Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Case for Reparations

This is a good place to start for fixing things.

One would be everyone reading the "The Case for Reparations", by Ta-Nehisi Coates, from the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic. It is conveniently available online:

That is not actually the main goal, which would be the passing of HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. Congressman John Conyers Jr. has been trying to make this happen for twenty-five years.

As the title says, this is just a resolution to study the issue. It will not immediately lead to any money being paid out, which is often what people assume and get touchy about. Paying out money might not do enough. There is so much that has gone into the current situation, and it did not end in 1865. HR 40 would commit to dissecting those issues and finding the best way to resolve them.

That still faces a lot of resistance, but that's what makes reading the article such a good first step. It is an introduction to the many things that happened.

It is lengthy, and it is often uncomfortable to read. It should be. It is also thorough, well-researched, and beautifully written.

One thing that Coates does well is put a human face on the issue, in this case Clyde Ross. Born in 1923, Ross' story starts in the South, involves theft of property, moving his family into sharecropping with the inherent abuses there. Ross enlists for World War II and later moves to Chicago where his life is affected by corrupt real estate and finance practices.

Other people are featured as well, and events that Ross did not personally experience, like Black Wall Street and Roseland, but as you focus on this one person you can see him constantly having to fight a persistent oppression. The game is rigged, and it is rigged so badly that you know that it is not that Ross is unusual. If you talk to enough people of a sufficient age you will find many similar stories.

Yes, a lot of pundits like to blame it on laziness or criminality. There probably were people who were lazy and there were certainly people who were criminal, but they tended to get rich on it.

That may be part of a disturbing trend, but for now here are two simple steps. As individuals we can educate ourselves by facing our nation's original sin of slavery. The article is a good start. If you want to go deeper, there is a lot of information out there.

Then as a nation we examine it together so we can atone for it.

If you want to go deeper into how the abuses against African Americans continued after slavery, two good books out of many are Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (there is also a documentary) and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

If you want to know more about how similar abuses happened in Africa via colonialism, try How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney and King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild.

It's not about white people being evil. Greed lets people to do some pretty horrible things, and not being willing to face that perpetuates it.

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