I Don’t Want Reparations, I want Bernie Sanders.
I consider myself extremely liberal and progressive. I am a Black American, but also a global citizen and I try to instill this spirit in my children. So, in my heart of hearts, I want to embrace the message of societal label removal and move towards one where we are all united as one human race as envisioned and so eloquently articulated in “I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White” by Prince EA. I do.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel if we move toward homogenization too quickly, it will cause us to forget where we’ve come from and all that has been sacrificed to get us here. I don’t want the struggles of my ancestors to be reduced to footnote in a history book barely to be read about with glazed over eyes by children that don’t care. I don’t want the struggles of my ancestors to be forgotten. I want us to be as one, but I don’t want to forget. Would our history be erased? Society doesn’t want to tell our stories about the souls of Black folk. I feel as though if I am no longer “Black,” then it’s somehow an affront to their memories. Our struggle as a people has not just been about acceptance in this country, (nay, the world) but also a struggle for our identity itself. If we relinquish what identity we have managed to scrape together for ourselves from our shared cultural experiences, were their struggles in vain?
This is also the essence of my issue with the response “All lives matter” to the Black Lives Matter movement. Why does it bother so many to even say the words:
Do other cancer survivors decry breast cancer awareness month saying “All Cancers Matter”? Not to my knowledge. Where is the hue and cry from heart attack survivors saying, “All Diseases Matter”? There isn’t any. I believe we can all agree that breast cancer is dangerous and it kills too many people. Why is it so difficult to reach this consensus about systemic racism and police brutality? All lives do not matter because it has been proven time and time again that Black lives do not. The argument is invalid. We cannot homogenize or assimilate our problems away.
I cannot yet surrender my Blackness, because the struggle isn’t over.
If today’s Jews stand up and say “I am not Jewish, I am human,” does that disrespect their ancestors who were murdered for bearing the moniker? If Native Americans no longer identify as Native American, what happens to their cultural traditions and history? What of their ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears? I believe that cultural identity means something. Many White southerners are desperate to try to cling to their shared “Southern-ness” through their persistent reverence of the Confederacy and redneck culture even though these things are constant reminders to many Blacks of a painful blood debt that many see as yet to be repaid.
I think, if I’m being honest, what gives me pause is the mass whitewashing of history that seems to be taking place right now. Already, whenever issues of systemic racism and its aftereffects are discussed on social media, there is a rapid and many times rabid rush by many of the caucasian persuasion to “whitesplain” slavery away to absolve themselves of any historical wrongdoing because, “hey, that was a long time ago” or “Africans sold you to out to White people so it’s not our fault” or “it wasn’t that bad anyway” or “the Irish had it just as bad as the Blacks and they’re okay” or “everyone didn’t even have slaves”or “you’re racist for even talking about that”. Great. So you’ve made yourself feel better, but I still can’t trace my lineage past my 2nd great grandparents (who were slaves) because they were not considered people. Their names were not even listed in the property records because their names were irrelevant. They were chattel. African slaves carried this country on their scarred backs and built it with their bloodied hands. Yet today, many of their descendants still live in socially, educationally, economically and racially segregated areas because as they say, “all the neighbors left and all that’s left is the ‘hood”. There are no jobs. The schools are abysmal. The government is corrupt. Their families are torn apart by a confluence of senseless drug laws, police brutality, mental illness, addiction and a general malaise of apathy and despair. The cycle of pain and poverty continues today, save for those who are able to work multiple low-wage jobs, sacrifice more or catch a break and move to the suburbs.
The struggle isn’t over.
The only way I could accept a homogenous society would be if all of our histories were acknowledged and the current resulting problems remediated; if we were to acknowledge the sacrifices of ALL who came before us, not just in Black culture, but in the cultures of ALL people of color in this country. As it is now, Black Americans have maybe a handful of heroes about whom we are taught and it’s done only in the shortest month of the year. You’d think no other Black person or person of color ever contributed to our society. It’s just not true. Yet, I can name countless White heroes I’ve learned about while going through school. The only way I could accept a homogenous society would be if it were truly egalitarian. However, steps would truly have to be taken to create it and protect it. We would have to ensure that those who have been affected and disaffected by living in the stygian legacy of slavery, segregation, jim crow, White supremacy and systemic racism were truly helped, not by receiving a monthly stipend for fish, but by teaching them to fish for themselves, or maybe even start a fishing business in the same body of water as everyone else and be free to do so indiscriminately, not having to be relegated to a lead-tainted puddle. If we can establish a society where we are at least two generations removed from statistics showing people of color disparately living in abject poverty at a higher rate than Whites, perhaps then we can be homogenous. Everyone must start at the same level in a fair society.
The discussion has come up again recently about reparations. Many are still waiting for their 40 acres and a mule. Well, Monsanto would probably have already bought out their 40 acres or sold them patented GMO seeds, essentially killing any chance they would have had to sustain any kind of living relying on that like so many American farmers today, so not getting it was probably a blessing in disguise, but I digress.
In all seriousness, a reparations check from the government would help me personally, sure, but to help Black people as a whole, something different has to be done. Our communities have to be fundamentally rehabilitated from the ground up. We have to stop the cycle of poverty. We have to stop the cycle of despair. This is not an easy undertaking by any means. It will involve quite a few things:
(1) government representatives that actually come from and care about the people living in these areas with
(2) an honest desire to help them to make their lives better,
(3) investment in social programs and economic infrastructure,
(4) abolition of private prisons, along with a paradigm shift regarding homelessness, marijuana legislation, non-violent crime, drug addiction and mental illness,
(5) a hard stance against militarization and systemic racism in the local police departments so that fathers and brothers can come home every night, coupled with recruiting locals into the police,
(6) removal of corporate corruption in government at all levels so that representatives may actually serve the interests of the people they represent,
(7) tuition and debt free public college,
(8) universal health care via expansion of Medicare for all, providing medical care, mental health care, dental, vision and pharmaceuticals,
(9) automatic voter registration by age 18 and preservation of the voting rights act,
(10) bringing back unions, manufacturing jobs and infrastructure maintenance jobs,
(11) free or affordable child care along with free universal pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten,
(12) paid family leave,
(13) fixing the broken education system by mandating a return to child-guided teaching as opposed to test-guided teaching, providing equal access to and emphasis on vocational training, world history, foreign language, civics/government, arts/music, and STEM education for ALL and by
(14) hiring administrators and teachers to work in inner-city schools not because they are unqualified to work elsewhere, but because they WANT to be there,
(15) a dynamic and livable minimum wage,
(16) social outreach and expansion of school nutrition programs to ensure that no child goes hungry
(17) severing the hold of big oil on our economy so that we can shift to climate-friendly sustainable energy,
(18) providing training to further that end starting in the inner-city communities
(19) gun control legislation [or a repeal of the second amendment, but that probably won’t happen] and finally
(20) a free government outreach program to help Black Americans find their roots.
Now, that last one may seem trivial, but after having personally embarked on a genealogical project of my own recently, I firmly believe that the psychological impact and benefit of being able to know where one comes from is immeasurable. It seems a fitting redress as that, aside from our humanity itself, was taken from us in the diaspora. It would also create jobs. It’s a win-win.
These things would have to be changed at a minimum for there to be progress towards a truly egalitarian society. (I do note that most, if not all of these modifications would also be extremely beneficial to all indigent Americans, not only Blacks. But, for the purposes of this piece, I am positing we remediate the disproportionate level of poverty among Black Americans as an alternate means of slavery reparation rather than government checks which wouldn’t happen anyway)
I realize that as time and generations pass, it will become easier for this racial homogenization to occur. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE and embrace this idea as a goal. But I can’t help but feel that it’s too soon for us. The wounds haven’t healed enough. The pain is too raw, too real. We have more work to do. As we stand on a precipice in 2016 and have the choice as a nation to go to the Right or to the Left, I hope we choose Left. I hope we embrace Dr. King’s vision of a Social Democracy in America. I hope we elect Bernie Sanders and shake this system to its core. I hope we drive out the moneychangers in our state and nation’s capitals that on a daily basis exchange corporate bribery for political power at the expense of their constituents’ best interests. This is the only way to make everything truly equal. It will take time, but once this is done, we can be well on our way to a truly color-blind society.
Until then, I will preserve my Blackness because the struggle isn’t over.