Reparations? You’re Joking, Right?

It’s a big news week thanks to Michael Cohen and his testimony about the President on Capitol Hill, but that’s not what held my attention. No, this week, I’ve been mildly obsessed with this idea of reparations. And by mildly obsessed I mean it’s hard for me to hear it discussed as a viable idea.

I get that as the 2020 election heats up, many candidates and politicians are doing all they can to separate themselves from the herd – there’s like a million and one people running. Racism being a hot button issue, I imagine they think supporting the idea of reparations will gain them some leverage. For me, it does just the opposite.

For many, it’s more about studying the idea than actually paying anything anyway. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week that she supports pending legislation to study reparations. That makes sense. You can study something until you fall over dead and nothing ever comes of it. In an academic context, you could study yourself silly and not even pass the associated test.

But I feel better about that than actually thinking someone meant to attach a number to the black condition in this country. Studying reparations to inequality, oh, okay. Yeah. As long as we put a time limit on that study – since most of the data such a thing would produce is actually already available – and actually commit to making some changes, cool. Study.

It sounds like the verbal equivalent of some BS pat on the head, but if not, if it’s actually a segue to a discussion about equality for all, I’m in. But don’t use reparations, don’t use black people, our legacy of suffering, as your bridge to improve society. We’re tired. Do you really need to ride on our backs to convince voters to make the country better? That’s pathetic.

I’m not endorsing Bernie Sanders, but at least he asked point blank what exactly do these presidential candidates mean when they say they support reparations? I can’t bring myself to seriously consider it. The word actually makes me nuts. Every time I hear it I want to scream, “stop talking about this stupid shit!” Because that word is about money. It means “to make amends for a wrong one has done by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” In that definition, paying money comes before help.

When I googled the definition the example it offered was: “the courts required a convicted offender to make financial reparation to his victim.” Now let’s unpack that because that sentence is actually genius in this context. You have the phrase convicted offender, and the words financial, and victim.

It will be a cold day in hell before we can legally call white people and anyone else deemed racist a convicted offender of racism. At least, not in a wholesale, big idea, lump sum, all encompassing reparations context. The victim bit makes sense, as black people have been “harmed, injured or killed as a result of a crime, accident or other event or action” too many times to count because of racism, and they continue to be victimized daily in this context. But financial? Yeah, that’s a nice pie in the sky idea, but there’s gravity, and who wants to continuously pick cooked fruit out of their hair?

The base idea that someone could put a price tag on all that black people have suffered in this country, it’s so ridiculous, so disgusting, so perverted. I can’t. I even read that author and activist Marianne Williamson would “allocate up to $500 billion to redress a range of discriminatory policies.”

That’s not enough.

I mean, since we’re throwing around the word reparations, let’s consider what exactly black people would need to be compensated for:

  • The mélange of deep physical, mental and emotional ills brought on by racism related stress that have shortened our lifespans, led to our use as medical guinea pigs for experimentation and brought our quality of life into the gutter
  • The endless mounds of lost income associated with being paid less for the same work as non-black peers, or paying a higher price for goods and services. It’s called the black tax
  • The systemic destruction of the black family through many means such as targeting black men and women for harsher criminal punishment, requiring considerable money for legal fees as well as more money to support those who are jailed. Thus, removing needed income and support from the family unit
  • Speaking of jail, how much would it cost to compensate us for the new slavery, also known as the prison industrial system, which makes millions by using jail labor while paying inmates pennies. Hence, us getting more time for any crime
  • Then there’s the emasculation of the black man and the hyper sexualization of the black woman and all of the verbal and physical abuse that comes along with that
  • The loss of life from senseless and deliberate killings at the hands of law enforcement
  • The deliberate destruction and subversion of any self-sustaining entity we try to build to relieve ourselves of the stress associated with all of these other things, i.e. the destruction of Black Wall Street in 1921. Similarly, there’s the assassination of black leaders who successfully teach a different, better way of life for us and for everyone

That’s just what comes off the top of my head, and all of these are connected, thus compounding their effects. So, I ask you. What would that price tag look like? $500 billion?

In order for reparations to have any value, and not just be a political sop to absolve certain parties of guilt, worry or concern about institutional racism and its assorted subsidiaries, compensation would need to be significant. We’re talking hundreds of years worth of compensation here.

To make it worth our while, the descendants of slaves would at bare bones minimum have to become multi-millionaires and have all of their financial, emotional and physical ills wiped out. A check won’t cut it. I don’t think the sum of money needed to make appropriate reparations even exists. So, please. For the love of all that’s reasonable, for the respect that we are due as Americans in a democracy, stop it.

I’m not saying black people don’t need help getting our shit together if and when we ever stop paying the price we pay every day for being black. Hell, if I thought these politicians were actually planning to pay out some cash, I wouldn’t fold up my fist or turn away a helping hand for sure. Nor would I turn my nose up at some sincere encouragement. But if you take down the barriers, remove the trumped up, nonsensical obstacles, I’d bet money we can get our shit together on our own, and quick too. I mean, look how much we’ve managed to accomplish across every industry despite the deck consistently being stacked against us.

The idea of reparations is intrinsically and irrevocably flawed because there is no way to compensate black people for what’s been, and is currently being, done to us. So, why waste more time and energy looking back? Don’t frame the discussion of what needs to be done to dismantle institutional racism around reparations for slavery, but around true equality.

Slavery happened. It was a living, breathing nightmare, the reverberations from which still ripple throughout the black – and white and brown etc. – community. But the best apology or amends is changed behavior. Focus on what’s needed to eradicate institutional racism. Overturn sentences, punish offenders, fix educational systems, correct policies, prices, salaries, etc., and yes, pay out some settlements. That’s a huge challenge worthy of all our attention, and one that won’t just have positive impact for one group, but for all of us collectively in this country. A political candidate who addressed reparations that way might get my vote. Otherwise the idea is just silly because you don’t have enough money.

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