Racial tensions are at an all-time high in America since slavery, segregation and the aftermath. White men are in the streets cracking whips under the American flag. Karens face judgement and sentencing in the courts of the online community. Meanwhile, support for the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow.
Look at this white man pic.twitter.com/OHsGopbv2H
— Brother tyrone X (@tyrone_brother) June 19, 2020
Workers who stand with the movement often find themselves needing to defend their stance at work, on the clock. Sometimes, their employers support them and sometimes they don’t.
Someone complained about me wearing my favorite shirt today on our Facebook page, now I can’t wear it at work anymore :.( pic.twitter.com/3Ssnl9hPDc
— Black Rights Are Human Rights (@bryantinak) June 17, 2020
I watched the full video on Reddit. Kudos to the worker who actually knew her history and could counter his points intelligently. Unfortunately, intelligence is wasted on racists who don't know Jack diddly squat about American history. https://t.co/P3ipBQfyQN
— Alexis Chateau 🇯🇲🇺🇸 (@alexischateau_) June 18, 2020
Some statements of support came from companies that have long spoken out against racially-motivated, unjust treatment, such as Ben and Jerry’s. Others feel less genuine and seem to come from organisations that feel pressured to say something before their patrons start forcing them to pick a side.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 2, 2020
Walmart: "We're taking steps to address racism head-on! Also we've got this cool 1488-branded Trump gear on sale check it out" 👀👀👀 pic.twitter.com/P1rx6Wznhj
— Jay Smooth (@jsmooth995) June 18, 2020
— JamaicaObserver (@JamaicaObserver) June 19, 2020
This prompted several people to ask the question: is the time finally ripe for reparations? If so, how would it be distributed and how would it work?
What Are the Complications of Reparations?
Last year, while at a social gathering, a funny conversation about rednecks in rural towns turned into a more serious conversation about race. Most of the people at the table were West Indian Blacks. Two men were White. I voiced the unpopular opinion that while I saw the importance of reparations, I could think of no fair way to distribute it. Here were my points of contention:
- Should it matter where Blacks in the country originally came from when it comes to reparations or should America potentially foot the bill for reparations from the descendants of British, French and Spanish slaves who migrated here?
- How do you determine which Blacks on American soil are descendants of American slaves, versus those of us who migrated from elsewhere today or several generations ago?
- Should the Union States pay the same toward reparations as the Confederacy, which couldn’t pay slaves but could fund a whole Civil War to try to keep them?
- If White families can prove they descended from some of the millionaires in the Union States who invested in the Underground Railroad and helped set up safe houses, do they get a pass or do they pay the same as those proudly descended from Confederates? What if someone descends from both sides?
- How do you determine who owns properties now that were unlawfully taken from free Blacks during slavery, segregation and the aftermath? What if a Black person now owns said property and paid their money for it? Should they give it up?
- If we’re tracing all the way back to who originally owned the land, are we going as far back as the Natives as the true owners? Should they also get a claim?
My questions stirred a bit of an uproar at the table. Ultimately, even the Whites disagreed that these presented complexities. While I certainly believe it isn’t our job to figure it out, I don’t think we can ignore that the complexities exist.
There will never be an efficient system for addressing reparations that sufficiently punishes who should be punished and levels the playing field. That said, I suppose the question we should ask is: does it matter, or is any attempt worth it?
Is the Timing Right for Distributing Reparations?
This is the 22nd day of protests in the country https://t.co/ys37Pmd6OI
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) June 19, 2020
Many people might argue that at the private level, it has already begun. Non-profit organizations claiming to support Black causes are bursting at the seams with tens of millions in cash. Several companies have also pledged millions toward the Black Lives Matter movement in place of empty promises.
For instance, PayPal pledged $530 million:
“…to support Black and minority-owned businesses and communities in the U.S., especially those hardest hit by the pandemic, to help address economic inequality.”
In all honesty, I find this funny, considering that PayPal declined both me and another Black friend for the PPP loan. I know I qualified for the loan because I was later approved by Capital One with the same figures, albeit for crumbs. She was then approved by the SBA for a disaster relief business loan.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, several people are now promoting Black-owned businesses. Many Black women entrepreneurs saw their beauty products sell out and generate six-figure profits in mere hours after launch in the past few weeks. Similarly, many people are asking for more books written by Black authors.
While this certainly is a good step in the right direction, Blacks shouldn’t need to be notable to be celebrated and supported. Not all Blacks own businesses or want to. And some would rather cut their pinky toes off than attempt to write a book. This is true of all cultures, ethnicities and races.
So, what support does that leave for the nine-to-fivers or the people with convictions who can’t secure a nine-to-five at all? There are some organizations created to assist this demographic, but ultimately, if businesses do not employ them, there is little they can do. That is where a federal or state-level system becomes necessary.
That brings us right back to the question of how. How can we effectively distribute reparations for slavery? I’ve done some thinking since that dinner conversation last year and believe any of the following might work if Uncle Sam feels stingy with cash payments:
- Create special mortgage programs for Blacks, just like there are special loans for veterans (VA Loans) and rural communities (USDA loans).
- Exclude Blacks from paying income taxes in acknowledgement of the fact that slaves built America and did not earn a penny for their pains.
- Provide a temporary tax holiday to Blacks starting a legitimate business in America that mirror the same tax holidays American companies enjoy and exploit in developing countries, like Jamaica.
- Retrain law enforcement officers and audit the justice system so that Blacks do not spend life in prison for stealing $9 while Whites get off for killing little boys walking around with Skittles.
Why Does Anything Need To Be Done?
let’s talk about Black soldiers coming home from WWII and being barred from receiving the gi bill, which is how many white families built wealth through real estate. https://t.co/dIaYVwQNbQ
— finegodmother (@finegodmother) June 18, 2020
There are many Blacks who, through hard work, the right connections, luck or a combination of all three, excelled in spite of the challenges they faced. Racist Whites often use this as proof that there are no systematic prejudices that put Blacks at an economic disadvantage. Many Blacks who succeed often share the same sentiment once they get the opportunity to wear rose-coloured glasses.
As an immigrant who has done reasonably well in my five years here, I think I’m in a good position to give a more objective answer. America is, without a doubt, the land of opportunity. It sometimes surprises me how anyone manages to be poor in this country. However, I can acknowledge the difference between myself and your average American that puts me in the position to feel that way.
I don’t come from a country known for opportunities, so I grab every single one I get here. I don’t waive chances by with full confidence that another will present itself when I’m good and ready. I treat every opportunity like the last one. Even so, I face the same setbacks African Americans do — and then some. For instance, even with good credit, I often get denied for loans because my credit is new: an unavoidable situation when you move to America in your mid-20s.
Americans are so accustomed to opportunities that they often let them go by, expecting that another will come. From what I’ve seen, Blacks and Whites share the same level of complacency here, especially in their younger years. However, whereas Whites can count on a lifetime of privilege and millennia of accumulated family wealth to use as a crutch, Blacks have fewer opportunities to bounce back from that complacency.
What Is the Wage Gap Between Blacks and Whites?
The term “millennia of accumulated family wealth” might rub a lot of people the wrong way, but it’s the truth. Blacks in Africa had their countries turned upside down by Europeans bent on conquest. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was part of my required reading as a history student in Jamaica and I highly recommend it.
As a result of these actions, Europeans essentially reset development for most people of African-descent on the Mother Continent and in the Americas. The end result is that most diasporic Africans have only begun to truly build generational wealth since the 1800s at the earliest. In America, some might say African Americans never got a chance worth mentioning until segregation ended.
Meanwhile, First World countries have continued to execute many of the same economic exploitation skills they perfected in Africa in other developing regions. This is how they further enrich themselves. This happens at not just the governmental or corporate levels, but the individual levels as well.
This has allowed Whites to accumulate generational wealth for thousands of years, while Blacks have only had a few centuries at most to start over. Yes, there are poor Whites in America. However, failing to acquire wealth despite a 2,000-plus-year headstart is a case of slipping through the cracks, just like many Black people who become successful.
Instances of White poverty does not negate the fact that Whites have benefited from political and socio-economic equality since the dawn of America and beyond. This holds true regardless of what role they or their ancestors played in slavery and regardless of where their current politics lie.
To better illustrate this, here are some important facts published this year by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee:
- Black households earn 59 cents for every dollar earned by White families.
- The median wealth owned by Black families is just $17,000, compared to $171,000 for Whites.
- While 73% of Whites own their homes, only 43% of Blacks do.
- Unemployment rates are twice as high for Blacks as for Whites.
- Black families are twice as likely to live in poverty as White families.
- Despite the end to Jim Crow, continued segregation in communities leads to inferior secondary education for many Black communities.
In fact, the Washington Post recently shared that the wage gap between races is as bad now as it was in 1968. It is especially terrible for Black women, who must also contend with the gender pay gap, while potentially being single mothers. Note that single-family households of any race are primarily headed by women.
So, is it time for reparations? I think if there was ever a moment in history when monetary reparations for slavery could be made, the time is now. But, under this president? Or under Joe who is on a mission to reunite America by trying not to alienate fellow old, White men from his following? I sincerely doubt that will happen.
The Confederacy will yield neither its millions nor its pennies to right the past wrongs it is so proud of. I plan to air my thoughts on how America has allowed itself to be held hostage by its Civil War traitors, but that’s a post for another day.
What do you think? Is it time to pay reparations, and if so, how should it be distributed? Do you really think it will happen in this lifetime — or ever? Air your thoughts freely and respectfully in the comments below.
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