Why Reparations? Here’s a Metaphor to Consider.

Ever heard of a zero-sum game? It’s where one person wins and the other person loses. One person’s gain is another’s loss.

That’s what our political climate looks like right now. It’s not pretty.

“I just want everyone to be treated equally.” — regardless of where you are on the political spectrum or the national conversation on race, you probably agree with this sentiment. Where we start bickering is on what that equality looks like. Some say reparations are in order for black folks in America, and others say that’s unfair.

Let’s try and set aside zero-sum games for a moment. Let’s talk about race without it literally being a race.

How about a marathon, instead, where the expectation is to have fun and be fit— where everybody gets an “I participated” sticker and walks away feeling good about themselves and their fellow runners?

In this marathon, though, white folks get a head-start on black folks. All ready to go with their running shoes, sweatbands, and numbers pinned to their chests, they literally drag black folks out of their beds, throw them at the starting line in their pajamas, and kick them around a bit to round it all out. Then the starter’s pistol goes off.


But that’s not all. White folks let the black folks know that they are expected to crawl. Anyone who doesn’t get in line gets kicked out of the event. Eventually they grudgingly let them walk. Slowly. Most of the time. And finally, they let them run. Of course, a few black folks are pulled out of the marathon for no reason — maybe because one of the white runners thought they gave them a funny look, or just didn’t like the cut of their jib.

Can we all agree that this is a decent representation of slavery, segregation, and our slow movement towards equality?

So at this point, the black runners are trailing way behind the white ones. We’re talking miles. They say “Hey, now that you’re letting us run, could we run together? Seems like it might be more fun, right?”

There it is. That’s it. That’s reparations. Black folks want a lift to where we white folks are at. They just want to run with us.

Right now, a lot of people are of the mindset that equal treatment is fair treatment. The response to this request is “Of course not! Pulling you ahead of where you’re at is cheating. That wouldn’t be fair to the other runners who have been working so hard.

Oops. We just strayed into zero-sum territory. And it’s definitely not in the spirit of the marathon.

Take a moment to step out of that place. To think about the runners that are way behind you because of something your group did. “That’s in the past, though!” Sure, that’s true — but what is it hurting to give these folks a lift to join the rest of the group?

Outside of this metaphor, some would argue that reparations are hurting someone. They’re taxing people more, or taking jobs away. And right now, we’re all clinging to our money and our employment for dear life. I hear that, and I feel that daily.

But what if we don’t live in a zero-sum world? What if we’re not fighting each other for resources and safety? We could collaborate instead. We could come together and find solutions that keep everyone safe. Maybe there are some runners who are in better shape than others, or some who don’t care about where they place and are happy to hop in a van and pick up the folks way behind. Nobody is asking the slowest white runners to do the job.

Just remember, these folks aren’t trying to take what’s yours. They’re just asking for help — to join you.

Let’s just run together.

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