About a week ago on Juneteenth, the U.S. House of Representatives- through its Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties- held its first reparations hearing in twelve years. It was in connection with H.R. 40, initially introduced in 1989 by Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers and reintroduced every year by him until he retired in 2017 and then by Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee since then.
That resolution, formally known as the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” included the number 40 in reference to Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 that was issued in January 1865 and prescribed 40 acres of land apiece- confiscated from American traitors who called themselves southern Confederates- to newly freed Black families. That land, stretching from parts of South Carolina through sections of Georgia into portions of Florida, totaled about 400,000 acres. Although President Abe Lincoln had approved Sherman’s order, the new president, Andrew Johnson, overturned it in May 1865.
Before I lay out the six facts you must know about reparations, allow me to precisely define that word. Reparations is the making up for a wrong. It is a restoration to good condition. It is a repairing. Accordingly and indisputably, America must make up for the wrong it did. America must restore us to the condition we would have been in if we had voluntarily emigrated here like Europeans did. America must repair the damage it caused. Class is now in session, so let us begin:
1. Calm down, white folks!
H.R. 40 never requested reparations. It merely pragmatically requests the creation of a commission to study reparations as a possibility and merely reasonably requests a formal apology by the U.S. government.
2. The non-existence of “slaves” and “slave-owners” in 2019 is irrelevant.
As a lawyer, allow me to make my point using a legal concept called “unjust enrichment.” I’ll provide the following hypothetical but applicable example: As I’m walking down Market Street, I happen to see a white guy wearing a really nice watch. So I say, “Hey, that’s a fancy watch you got there, sir.” And he says, “Yes, it is. Would you like to take a closer look?” I respond, “Cool.” And he takes it off and holds it up. But when he does that, I notice the back of it, which is engraved “Property of ‘Michael Coard I’” and has 1844 etched underneath. I then ask, “Where’d you get this watch?” He proudly says, “From my father who got it from his father who got it from his father who got it from his father who got it from his father in Virginia.” When he finishes, I say, “Hey, I’m ‘Michael Coard VI’ and my great-grandfather’s grandfather whose name was ‘Michael Coard I’ was robbed at gunpoint of all his belongings- including his watch- by a white man in 1864 in Virginia before being lynched by a mob of white men.” In other words, even though the nice guy wearing the watch in 2019 didn’t steal it and even though the watch didn’t belong to me personally, the legal concept of “unjust enrichment” requires him to give it up. Simply stated, unfair white privilege means white folks gotta fairly give up the benefits of that privilege sometimes.
3. It’s bigger than slavery.
Official state-sanctioned racial oppression didn’t end on December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. After that came the Black Codes from 1865-1866, the Redemption Era from the late 1860s-late 1870s, and the Jim Crow Era (which revived many of the Black Codes) from the late 1870s-1965, which was a year after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By the way, 1965 was a mere 54 years ago, which means the average readers of this newspaper or their parents were born during that time, which, in turn, means it wasn’t too long ago. Think about that for a minute.
Incidentally, I must point out that throughout long ago history and recent history in this country, whites have always gotten a big and unfair head start. For example, you do know, don’t you, that from 1934-1962, the federal government backed $120 billion in home loans to whites only. And that wealth has been handed down as inheritance to their children and grandchildren who financially benefit right now with expensive homes in expensive neighborhoods that provide educational benefits via tax funding for expensive neighborhood schools.
4. Who are the real “lazy and shiftless” people?
Enslaved Black folks did all the hard work building this country and its greatest facilities, including- but not nearly limited to- the White House in 1792, the U.S. Capitol in 1793, George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Virginia Plantation/Estate in 1758, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia Plantation/Estate in 1772, and New York’s Wall Street in 1652 (which was used as a slave auction site from 1711-1762).
5. Money? We don’t want your stinkin’ money!
First of all, cash has no intrinsic value. In fact, it’s completely worthless until you give it away.
Second, in 2018-2019, Black folks have more than $1.2 trillion in buying power. But that hasn’t changed anything regarding our plight because, as far as too many of us are concerned, “A fool and his/her money are soon parted.”
Third, cash as reparations is blood money and insufficient blood money at that, regardless of the amount. I certainly hope you don’t think our ancestors who were dragged kicking, screaming, and fighting onto that Portuguese slave ship docked on the shores of Angola in 1619 said to their devilish pale-faced captors, “I willingly give my permission to you to kidnap, shackle, enslave, dehumanize, buy, sell, rape, sodomize, whip, torture, amputate, and lynch me and my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so forth for 400 years and I also willingly give my permission to you to strip me and my generational offspring of our land, language, religion, and culture during those 400 years. You can do all of that, as long as you give some of those descendants some cash in 2019.” I don’t think so.
Since America has not yet figured out how to invent a time machine to erase the hell of slavery and its racist residue, it must do the next best thing: Recompense Black folks with a vast area of fertile and valuable land somewhere in the United States where we can re-create Tulsa, Oklahoma’s 1906-1921“Black Wall Street” on a statewide level with our own banks, schools, colleges, laboratories, factories, warehouses, farms, supermarkets, department stores, hospitals, etc. In addition to that, recompense us with, for example, federal tax waivers, free education across the country, cultural museums and libraries in every state, free mental health therapy for what Dr. Joyce DeGruy diagnosed as “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” small business start-ups funding, and enhanced affirmative action.
6. Exactly who gets reparations?
The people who will qualify have to meet both of the reasonable criteria as thoughtfully conceived by Professor William A. Darity, a reparations scholar and Duke University economist: One- prove via vetted genealogical records that you are related to an ascendant enslaved parent (or, as I am now adding, related to an ascendant parent up to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or you yourself were born before that year). Two- prove via at least one legal/official government document that you have consistently for at least the past ten years identified as Black or African-American.
For more information, read “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Also, log on to the website of the leading reparations organization, namely the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, at ncobraonline.org.