is the sole solution. While that is not necessarily what is being suggested by discussions centered on reparations and their impact, it keeps us bogged down in details that would be better spent elsewhere.
While understanding that we do, at the present, live in this society, many Black youth do tend to agree with the consensus that some form of monetary reparations are in order, COVID-19 relief chief among them. Government supplements, regular compensation checks, universal basic income—all are well and good as infantile first steps in taking care of Black citizens writ large.
But reparations still miss the point
To say that reparations are entirely worthless or useless to consider is an inherently classist argument few should make. But at its core, the concept of money supplementing all we have lost to systemic negligence and oppression misses the point and this year was little more than a symptom of what we’re really facing.
Thus, many young Black people’s minds have spent little time looking at reparations as anything more than a placating boost along the way. Accepting what little reparations are available from the same government actively profiting off of our oppression seems to be nothing more than a survival attempt young Black people are willing to accept through their teeth.
Instead, many of us favor movements geared more towards razing the current systems entirely. If this year taught us anything, it is that Black youth are ready—and most willing—to raze the system down to its roots and go from there. Burn the field, so to speak, so the new crop can grow richer for it.
We were not born in a revolutionary era, nor were many of us born and raised by revolutionaries. Our lives, many of which began in the late ‘90s, have been spent with much of this country’s consciousness shifted to the rapid evolution of technology, the U.S. industrial-military complex’s ravaging of the Middle East, and the changing definitions of truth and democracy.
Like many of those who came before us, we have never had the privilege of being born into this country during a time when it had any illusions of real, accountable change. Growing and learning during the Obama administration, we grew wary of placation and representational politics and sensitive to dog-whistling.
We have been violently moved into revolutionary thought time and time again. Instead of shining figures leading us to brighter paths, we’ve had children our age murdered in our streets and made to be martyrs. We have come to know this country as one happier to see us dead before it would be willing to see us thrive.
Reparations are a limited framework meant to imply that there are notes in the freedom song for us, if only we are willing to accept penance for them. But you can’t un-ring that bell because the bell is broken. It was made to be broken—its music never made to be danced to by people who look like us—and we have lived all our lives with this knowledge.
Instead, we focus on writing our new songs and performing them with instruments that we have forged. It’s the gauntlet laid before every new generation, but one we have picked up and run with happily. Perhaps this one will be able to put the role reparations has played to bed once and for all and finally give us a world where we don’t need them anymore.
Ultimately, reparation implies that something can be fixed. It implies that the hurt my generation has endured and the generational trauma my generation has inherited—from the after-effects of neo-slavery and Jim Crow more recently compounded by the War on Drugs, the crack epidemic, the AIDs crisis, the foreclosure crisis, mass incarceration, and now the coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic of police violence—can be healed by tokens.
We want equity and equal opportunity!
Jasmine Snow is a staff writer for the Minnesota Daily, a student-run newspaper at the University of Minnesota. She is a sophomore at the U of M majoring in journalism and an occasional contributor to the MSR.