Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Slavery Reparations. What Does That Even Mean?

Okay, count me on board morally. Slavery was one of America’s most egregious shames and more Americans were killed in our Civil War than all other wars combined. But I've got an ethical problem with handing out cash.

Emancipation didn’t actually solve anything for black Americans. Up to and including today, we simply played out the white/black American conundrum by other means, such as voting rights violations, segregation, economic isolation, backwater education and ghettos.

And now we think we can make things right with money? Well, that’s my stop. Here's where I get off the bus and, until very recently, it was from the front of the bus.

Last week’s congressional hearing brought out calls for a long unmet duty to be met, rebutted by what was done 200 years ago is of no consequence to white Americans today.

No consequence, huh? Racism in America today is the consequence.

Those facing elections—and they’re all facing elections— tellingly kicked the can down the road by promising to hold a hearing on the problem. What a farce. What a desperate move to hope the news cycle makes 
reparations yesterday’s news. Holding a hearing is the American way in times of crisis, when you want to sift something through the dominant white perspective.

But these are not times of crisis.

Times of crisis were the period between 1882 and 1968 in the United States, during which 3,446 African Americans were lynched—hanged from trees while whites cheered and refreshments were served.

Times of crisis included the famous ‘forty acres and a mule,’ enacted by Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15, issued on Jan. 16, 1865. It was available to four million newly freed American slaves, a promise that lasted exactly nine months. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer with the South, overturned the Order in the fall of 1865.

Times of crisis began with the 1868 14th amendment to the constitution, which granted full U.S. citizenship to African-Americans. The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the right to vote to black males.

Beginning in 1876, the Supreme Court presided over a three-decades long dismantling of what seemed to be a constitutional guarantee of the right to vote for African-Americans. In United States v. Reese, the court determined that the 15th Amendment, which states that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” did not mean what it seemed to mean.

Not meaning what it seemed to mean continues today across southern states, where gerrymandering and false voter-fraud claims pertain strictly to black voters.

Today, times of crisis include blacks shot by police for broken taillights, prisons filled with blacks serving life sentences for minor crimes, unconscionable poverty rates and social exclusion.

How in the name of god do you solve that with financial reparations? The fact is, you don’t. But that doesn’t mean there are no solutions. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that, but he was assassinated, because his taillight was too bright.

Let’s begin by admitting that civil rights, as they apply to blacks, are a monumental failure. We are as racially fucked-up a society as we have ever been. That would be a starting point.

Then let’s see what might be done on a practical basis. It will be expensive, but so are any meaningful reparations and, by the end, we may actually have achieved something worthwhile.

Let’s look at black candidate Lori Lightfoot’s recent election as Mayor of Chicago. If we lean back, half-close our eyes and dream a bit, what might she achieve? Martin Luther King had a dream and so do I. Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that and she’s gaining traction. I have a plan as well, a different plan from hers, but it addresses this issue.

Are you there, Lori Lightfoot?

Chicago is one of America’s least integrated cities. Blacks live in all the shitty areas and whites elsewhere. I spent all or part of six decades living in the Chicago area, so I’ve seen rather more than most.

In black precincts (Chicago runs on a precinct basis), white banks control all the money. White landlords own what few residences are not public housing, the grocery chains and auto dealerships are all white owned and city police drive through (when they are required) with their windows rolled up, turning a blind-eye to drug dealers.

It’s understandable. Machine politics has always run the city. Let’s change that, 

Lori. You listening?

1)  Establish black-owned banks in one (or a number of) black precincts. State banks or, if not, federal banks. Assets owned and voting-rights held only by precinct account holders. Credit card rates at 3% over prime rate. Loans made only to businesses and individuals within the precinct. Make payday loan joints against the law.

2)  Encourage black (resident only) ownership of grocery chains, car dealerships, fast-food franchises and small businesses—repair shops, plumbers, small contractors, etc.

3)  Sell the public housing to residents for condominiums and give them management training. Provide city-financed upgrade money and allow residents (as owners) to kick out drug dealers and those who fail to care for their apartments, returning that asset to the condo authority.

4)  Make precinct police funded by the city (as it already is), but require a shorter commute, living within the precinct from the top down.

5)  Upgrade precinct primary schools and establish a local school board, free of the too-political Chicago Board of Education. Make school principals responsible for curriculum, teacher hires and school budgets.

6)  As soon as possible, build a two-year local college to prepare students for further university education.

7)  In collaboration with local businesses, prepare young people to become useful employees, earning wages that compare to white communities.

8)  Build trust within the community. Above all, build trust.

To begin with, there’s a tremendous amount of money flowing into these damaged precincts from welfare programs. Another big hunk from outsider owned businesses. Boost it as necessary in the short run, but keep it in the precinct. In the long run, the goal is to build a healthy, vibrant community that moves away from welfare, sustaining itself and becoming economically powerful.

White Chicago isn’t going to throw these communities anything more than the bare minimum to keep residents from rioting and burning the joint down. But they’ll be delighted to get out from under the responsibility.

          Just how delighted remains to be seen.

But it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than reparations for the descendants of slavery and the model Chicago builds can light a thousand lamps across black America.

The most meaningful reparation is to bring black America into mainstream America, where it belongs. That’s unlikely to happen with some gigantic, unenlightened federal program, no matter how well-meaning.

But it’s both possible and doable on a local basis in a major city. Wasn’t it former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O'Neill who coined the phrase, "all politics is local?"

          That was 1982, but not all that much has changed since then.

Having sown the seeds to grow meaningful reparations for slavery, perhaps we can move on to compensate the genocide America committed against the most deserving Americans of all—our native American Indians.

          It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.


  1. Seig heil, Comrad!
    If you're so naive and disillusioned as to believe that White racist attitudes have improved, even slightly, since 1955, you been living under a rock in Mississippi somewhere! And the current Nazi regime occupying the White House has only emboldened and incited the (still extant) KKK Boy's Club! So I'm not hopeful that the current Mayor will make much of an impact. Witness Harold Washington, Chicago's first Black Mayor ... while he held the leadership position in principal, all his efforts to improve the lot of Black people were largely undone by The City Council and the numerous other red neck Machine politicians which (still) populate that landscape ... not unlike Obama who had a similar adversarial relationship with the U.S. Congress and effectively accomplished nothing during his 8 year tenure as POTUS.
    Having recently relocated back to my home town in MI, I still hear the same old derisive comments regarding Blacks, and in some ways can be justified by the fact that most were / are emancipated slaves from the Deep South who fled north to escape the terrorist attitudes there ... uneducated, poor and otherwise unqualified to integrate into White middle class society, and they likely never will. Racism in America is a cultural phenomenon which Whites created, and have never figured out how to fix. All of the Civil Rights legislation to date has had almost no real effect because it was forced and never truly accepted and nourished.
    It's not a pretty forecast, but I humbly predict that in 2050 when the U.S. coastal areas are being inundated by elevated sea levels due to Global Warming, we will still be having a similar conversation regarding integration of minorities into the mainstream of American Society. Americans are largely self-centered & fucked up in the head; and that is why I live with dogs! They are so much less judgmental!

  2. Some of us have to try, some of us don't.

    I appreciate the time you took to reply.