There is a clear case made for reparations for American Slavery laid out in the recent Atlantic feature authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is a powerful story, a dangerous history, and a gateway to talk about the most complicated issues facing the United States. Once you read this very long piece (very long but read it) and nod to the facts and shake your head at the horrific racism at all levels most likely, most probably, you will think:
- But my family didn’t live in the U.S. when it engaged in slavery.
- But we never lived in the Jim Crow South.
- But I don’t engage in predatory lending schemes.
- But no one I know sold on contract in Chicago.
But that doesn’t matter. Anyone living in the United States benefits from the economic realities built on slavery. Every white person has been enriched by the segregation of neighborhoods, schools, and Federally insured lending practices. This goes well beyond being afraid anytime the police stop you or having people cross to the other side of the street when you pass at night.
There is no way money is the remedy for the past but it is time to talk about this issue seriously. So now after you actually read the piece and not my quick intro you should consider addressing those “buts” again. Now ask, how do you feel about your families and friends receiving reparations from Germany?
Personally, I feel pretty damn good about it.
Taking money from the West German government and its citizens, both those who were Nazi and those who were not, never was a problem for me. Because in my mind, everyone in Germany and around that fine nation during WWII, was connected and somewhat responsible. Even those born after the war. Even those who fought against the Nazis. Even those who hid our family members. Retribution or revenge, maybe…but I am still fine with it. Also, as TNC notes, those general reparations to Israel (which you would know about if you read the article) enabled a massive increase in GDP and development catapulting the State of Israel into the modern era.
Perhaps I also am responsible for the system in which I have prospered even if I didn’t live in this country then or in that part of the country or work for the Federal financial infrastructure or operate within the law to steal. Perhaps I am not. But we need to talk about this with our eyes open. We need to talk about this honestly.
Our nation needs to talk about this.
But first you really need to read the entire article. And then we need to talk.