Someone Come Look At This…
If you know me well or if you’ve spent time on my blog, you’re aware that I spend a great deal of time dealing with and discussing reparations for black people in the Americas. Mind you, lest that introductory sentence seems vague and misleading, black people in the Americas have yet to receive reparations from their former enslavers, states, and the federal governing bodies that helped perpetuate this crime for hundreds of years.
The harm done to black people in general by the transatlantic slave trade to discriminatory laws and practices late on are at this point innumerable. But that is not an excuse that prevents us from quantifying or attempting to remunerate or recompense immediate victims of these horrors or their descendants who have experienced detriment as a result of them.
Typically, the excuses that are made about what happened, namely, slavery, happened so long ago that there are no slavers left to imprison and punish and no slaves left to redeem from bondage and assist with land, financial assistance, and social programs.
This argument is used by individuals who would rather see the Third Reich resurrected than witness minorities rise from poverty to find affordable housing in their racially homogenous communities.
Let’s Talk About Generational Wealth
The truth is that wealth is passed down from generation to generation. If you live in a house that was built in 1980, chances are your family has lived there since then or purchased it sometime after it was built. You grew up in that same neighborhood, your parents paid the house off by the time you were in college, perhaps, and now that you’ve graduated from school your parents can either sell their house to move to a smaller place; and bank on that resale, or pass the house title, which is already paid off, down to you. And this relieves you of the burden of having to apply for a mortgage for which you will be responsible come the next quarter of a century.
You are already financially ahead of many people in the country and your children are born into a home where mom and dad are both college graduates, they don’t have monthly mortgage payments deducted from their checking account. Trips to Florida, New York, California, and take place once every two to three years; and trips to Europe, are possible just as often as well. Your kids will have a college fund set up for them so that by the time they’re 18 or 19 years old, mom and dad have already saved up for them to go to school debt-free or with a very light financial burden to carry around.
Disposable income is a customary word in this home. Harley-Davidson motorcycles, boats, lifted trucks, hunting adventures with powerful and expensive bolt-action rifles take place once or twice every year. Fishing trips out of town, perhaps out of state are normal. Joining sports clubs is without a doubt a necessity because mom and dad have the disposable income to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment for the two or three different sports each kid will join every year.
Field trips are accessible and asking for extra cash for the trip is never an embarrassment because mom and dad hand you a credit card and ask you to be mindful of your spending while abroad.
Holiday dinners are bountiful, never without a hefty turkey or ham. Your table seats eight comfortably and the room you dine in can accommodate even more people should that be the case because the family is, well, well to do, you know.
There’s never an incident of financial hiccups because the level of financial peace was passed down from one generation to the next. The ability for mom and dad to enjoy their lives is present and possible because they don’t have a mortgage to pay. Just property tax, once a year.
And the kids can focus on their schooling because they’re well fed, well entertained, well cared for, unbothered by financial disasters, their sporting events are financially covered, their field trip expenses are covered, and their every need is met by mom and dad without a bother or bump on the road.
This is just two to three generations of financial stability.
Now, consider the opposite.
Let’s Talk About Generational Poverty
Mom and dad attempt to purchase a home but they’re denied the opportunity of living in a particular community because that community does not accept certain groups of people so mom and dad have to live elsewhere, further from work.
Mom and dad are now stuck with paying for rent, which, as is always the case, is much higher than a mortgage. Mom and dad both apply for work closer to their apartment buildings but are given lower-paying jobs because the good jobs require higher education and a certain lighter complexion to qualify for. This isn’t in the job requisite write-up but the hiring manager and company president express it in conversation once mom or dad leaves the room.
So now mom and dad have to find work as administrators, custodians, handymen, or cleaners.
Once employed, mom and dad both work to support their family but their income is so low, inflation keeps rising, as does their rent every year, that they get behind on bills. This becomes a snowball effect and mom and dad end up having to get a second job, a part-time one, to supplement their full-time job income.
Mom and dad don’t have time with their kids now because mom and dad are working twelve-hour days. By the time they’re home the best they can do is purchase the simplest burger from the nearest burger joint for $5 just so their kids can eat at night.
Mom and dad do this because buy rice, beans, meat, and treats is too great a cost for them at this stage in their life.
This becomes their pattern of life for the next twenty to thirty years.
Their kids cannot participate in sporting events because the equipment necessary is too costly. The school they attend does not have the best possible educational programs because the school is underfunded because what subsidizes this school are the communities that surround it. Affluent communities invest in their schools and subsidize private and charter schools but poverty-stricken communities go neglected for decades. Teachers are few, underpaid, overworked, with too many students in their class, who, for lack of time with parents and lack of a proper meal and a financially stable home, cannot muster the energy to learn new things.
So mom and dad apply for loans and lines of credit with stratospheric interest rates just to cover a few more bills, get their kids a proper meal every day, sporting equipment for their sport of choice, and a new pair of shoes here or there for each kid.
The loan payments come around, bills accumulate, some bills are missed, loan repayments are missed, interest rates rise, and late-bill payment notices arrive with interest charges on them but mom and dad keep going.
Mom and dad’s boss, at each of their jobs, informed them that a raise is out of the question because of inflation and the salary cap on their position within the company cannot be adjusted. The boss, under a supercilious scowl, suggests they go back to school to earn a degree or a diploma by which they will earn better living wage and salary.
What the boss doesn’t know is that mom and dad have applied time and again for the opportunity to take technical classes at the nearest technical institute and also applied to college over the years but have been unable to fulfill the financial demands of these institutions and the demands of family time because they both work two jobs. Mind you, the scholastic institutions have continually raised their class fees over the years without explanation making it financially unfeasible to attend school.
The kids wrestle with aspirations of going to college but end up staying home and picking up summer jobs that transition into full-time jobs by the time they graduate school. Very low-paying jobs.
The kids are unable to get into school because their student loans would only pay for their classes but not their board. they would drive to school but they do not own a car. Mom and dad use the only car the family owns between them.
And also, mom and dad would love to drive them to college every day but mom and dad’s car just broke down and now they need to apply for another cash advance, payday loan just to fix their car, whilst being behind on bills, rent, loan repayments, and more.
Generational wealth versus generational struggle, poverty, and debt.
What we fail to realize or perhaps what we don’t want to admit is that the first family in this made-up scenario is white and comes from a line of wealth that dates back at least two-to-three generations.
The second family is black or a different minority and they inherited nothing from their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents because not only was material wealth and financial stability passed on to the first family but the only thing passed down to the second family was adversity to stall and halt their progress through life.
The truth of the western society we seldom think about is that white people have had generations of wealth, stability, education, and social capital over black, indigenous, Latino, and other minority groups. And this is not accidental as if white westerners just so happened upon an unclaimed body of land with treasures all about before anyone else. What happened is that the treasure belonged to someone else, it was taken, plundered, and exploited. And anyone who attempted to take it back was destroyed and later depicted as primitive savages in history books.
The truth is that western society has historically benefited one racial group whilst exploiting another.
As we have seen in the pseudo-albeit highly relatable and credible stories above is that poverty gets passed down the same way wealth does.
And much of the wealth America has accumulated over time has settled with a predominantly homogenous group; white or rather, Caucasian Americans of European descent.
What brings me back to this article is another article written by Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University.
In Why Japanese-Americans received reparations and African-Americans are still waiting professor Rhoda tackles the moral inconsistency and racial deprivation of the American federal government when it comes to reparations.
In this article, she states that the reason why Japanese Americans were better suited to receive reparations or more likely to be repaid for crimes committed against them by their government was based on a tier system of qualifications created by the offending party, the United States government, and not the offended party, Japanese Americans.
“It is much easier to obtain reparations under the following conditions:
- The number of victims is relatively small.
- The victims are easily identifiable.
- Many of the direct victims are still alive.
- The injustice took place during a relatively short time period.
- The perpetrator is known.
- The injustice is easily identifiable.
- The injustice offends values of equality, personal safety and/or the right to own property.
- There is a symbolic victim around whom advocates for reparations can rally.
- The amount of reparations asked for is not so large that the public will find it unreasonable.”
And I agree that it is much easier to quantify and calculate the immediate financial and property damage done to Japanese Americans because these crimes happened in 1945 whereas slavery as it occurred in what we now know as the United States of America began as early as 1619.
We have video footage of Japanese Americans being forcefully removed from their homes and bussed into internment camps. We have documentation of how many were moved, how many were displaced, how many lost their mode of income, job security, and livelihoods. We know these things and it makes for a case to repair the damages done because what was done was empirically wrong and evil; and quantifiable.
But Professor Rhoda lists these nine conditions by which to evaluate if one is deserving or not of reparations but she does not stop there on just how problematic these conditions can be to other victims who do not fall under this system.
“Slavery was abolished in 1865, but many injustices were perpetrated during the post-1865 Jim Crow period and beyond. These included continued violations of bodily safety, such as lynchings and police shootings. Segregation and discrimination violated the principle of equality. And even when African-Americans earn the same incomes as their white contemporaries, they own much less wealth because they do not inherit from generations of property owners.”
Japanese Americans perished in internment camps under American rule and this was enough to qualify them for reparations. Why then, is the same government so lazy and flaccid in repairing the hurt and damages done to black Americans for the last three centuries?
Mind you, the harm Japanese Americans suffered at the hands of racist and unnecessarily suspicious white Americans happened between 1942 and 1945. The second world war forced American racial exceptionalism to the limelight once again even though Japanese American citizens were willing to die for their fellow American countrymen were they to be asked.
But black Americans have been at the losing end of this war for centuries and they have been belittled, beaten, spit on, surveilled by the federal government agencies without cause, searched without a warrant, arrested without having committed a crime, deemed guilty by a biased jury, incarcerated albeit innocent of wrongdoing, and executed in gas chambers, electric chairs, or the noose, while still being innocent.
Black Americans have been lynched for hundreds of years. More so after the American Civil war when black Americans were granted their freedom from bondage, granted the right to American citizenship, and yes, the right to vote. But even then, they were terrorized by local governing bodies and policing divisions whilst the federal government turned a blind eye to it all.
Emmitt Till was lynched in 1955 for God’s sake.
Till was lynched nine years after the last Japanese American internment camp was shut down in March of 1946 and the Civil Liberties Act afforded Japanese Americans $20,000 as reparations for wrongs done to them.
Emmitt Till was murdered, his body brutalized and thrown into the Tallahatchie River and his assailants were set free after a speedy and biased trial.
Only nine years after Japanese Americans were granted their freedom from bondage in horrid internment camps and paid for being unlawfully imprisoned in their own country was Emmitt Till brutally lynched.
How long will it be before black Americans are recognized in the same light? Before they’re treated with the same decency and respect?
“No one is a slave anymore.” Was used immediately after the war.
What of their descendants who inherited their poverty? The ones who inherited generations of shame and displacement? The ones who are born into poverty-stricken neighborhoods that only exist because they were prevented from living elsewhere by white Americans of yesteryear.
Are we still under the intellectually vacuous mindset that the neighborhoods that exist today in say, Detroit, Brooklyn, Mobile, Beverly Hills, or Naples, Florida, just so happened to spring up the way are today? That affluence just naturally and gradually flowed to white Americans, over time?
Because white Americans just worked harder for what they have?
That black Americans are lazy? Consumed by a poor work ethic? That they’re unwilling to better themselves?
Perhaps I am asking more rhetorical questions than you are willing to accept the answers for but what I am getting at is that black Americans have and continue to experience injustices on the basis of race and have yet to receive a single dime for these injustices.
And this isn’t just about money. Listen, reparations supersede and transcend monetary recompense alone.
Reparations also include acknowledgment and change, cultural and societal change where power, authority, and influence are spread across the board and not relegated, maintained, controlled, and regulated by white hegemony.
Those Confederate symbols need to come down once and for all, all across the country, and the fetishized Confederate paraphernalia needs to be banned from federal and state properties and institutions immediately. Germany was able to outlaw Nazi symbols whilst preserving its history but America struggles to outlaw the symbols of a treasonous Confederate state.
We’ve taken many steps forward but for a nation whose wealth blossomed and bloomed because of the slave trade and whose wealth is only possible because of that initial sin, it is sad that it has yet to repay the descendants of its blessings for the curses it has passed down to others.
Professor Rhoda adds to this dilemma:
“It is easy to identify the perpetrators of these injustices. But there are so many that it might be difficult to persuade any one perpetrator willing to pay reparations. At minimum, perpetrators include the U.S. federal government and the governments of every state that ever permitted enslavement of African-Americans. More broadly, they include municipal governments, private businesses, educational institutions and churches.”
We know who benefited from these wrongs but they have yet to one, fully acknowledge the extent of their benefit from the slave trade, and two, repay the immediate victims of their descendants what is rightfully theirs.
The enlightened professor Rhoda concludes her informative article with a hopeful and yet dreadful thought.
“Some people who advocate for reparations also ask for such a large amount that the public would probably find it unreasonable. For example, in his 2004 debate with me, Rodney Coates asked for $12-15 trillion, which is 60 to 75 per cent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product of $20.5 trillion in 2018.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for the movement for reparations to African-Americans to succeed. A social movement for businesses, universities and churches to acknowledge their roles in slavery and the Jim Crow era has already started. Georgetown University in Washington, for example, has offered reparations in the form of preferential admissions to the 4,000 descendants of the 272 slaves it sold in 1838.
There have also been reparations for some injustices during the Jim Crow period. In 1923, about 120 African-Americans were burned out of their homes in Rosewood, Fla., and several were murdered. In 2002, victims and victims’ descendants were awarded $2 million in compensation.
Thus, attaining reparations to African-Americans is not an impossible dream. But it is, and will continue to be, much harder than it was for Japanese-Americans.”
My final curiosity is this: are black Americans not American enough? Were Japanese Americans considered high class, or more racially pure, or socially clean and acceptable to receive and properly redistribute and use their funds than say black Americans?
I believe we know the answer but we are too afraid to say it out loud.
Hate for the black skin has been and continues to be an empirically undeniable aspect of American history and current society.
Professor Anthea Butler, Geraldine R. Segal Professor in American Social Thought, and chair of the department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America when speaking about racism in the formation of American religious thought, specifically within white evangelical circles she said,
“Racism is a feature, not a bug, of American evangelicalism.”
If Professor Butler will allow, I will add that racism is a feature, not a bug, of the United States of America as it has routinely funneled money into international proxy wars, international ventures, middle-eastern governments, namely the formation of the state of Israel, it has accepted Nazi war criminals and Nazi high ranking scientists into its military and scientific research divisions to further promulgate worldwide white supremacy but it has yet to take steps to redeem itself in a national scale by repairing the wrongs it has committed against black Americans of yesteryear and yesterday.
The United States government will cross seas and venture into space but it continues to ignore the detriment it has caused and continues to cause to the black American community.
If someone wants to know why reparations have yet to be meted out on a federal scale to black Americans it is because racism continues to operate as the standard metric by which America blesses some and curses others. Japanese Americans endured three years of hard labor, discrimination, and internment camps and were liberated and remunerated for the injustices they suffered under white American oppression. Thank God they were treated well and cared for shortly after their release.
Their only crime was their ancestry.
But Black Americans endured centuries, yes, not just three years of harsh internment camps but centuries of brutal savagery at the hands of the American government and its many private partners and corporations, and have yet to see as resolutory a conclusion to their plight.
Racism is alive and well when it comes to who gets reparations or not and it shows.
Same old racism, new clothes, I guess.