Friday, October 4, 2019

Should the United States Make Restitution for Slavery?

Well it is October 2019, almost a year out to the next Presidential Election. One of issues already becoming polarizing is the issue of whether or not the United States should pay Reparations to African-Americans who are descendants of slaves? As a nation we can't seem to agree and even more baffling to me is that not all African-Americans agree one way or another. I have to admit that being a direct descendant of several slaves makes me see this in a certain kind of way from people who are not African-American and I should not expect everyone to see this the way I do. That being said, many of the arguments I have heard people use has just blew me away because of how utterly untrue or nonsensical they are from my point of view. I wanted to write this post to explore some of those ideas and why I think they don't make sense.

 I would answer the above question with YES, the United States should pay some sort of reparations due to how descendants of slaves have suffered due to institutionalized racism and slavery itself. True, not all people would answer this question as I have. I also need to point out that I am not advocating for each one of us to get a check. I don't really know what the best from of reparations should be but I would not rule out money. I think we have to first have the discussion and agree that it is right and necessary. This is going to be the hard part. For example, checkout Burgess Owens in the following video "Why I don't want and Don't Deserve Reparations".

Obviously, I disagree with Mr. Owens, but I believe I understand what he is saying. As amazing as it sounds you can live in this country in a bubble where the evil of racism and the ramifications of slavery don't affect you that much even if you are black. You can be successful and wealthy and have opportunities to achieve levels that would have been undreamed of by our people in generations past. And to that, I say "Thank God!".

But don't we have a responsibility to the majority of our brothers and sisters who don't get those opportunities? Given that all the statistics and numbers show that Americans who are descendants of those who were brought here against their will in chains do not have the same opportunities and the same resources as those who are not descended from slaves. I think that most people would agree that the poorest places in America - the ones with really bad schools, high crime, drugs, high unemployment, and just all-around poverty are populated by people who were descended from slaves. You can be born into poverty just like some people are born into wealth.

Many of the points Mr Owens raised are the same arguments against reparations that I hear white people use. Just looking at a few of them, I can't believe people say them with a straight face.

1. They claim that it takes away the responsibility of black people to own up to the issues in their lives and stop blaming others. 

I don't know everything but even I'm not naive enough to think if we got rid of all racism all my problems  and the problems of all black people will go away. Slavery and its legacy, as well as discrimination, segregation, personal  and institutionalized racism are not good enough excuses to not make the best of whatever talents and resources that I do have. This is not about trying to take stuff from what other people have earned. For me this about "leveling the playing field" - the resources and opportunities available to everyone whether you have money and access or not.

2. It destroys the dignity of black people and makes them victims.

I was amazed the first time I read the Constitution. We are taught to love it. We are taught to respect it. But if you read it, you realized that if you are Black, Female, or not wealthy it was not written with you in mind. Remember women were not allowed to vote. And Black men were counted as 3/5 person so that the southern states could still kinda use their slave population as an excuse for greater representation in the House of Representatives. The truth is for Black people in the United States if you succeeded in life positively  contributing to society - any kind of way - you did it despite American "democracy". Simply put: God blessed you in spite of institutions hell-bent to keep victimized, if not outright destroying you. Truth be told, it is no different today.

Like Mr Owens, I come from a long line of Men and Women who didn't let slavery and racism stop them from doing somethings great with their lives. I stand on their shoulders. But just because we have people who learned how to get around obstacles in their way, I see no reason to add more obstacle and to not remove unfair ones.

Needing a hand up out of your circumstances is not being a victim, especially when you are facing circumstances not of your own making. And some of the circumstances people find themselves are because of their skin color and racism.

3. The Civil War was enough to make up for the sin of slavery. 

Given all the families that slavery destroyed. All the people who suffered and died for no other reason than the color of their skin during slavery and afterwards, the Civil War was not restitution. Just the beginning of judgment. I am angry. It was not right. It was not justice. Black slaves were treated worst than pack animals in some cases. Some were medically experimented on during slavery and afterward. This is all indisputable. And the atrocities against black people did not end with slavery.

Somebody should pay for this. The Civil War does not even begin to cover it, because the evil did not end with slavery.

4. I was never a slave so I don't deserve to be paid for work I didn't do. 

NO ONE achieves anything on their own. We are always standing on someone else's shoulder.  I see no difference between people inheriting wealth and getting what your ancestors should have gotten through their work They built this country like everyone else, but many of them didn't get to share in results of their labor. Paul wrote.

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? - 1 Corinthians 4:7

Owens' used the story of his Great-Grandfather to make his point so I will also appeal to my fore bearers. Mary and Lewis Lucas were my Great-Great Grandparents. They were born in slavery in southern Georgia and they were slaves for about 30 years. Towards the end of the Civil War, they were sold away from one another. This happened to a lot of slaves, but fortunately they were blessed to find each other again after the war ended. Not everyone was able to re-unite their families. I am especially grateful because although they had many children, my Great-Grandmother, Cynthia, was born after they were re-united. Had they not found each other and resumed their life together, I would not be here well as hundreds of  other people (I have a really large family). I tell this story, because of the suffering they went through but they didn't let any of that stop them from building good moral lives, All that being said, why should they have worked all those years for nothing? Some of what they would have earned would have been passed down to me and my generation anyway. It's about justice and just what is right.

5. I do not deserve to get money I didn't earn from other people's hard work.

Who said reparations have to be money of some amount paid to individuals? Not I. It could take a myriad of forms: tax beaks?  Scholarships? Free-ride education to deserving and willing descendants of slaves?  I do not know. But we can and should do something.

I want to turn to something else. Why is it that other persecuted groups that have suffered unfair treatment and persecution have had reparations paid to them, but descendants of African slaves in America have not gotten a thing but more racism? Take a look at the following graphic.

I realize some people might look at chart above and dispute the numbers or what not, but the question I asked is relevant as long as the United States has paid reparations to any group at any time it has treated them unjustly. I think without question we would all have to agree that the United States not only apologized for interning people of Japanese descent (including legal citizens)  due to bigotry and fear but they and their descendants got money as well. I agree they should be compensated. And the US would never ever let any thing like this happen again,,,,oh...yeah...nevermind.

So did Japanese-Americans suffer more in their internment camps than the Jews did in the Nazi concentration camps? Did they suffer more than African-Americans did during the Middle-Passage, Slavery, Jim Crow segregation, lynching, and all the red-lining and gentrification going on to this day? Did they get reparations because they deserved it more? It's unjust to do these kinds of things to white people but okay to do it to Black people? I hope no one would say that they deserved it more. So then why do reparation for the others but not Black Americans descended for slaves?

This is a complex issue, but it is important. Answering it shows what kind of place America truly is. Is it really the "land of the free"? But it truly is the "home of the brave" because you have to be brave to make it here if you are not wealthy and white because again American institutions are not set up for everyone to succeed but instead actively tries to ensure failure and no upward mobility for a few types of people from jump.  For many African-Americans, reparations could be a tool to help them take the share of the American Dream our ancestors dreamed of even while they still were in chains. And for the rest of America, reparations is an opportunity to quit pretending to be fair and balanced  and open but truly live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.  You know...the stuff Captain America stands for?

One last example for why we must be prepared to make radical changes in society to fix the brokenness of our institutions because of the racism baked into them is to look no farther than the "Star Spangled Banner" - the National Anthem. Ever wonder why we never really sing the third stanza in public very often? Read it for yourself.

"O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

Francis Scott Key was a racist individual he although he was moved to write this, he still felt the need to take a swipe at Black slaves who wanted to fight for their freedom, although the battle he was watching had nothing to do with slavery.  Read an article by Jeffery Robinson giving more detail. But this is an example of how ingrained in America racism is to the degree that we ask have to ask the question "Should the United State make restitution for Slavery?" and seriously come up with reasons why not because the people who were directly harmed by it are black.

Hazakim - No Not One