Thoughts on Reparations for African Americans

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov on

Is there a need for it?

What purpose would it serve?

Can such actions exonerate our guilt, or that of our ancestors?

Big questions.

What price can you put on the life of a person, the damage done to forebears, the pass-on negative effects, generation after generation?

Say that a given amount we’ll call X is awarded to an African American. Does that really undo the damage? Can we then say the problem is solved, the damage has been undone?

No, we cannot say that.

The danger is that if amount X is awarded, core beliefs would not change and neither would the behaviors. Compensation without thoughtful reflection will be for naught.

On the recipients’ side, there’s the very real possibility that if monetary compensation is given, they will not use the funds properly, thus negating the intended benefits.

Should benefits then be managed by the government, as in the form of grants to educate, to house, to provide medical services, childcare?

This general direction I find more appealing.

For instance, all African American would be given subsidized access to whatever high school, vocational center, college or university they applied, provided they met certain requirements which themselves would be adjusted in consideration of hardships the applicant may have struggled with. The amount of the subsidies to depend on the preexisting financial wellbeing of each family.

This would make more sense to me.

And what of those who have no desire to attend a learning center? Shouldn’t they too have access to reparations of another form?

Say a person wanted to start a business. Grants could then be issued, provided the person goes through some training to enhance their chances of success, and which would be part of the package.

Will the rest of us feel that we are doing something special for African Americans by engaging in such an approach or a variant of?

I think we would. We would still have to be very clear that the entire program is only a gesture, a step, not intended to undo but to soften the vast multigenerational damage that has been done.

But here’s the guiding principle. The attainment of a sense of accomplishment by African Americans would be the marker of success.

When a person is able to affirm themselves in life, their field of compassion is enlarged and we become more forgiving.

Now, what about White Americans who have fared poorly in life? Who have not had educational opportunities and thus have always lagged behind?

Would they, seeing how African Americans were being assisted, not complain loudly, in word and deed, that the forces that kept African Americans oppressed have affected them also, and that if given a chance to affirm themselves in life, they too would be more compassionate and forgiving?

That would also be a valid point.

It highlights the powerful role that economic forces have played in the genesis and preservation of racism.

To have reconciliation we must have justice and economic justice is key.

Is it possible, then, to confront the root causes of racism and forge ahead?

Yes. Nation building demands it.

Providing our citizens with the tools to better educate themselves and become full participants in the economy will be central as we move forward.

Racial tensions must be addressed and we start by acknowledging that collective denial keeps us from accepting that there is a problem.

As we do so we must keep in mind that in racial matters there is no purity.

Anyone who believes they have had no racist thoughts in their life, please step forward for all to take a good look because you are a rare find.

Restraint is another important condition. While all of us ought to be vocal in discussing racial issues, all must also be willing to check uncontrollable rage because to have a fruitful dialogue we cannot insult each other.

When I picture Martin Luther King, a giant in the struggle against racism, what first comes to mind is his equanimity, his calm courage, paired with the unyielding belief that hope lies in accepting our humanity. That is where it starts.

And it is in all of us. Sometimes hidden from sight, but often shining brightly.

Consider this. At this very moment, on Mars, lies an immensely complex device able to travel from one point to another on the surface of the planet. A rover they call it, and they named it Perseverance. They called it that to acknowledge that such astounding feat of engineering is the result of cooperation, imagination, love and dedication, the ability to dialogue and trust and experiment and take chances.

So think about it.

If we can do that, surely we can address the problem of racism.

Perseverance travelled 293 million miles over 7 months to get to Mars. And it takes 12 minutes for a message sent from Earth to reach it. What a feat.

And on top of that, on April 11 (approximately), a tiny – 4 pound – helicopter that made the journey tied to Perseverance, will do a flight of its own. The first ever in Mars. It is to last only 90 seconds. And they named it Ingenuity.

What an apt name.

Sometimes it takes picturing up in space – far, far away – all of what mankind can do, to discover that with Perseverance and Ingenuity, we can solve our problems here on Earth.

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