America's legacy of post-slavery racism and the case for reparations


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2014/06/23/americas-legacy-of-post-slav.html


#2

Reparations from whom exactly? The folks who benefitted from the “black scare” of the 40s and 50s and bought up the real estate cheaply? From middle class whites? From the the upper class in general? Goldman Sachs employees from 1998 through 2008? The Federal government? The estate of Mayor Richard Daley Sr. who green lit the most repressive public housing policies in the nation’s history? His son? The plutocrats? Who pays?


#3

The people are dead but corporations are not, the United States is also a corporate entity which enforced slave return laws right up until the civil war. The US loves to live in the privelaged seat of it has been too long, the crimes comitted 50, 100, 150, or 200 years ago cant be held against us. Unequal treaties with native americans lacking a nuclear arsenal are so much toilet paper.
News flash, the world didn’t come into existance ex nhillo in 1948.


#4

It sounds like you didn’t read the article, but have a slew of rhetorical questions intended to imply… what? That reparations are impossible and not worth discussing? I think a lot of people are already convinced of that. Frankly, I’m surprised to see a serious article that challenges this status quo.


#5

I’ll second Family Matters as a good but depressing read, if you want to see just how appalling federal housing policy, home finance, and racism were to black people in general and Chicago in particular in the 1940s-1960s. It’s a huge reason for the persistent wealth gap even between black and white households of similar incomes - white households had a 2-3 decade period where the federal government deliberately subsidized wealth creation for them while not only denying it to black people, but also actively sabotaging any alternative attempts to finance black homeownership with encouraged redlining of bank finance.


#6

Not even all the people are dead - there are still a fair number of people alive who were directly harmed by discrimination in housing finance and employment in the middle of the twentieth century.

What we basically need is for Congress to appoint a good Truth and Reconciliation Committee to take in all of the research and arguments and come up with policy recommendations to ameliorate lingering injustice and negative outcomes. It’s been done both in other countries and at the state level, with Oklahoma doing one in the 1990s with regards to the victims of the Tulsa Riot (which ended up recommending policies with regards to the remaining survivors and their immediate families, some of which were then implemented).


#7

I’m for it, I mean we’ve got all sorts of money for banks and investment firms that tear this country down and not one thin dime for the descendants of those who put in the (unpaid) work into building it up.

While we’re at it reparations for Native people too. Some shitty patch of dirt and hassles from the BIA don’t quite make up for all the shit we put them through.


#8

I’m not a particularly intelligent person. I’m insensitive, and I’m kind of a troll. I’m also a masochist. But even I’m not dumb enough to piss on this third rail of a discussion.


#9

“We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors.”

Works for me. I’m a scion of Greek and Irish immigrants who perhaps never directly profited from the slave trade, but I live with the knowledge that for all my fears and faults, unless I absolutely lose my shit and completely flip out…society will almost certainly give me a pass if screw something up. Because Straight White Male.

I know this to be true because I have experienced it. Drunk driving, picking up prostitutes, drugs etc. My experience with authorities has been “You are So Bad! I will give you such a Slap on your hand and the sternest talking-to you have ever had!! Now go free and sin no more.” It helps that I have been polite and contrite in those situations…but what helped more? My skin color.

There was an article I read not long ago from some guy who said living as a SWM is like playing your favorite video game on ‘easy’. Well, in this country…and in much of the world, that is assuredly the case. Nobody assumes that I’m going to steal or make trouble, No one is afraid of me particularly, my credit union keeps wanting to give me loans at reasonable rates, etc.

Even in my world travels, clumsy well meaning White Man has carte blanche: sometimes the reaction is ‘scram, whitey’ but more often ‘welcome to my place of business, please spend money!’ I have seen enough ingrained discrimination against Black people specifically that I know if my mind was the same but my heritage African…I could not live nearly as well as I have in this society. I have done nothing to deserve the not insignificant benefits of my heritage.

Land of the Free, All Men Created Equal are just words. Nice ones that make us feel good. But not really descriptive of how we live. Not that being White is that easy, it’s just being anything else is undeniably harder. Of course if you are dumb, unlucky, sick, addicted, broke; the world is a terribly difficult place for anyone. I see more than my fair share of messed up white folks around town…but this (long, depressing, well researched, necessary) article lays down the truth about America’s almost continuous insistence on a tiered society, and I for one wish something could be done about it in a constructive way.

But how exactly? 40 acres and a Cadillac? Cash payouts? Educational grants? Public housing done right this time???

As the article seems to state, just bringing it up, having the discussion and being honest with ourselves about how this unfair and unequal situation came about is a start. I have one more suggestion:

End the War on Drugs. That and the Prison Industrial Complex which for all intents and purposes is the solution to a diabolical question “How the hell do we put those Negras back in chains?”


#10

That would be John Scalzi, on his blog “Whatever”:


#12

Thanks, Boundegar, I came here to say this.

I came across this article a few weeks ago. Since I’m not American, nor Black, I only had a Canadian’s vague awareness of pervasive racism prevalent in most and more specifically American society. Growing up in the sixties, my only everyday encounter with blatant racism was that, in French, the word used for aboriginal peoples was sauvages.

Thankfully, in both French and in English, no one says that anymore; it has now been replaced by the more respectful, neutral, and accurate ‘First Nations’.

Mr. Coates article lays bare the multiple, specific, irrefutable bullshit that was imposed on Black Americans. People and institutions made money, lots of money stealing from (and killing) some of the poorest and hardest-working Americans.

Given the USA’s very low class mobility, there’s a very good chance that the descendants of the people who killed and stole from the post-slavery African-Americans, still draw profit from the money their ancestors stole - and are a large part of the ruling class in the USA.

At the very least, government-paid-for reparations would go far in correcting some of the past injustices crimes, and would start American society down the path of much needed reflection and understanding.


#13

One problem is that giving cash is not going to help as much as taking it harmed people. In a sense, the fairest way to repay the debt would be a cash payment if there were a way to fairly identify victims and their descendents. Let them sort out the best use of the money rather than deciding for them. On the other hand, a lot of the damage we see nowadays is to communities that are still held back by the actions of the past. Genuine investment in the communities by improving schools and employment options, providing targeted grants for students etc. would probably be the most effective way to pay back. Companies still claim copyright and other advantages for things they did at that time, so it seems fair that they should help to repair damages.

I agree with the writer of the article, there’s a huge amount of resistance even to the acknowledgement of present disparity so even talking about solutions is a small step forward. On the other hand, time is not on the side of those calling for reparations and it would seem to be less and less likely that anything will happen as each generation passes.


#14

It took me a long time to read the article, because it deserved better than a cursory skim. A short way in, it was clear that this wasn’t (as it is painted by critics) a case of “slavery! now gimme gimme gimme!” but a detailed review of just how recent and far-reaching the efforts to keep the foot on the neck of African Americans are. Knee-jerk claims that discrimination is over look like so much kitchen trash in light of the author’s recitation of facts.

Some of it I knew. Years after leaving it, I could see that my home town was a “sundown town” until the middle of the 20th century. I knew that the neighborhood where my wife and I bought our first house was founded in white flight from the old downtown of the small city we lived in (and was pleased to imagine the consternation of the first residents over the slow changes in its ethnic make-up). Still, I didn’t know how sweeping and punitive the redlining issue was.

There’s a lot more in there. I should gird my loins and re-read it. It’ll take fortitude once again, but medicine formulated primarily to taste good is seldom good medicine.


#15

The figures I have seen suggest that a slave cost upwards of $10,000 in today’s dollars. (Several times higher if they are working age men or have some skill.) When that amount of money is spent, records are kept. Tracing back history might not be easy, but it should be completely doable for most people.


#16

Here’s a good way to read in-depth pieces on the web:

  1. Read the title.
  2. Stop reading. Do not read past the title.
  3. Ask a rhetorical question to dismiss the article

Cory’s brief explanation of the article really isn’t enough to understand TNC’s point. If you really want to get the gist of it without reading the full article, however, this Slate piece on it is much better.

Wisely, Coates doesn’t try to build a proposal for reparations. At most, he endorses a bill—HR 40—that would authorize a government study of reparations. Instead, his goal is to demonstrate the recent origins of racial inequality, the role of the federal government, the role of private actors, and the extent to which the nation—as a whole—is implicated. Even if your Irish immigrant grandparents never owned slaves, or even lived around black people, they still reaped the fruits of state-sanctioned—and state-directed—theft, through cheap loans, cheap education, and an unequal playing field.

On the other end is the policy approach. Instead of cash, the federal government would implement an agenda to tackle racial inequality at its roots. This agenda would focus on major areas of concern: housing, criminal justice, education, and income inequality. As for the policies themselves, they don’t require a ton of imagination. To break the ghettos and reduce the hyper-segregation of black life, the federal government would aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act, with attacks on housing and lending discrimination, and punishment for communities that exclude low-income residents with exclusionary zoning.


#17

Man. Sounds like paradise; there’s people around here who get in all kinds of problems for doing even one of those things. People who live in nearly-all-white towns who go to prison for marijuana. But then, they’re in towns that have median household incomes less than half the national average–in other words, poor.

What’s your income level? Does your family have some sort of “pull” in the legal system?

I’m not saying this to try to take too much away from your point, but when I see somebody claim that it’s that easy for white Americans, I have to speak up.

In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income. That number—$34 billion in 1973, when Bittker wrote his book—could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two.

And I think this is why people get their dander up when they see the word “reparations”, but I’m biased because–again–I come from an area with high poverty among all races–disproportionately affecting minorities, but high among whites as well. The strawman that gets bandied about, modernized a bit, is that people who make so little that they don’t pay Federal income taxes, will find themselves giving money to the likes of Jesse Jackson, Henry Louis Gates, and Barack Obama, and it chafes (and yes, there’s plenty of racism involved, too; believe me, I have no particular delusions here.)

In fact, you know that Poisoned M&M analogy that came about in the wake of #YesAllWomen? Where it’s okay to not trust men because of the actions of a few? It’s different, but I’m intimately familiar with it. You can’t trust blacks! A third of them have been to prison! You can’t tell by looking at 'em! But…it’s still racist to assume that a black man approaching you is going to rob you because he’s black. But that’s how (imho) poverty in the black community is perpetuated. At least, that’s how it works in my neck of the woods.

I never knew it at the time, but John Conyers, Jr. is not in that group of rich men we feared would get money from us working poor. Not at all.

On the other hand, only 14% of white kids grow up in poverty, while 45% of black kids do; it’s finally time to start looking at why things are that way, and do something about those conditions. Having said that, surely we wouldn’t set up a system that looks to people who grew up poor, are still poor, and then say, “Hey, we found a slaveowner in your family tree…”


#18

Two generations later they were white people completely blended into the population.


#19

That’s not an especially apt comparison. Americans were willing to elect a man of Irish ancestry to the Presidency as early as 1829, and John F. Kennedy had already come and gone by the time the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

I’ve got nothing but respect for the hardships my impoverished Irish great-great-grandparents faced, but I couldn’t begin to make a credible case that I’ve been disadvantaged by my ancestry in any way that even comes close to how people of African ancestry have been disadvantaged.


#21

Given the way the racist looting of minorities has been abstracted to the population in general in the last fifteen years, this is important for everyone. I’m tempted to say that reparations are a distraction away from what’s happening to middle and lower income people of every race, but reparations themselves wouldn’t make the economic situation worse. And we’ve had fifty years of talking about poverty with a color-blind gentility with zero progress at all because of the coded and blatant racism used by supremacists and con-artist elites to control the conversation.

Taking the conversation about reparations seriously might finally get lower-class whites to be more self-interested and less race-interested. They already live in a fantasy where minorities “get more” than they do. If that threatens to become a measurable reality, the decent alternative for most whites will be to tackle economic exploitation in general.


#22

I believe the gentleman rather explicitly explained that it’s not necessarily easy depending on the values of many different variables (some of which @gwailo_joe explicitly enumerated) but that it’s typically easier than being a black person of comparable socioeconomic status. I know you can’t help strawmanning these SJ arguments but I still think it’s worth setting the record straight now and again.