Reparations August 21, 2019

There is a lot of talk these days about reparations for black people who are the descendants of slaves. Those slaves were brought here against their will, sold like farm animals, and forced to live and work, many times under inhuman conditions for their owners/masters. They were beaten, sometimes brutally, the women were raped, their children were taken from them and sold as soon as they were marketable.

Activists claim they are due reparations…compensation for the brutality, and the subsequent discrimination they have suffered even after slavery was ended. They claim that black people are still suffering from that oppression, that it continues to this day.

Mitch McConnell, the infamous Republican Senate Majority Leader, has an answer for that. His ancestors were slave owners, but he opposes reparations:

“I think we are always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.”

In other words, shit happened, too bad for you. It’s not my fault, so get over it. Now the ironic part is that McConnell is a Christian, and throughout the Bible there are many instances of God punishing innocent people, massacring them by the millions, for the sins of their ancestors. Clearly, God thought that people could be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors. Apparently, Mitch doesn’t believe that applies to him. I agree that nobody should be punished for their slaveowner great-great-grandfather’s cruelty. Nobody should be punished for crimes committed even by their own parents, let alone earlier generations. That doesn’t mean our society as a whole does not need to fix the still-lingering damage caused by slavery. There is a difference between punishment and correcting past wrongs.

Many black people who are in favor of reparations, don’t want a big handout. They seek education and health care, decent housing and maybe some temporary economic help while they are getting on their financial feet. In fact, handing them a wad of cash would be insulting, suggesting that they can be bought off, that money can erase the wrongs. They want recognition of the painful history of slavery, and the wounds from it that have never completely healed. As Daniel Littlefield, a historian from Columbia, SC put it:

“What the reparations debate is about is not so much people wanting to get money. Black people feel they deserve some acknowledgement of ongoing wrongs.”

The “ongoing wrongs” he refers to include racially-motivated hate crimes, and police killings of unarmed black men. And, of course, the bigotry of a substantial percentage of white Americans, exemplified by the White Supremacy movement, which has been encouraged to come out from under the rock where it has been hiding, by our current President’s racist tweets.  The following is from a Los Angeles Times article about reparations:

Fred Lincoln, 74, is a retired firefighter in Charleston, SC. He is not prone to bursts of emotion. But he switches from sadness to defiance when he reminisces about growing up in the Jim Crow era. He says that no check from the government can truly account for centuries of injustice.

“My ancestors were robbed of everything – their history, their identity, their culture. Giving me money is an insult to my ancestors’ suffering – and all of my suffering.”

I suggest that we get rid of the word “reparations,” and concentrate on helping all disadvantaged people improve their economic status.  It is in every citizen’s interest to eliminate poverty. Any nation that can spend almost a trillion dollars a year on “defense” (including futile foreign wars), and give hundred billion dollar handouts to oil companies and agribusiness corporations can surely afford to provide education and job training, medical care and decent housing for every citizen. Nobody is this nation should be without adequate food. Fixing these problems will not be easy, but it is the best investment this nation can make.

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