During the course of the FX Reality Series Black. White. which I diaried about yesterday, one subject came up which I think deserves a second look - the issue of Reperations.
Bruno and Brian the two fathers of the White and Black families who lived together, and with makeup in each others skin, for six weeks had the discussion.
Bruno said "It would be a mess", but I thought Brian had an new and interesting take on it. His suggestion was that Reparations should be targeted only to the companies and corporations who directly profited and benefited from generations of free labor.
Stage 1: The Companies
Reparations has been an issue on the Political Spectrum ever since Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) put forth a bill on the subject in the mid-90s. He's since gone on to put together a book of essays on the subject, "Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations".
Since Conyers originally brought the debate into the public sphere the issues has been seen by it's detractors as a hot bed of continued black resentment, entitlement and white guilt.
"Slavery was a long time ago", they would argue, "No one alive today was either the owner of slaves, or the subject to such conditions. Why should people today who had nothing to do with Slavery be forced to pay?"
One can even say that among the more extreme right-wing, this arguement has been used to battles all forms of entitlements - why should honest hard working people have to be forcibly taxed so that their money goes to people - who haven't earned it?
Some have argued that Welfare itself is "Reparations".
And typically, this is where the argument has died. Even when you bring up the fact that the United States has already paid reparations to a number of agrieved parties. Japanese-American's who were interned during WWII. Survivors of the Tuskegee Experiments were compensated. Germany has paid millions to the survivors of the Holocaust and their families.
Brian's arguement tends to short-circuit all of that. His proposal tends to specifically target those companies, corporations and families (especially tobacco companies) who benefited from free labor and suggests that the ill-gotten gains of those specific familes be paid as restitution to the families of those who worked specifically for those companies.
His suggestion isn't a Federal solution, he's talking about a Class Action Lawsuit. If a family of those who were slaves can accurately trace down exactly where their ancestors where bought and owned, and link that ownership to a currently existing company -- should they not have the right to sue for damages?
The main problem with this case is clearly going to be the documentary evidence. Can the ownership be verified. Can ancestry be accurately ensured? (Trust me on this: Black people have been spending a lot of time tracking their ancestry over the last couple decades since Alex Haley's "Roots" showed that it could be done!) Should each and every member of the owner family have to contribute to each and every member of the owned family? It could get sticky, but Brian's suggestion of keeping the focus Corporate tends to eliminate the issue of "White Guilt". This isn't about all white people or all black people. As David Horowitz points out in his attempts to debunk the claims for reparations - not all white people were involved in and responsible for slavery even while it was happening. There were freed blacks who owned slaves. One could even argue that many former slave-owning families lost everything during Reconstruction, which would make this a moot point for them.
But handled in this manner, it wouldn't neccesarily be just about Black and White - it would be about accountability for a crime that was commited for generations. It would be Recognitition that these people contributed to the creation of this nation's wealth, and that wealth is being held by corporation who have failed to share it equitably. In my own mind, I think it would be most appropriate for these companies to pay restitution in the form of Stock Options, not cash.
Could you imagine the impact of a fairly large set of black families gaining large amounts of stock, and as a result influence, over the companies that benefited from the exploitation of their ancestors? Just exactly what would that do to companies like Phillip Morris or RJ Reynolds?
I think it could be interesting. My suggestion to those families who might be interested in persuing this - talk to the people at the Southern Poverty Law Center, they have a nack for this kind of thing.
Stage 2: The Aftermath
The irony of the Reparations Debate is that Slavery didn't actually end with the Civil War. It continued on with the Black Codes. It continued on when "Seperate but Equal" was made the law of the land via Plessy V Ferguson. It continued on with the Lynchings of the 1920's, 1930's, 1940s and 1950s. It continued on with the burnings and bombings of black churches. It continued on with the murders of Emmet Till in 1955, the Freedom Riders in 1961, Medger Evers in 1963 (the year I was born).
And it continues on to this very day with the "Duly Convicted" escape clause in the 13th Amendment which allows for prisoners to be enslaved and worked without compensation. (You think it's a coincidence that black's are targeted by police and that sentencing guidelines are so completely out-of-wack that black men are 6-times more to be imprisoned (and subject to the modern-day slavery of Corporate Prisons) than almost anyone else? I don't.)
Where are the Reparations debates over Jim Crow? Where are the Reparations Debates over the Voter Repression and intimidation of the 1960 and 70's? Where are the Reparations of our abridged Civil Rights?
Each of these were individual acts, and each may need to be address as such - individually. But it can not be denied that from the passage of the 15th Amendment (which supposedly guaranteed the right to vote for non-whites) to the passage 95 years later of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 -- there was an ongoing injustice being perpetrated on Americans. Black Americans, yes -- but still - AMERICANS.
How can that ever be reconciled? I'm not sure that it can.
It's not a matter of cash, or a settlement -- to my mind it's something deeper. It was a fundamental betrayal of our American values - an outright betrayal of the Constitution.
There are still a great many people alive today who lived through that so that "this happened long ago" arguement doesn't work. This was within my own lifetime.
The very least we can do - the very least - is to fight hard to ensure that the right to vote is not denied for anyone, Ever. We have a President who states "I'm not familiar with the Voting Rights Act" during the year that it has come up for renewal? We still have voter disenfranchisement and intimidation taking place today?
THAT. IS. NOT. ACCEPTABLE.
Too many people fought and died to secure these rights for the rest of us. All of us, Black. White. Male. Female, Gay. Straight and Other!
At the very least we should actually try to abide by the 15th Amendment which was ratified 141 years ago. At the very least we should Fix the 13th Amendment and close the loophole for convicts to be enslaved, not to mention overhaul our justice system and sentencing guidelines so they reflect reality, not racial paranoia.
We still have unsolved lynchings and racial murders to address. The latest FBI Statistics continue to indicate that the most frequent Hate Crimes is an act of intimidation by a white person most often against blacks followed closely by acts of vandalism. (Although I wouldn't say that crimes based on religious or sexual orientation are neccesarily on a decline, murders are thankfully - fairly rare.)
The fact is, we have a long way to go. Congress has never offered a resolution apologizing for Slavery, Jim Crow or it's abject failure to address 95 years of Voter Suppression. They've never taken responsibility, and they 've never even acknowledged that it was wrong.
You can't fix a problem, until you realize you have a problem.
Should black people continue to feel agrieved -- hell, no - we all should fucking well feel agrieved, because we've all been betrayed. Before we can have Reparations on the aftermath of Slavery - we have to end the aftermath of Slavery - because it continues on, and on...
In the meanwhile, companies like Phillip Morris can take it in the ass for all I care. How 'bout you?