The Case for Reparations By Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
What Does Justice Look Like By Waziyatawin, Ph.D
Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice by Jessica Gordon Nembhard
If you seek to learn about reparations specifically for Black people living in what we call United States of America, you will see a contentious debate. One argument tracks the history showing the ways that those enslaved in this country, their descendants, and folks that looked like them were disadvantaged throughout the occupation of this land. Another argument does not tend to deny the history but rather argues either that 1) reparations are not feasible- who would get them? How? From whom? 2) reparations would negatively influence the natural righting of past wrongs that is happening. In the end, generally the most “radical” proposals are focused at local, state, and federal governments for systematic changes (improvements in education to dismantling of the war on drugs which is better recognized as a war on Black and Brown families) or on truth-telling efforts to recognize the history. Without disregarding these elements as part of a path forward, I will present a reframing of reparations while introducing an opportunity for people of color and white folks to do valuable work with The Yarn Mission to further disrupt the harms of capitalism x white supremacy x patriarchy.
I often encounter terms that have gained negative connotations over time due often to misuse. Typically, I would rather reclaim words than disregard them for others. However, at the root, “reparations” does not sit well with me. Reparations are commonly understood to be a method for oppressors (directly or as benefiters of the oppression) to pay harmed persons for the trauma, disadvantage, and violence they inflicted on them. However, the word itself suggests that something (or here some people) will be repaired. That would require an entire system shift. Can money do that? Nevertheless, rather than disregard the method outright, I propose a reframing. What I propose is for the regeneration of Black people’s economy, health, and education. For this, it is necessary that systems be completely redesigned and that there be a redistribution of wealth.
I call for regeneration. We (Black folks) are an incredible people. Heterogenous through and through with similarities across our histories and a sense of connectedness through our survival and resilience. We present a clean breath of complexity. We are Black Excellence. Without demeaning our resilience, our collective demographics reveal the disadvantages we have faced and continue to face. They are true. Black people have lower life expectancies, employment rates, educational attainment, and wealth than many other groups in this country. (I will not find citations for these facts because it is “common knowledge”) Yet considering our current and past environments steeped with white supremacy x patriarchy, we are surviving and thriving in many conventional ways. It is through simple calculation that we should all realize that our potential has not been met because of oppression. It is impossible to know where we could be without it (and again one of facts that I organize around is that this means we all would do better). Therefore, rather than seeking a repair to a prior place that we cannot return to, I call for a regeneration, a new beginning in the arenas where our potential has been stifled.
I call for systematic and individual efforts. I call for equity practices on our path to liberation. Simply, things will not be equal they never have been. An example that is near and dear to me is that due to repeated findings of racial bias in criminal justice processing the government instituted mandatory sentencing guidelines. These sentencing guidelines removed discretion from judges in deciding sentence lengths. It reduced this process to a calculation that could be represented by a chart (example of an actual chart though slightly different to be discussed- Minnesota https://mn.gov/sentencing-guidelines/guidelines/). It takes into account criminal history and severity of offense which are considered to be legal factors and is supposed to erase the influence of extra-legal factors such as race, gender, personality, etc. However, considering that racial bias was acknowledged in the past, including criminal history embeds the past racist x patriarchical practices. The government has since adjusted this slightly by removing the mandatory element. Judges are able to deviate if they can explain their reasons for doing so. Again this does not address the reproduction of past discriminatory practices; furthermore this does not address the fact that prosecutors have a great deal of power in determining how to classify an offense and therefore the severity of the offense. It is important to note that this example reflects the complexity we see in other arenas.
If that example seems too complicated imagine that a teacher gives relaxation time to students according to their performance. Since the beginning of the school year, she has been giving white students two minutes of relaxation time for “good days” and Black students one minute for “good days.” Now she’s learned that her differential distribution of minutes was racist (let’s say she was shocked and offended but administration insisted that she must change her ways. No discussion of firing happened of course). So now she has corrected her ways and is giving two minutes to all of her students for good days. Equality? Now perhaps but not really. First, the Black students were not repaid for their past denied minutes. However, calculating that will not repay them for the cumulative effect of having relaxation minutes. It is very likely that the relaxation minutes had positive effects that extended beyond the one or two minutes and that the two minutes had even more positive effects. It is also very likely that the Black students noticed the inequality which in itself could have a very negative effect. It is also very likely that the way that “good days” were defined for Black and white students differed to the advantage of white students. I’m afraid that this hypothetical is not so hypothetical. Nevertheless, again it should be apparent that equality neglects history and that the harms of inequality cannot actually be calculated. This does not means that we must accept how things are or leave things in place. Systems must be dismantled and rebuilt without the oppressive foundations and supports. Individuals must participate in a redistribution of resources that will not be equal.
Amongst People of Color, I hope to see, encourage, and participate in cooperative economics. Please take 25 minutes to listen to Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard explain the motivation for and important findings in her book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. The Yarn Mission will be organizing around this beginning with a Cooperative Economics Workshop on January 18th from 5pm to 8pm at Boneshaker Books (in Minneapolis, MN).
From white folks, I hope to see and encourage a heavy and challenging redistribution of personal wealth, resources, and access. For The Yarn Mission this will begin with a call for white folks who want to have a more active role in organizing white folks within and from The Yarn Mission’s Intersectional Black Liberation framework. Redistribution of wealth, resources, and access, will look like ongoing donations, a (ever growing) list of spaces that can be used for liberatory organizing for free, investment in liberatory work and people, and an understanding that all marginalized folks are worthy of money and resources without scrutiny/expectation. Perhaps this faction will work to educate/share education resources with other white folks and thereby remove this burden from those of us who bear the impact of racial oppression. (this is although many also do this including the Safety Pin Box which is run by Black women and femmes, Showing up for Racial Justice-SURJ a group of white people for white people, among others).
Ultimately, we will all be pushed to think about community wealth rather than personal wealth. We will be expected to give up notions of equality and embrace liberation through purposeful redistribution. If you are interested in catalyzing this within The Yarn Mission please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org denoting whether you are of color or Indigenous or white. You do not have to be local to any of our locations nor do you have to be a knitter.
Power and love,