by Jay St. James
With only nine percent of white Americans agreeing with reparations for Black Americans, it’s not surprising to find that many white Americans have a knowledge deficit when it comes to understanding what reparations are, how they should be distributed, and why they should assist with the political movement to make reparations a reality for Black Americans.
Recently, I saw a friend boasting that they wanted to set aside a few bucks from their recurrent windfalls and pay it back to Black people à la reparations style! Maybe that word “reparations” set it off but what erupted next was a line of friends telling her to focus on herself, treat herself, and worry about her dogs before she concerns herself with reparations for black Americans.
All of this openly and proudly said on a Facebook status subject to screenshots and later scrutiny and on the page of someone who considers themselves a good ally that makes space for Black voices and pays us a fair wage to claim that space.
How could such a progressive group of people who regularly cry for the beheading of land owners espouse such one sided, racially biased and inaccurate views on one of the biggest issues dividing the races today? How were our views of reparations so wildly different that they were loudly discouraging her from it while I view it as such a vital and necessary part of racial activism?
To them, it was as if reparations weren’t something my friend needed to concern herself with. Reparations were viewed as optional in a way the labor and violence necessitating them never were. Reparations aren’t an extra kickback when you have it. Reparations are payment on a debt already owed and your future success already claimed. Reparations don’t come due when you’ve reached your self set level of financial comfort, they’re paid from the start of your financial independence in appreciation of all the breaks and hands up you’ve been given and all the ways society has been specifically tailored to maximize your success at the expense of my survival.
It doesn’t matter if your family didn’t own slaves or if you can’t think of a way in which violence towards blacks has benefited you. Reparations aren’t just to acknowledge slavery. It’s for Jim Crowe, segregation, discrimination in housing and education, and all the other ugly ways you’ve been shoved ahead and in the spotlight over all the bloodied backs of others. Reparations come from a level of accountability and awareness that acknowledges societal inequities even when they are in your benefit and out of your control.
Reparations are conscious.
It’s not the after thought to pass on your old clothing to a black friend, it’s the check you write or the labor you perform in the way they say is most needed. Allow us to be stewards of our own success.
Reparations will come with a bit of discomfort for everyone. It will by no means match the pain and terror that Black people still live with today, but by nature of being conscious, reparations require you to give beyond what you lazily want to. You give what you should and then you step back from all interest in the funds.
When dealing with dispersement, autonomy should be at the center of reparations talk. Organizations and legislative groups can’t be allowed to micromanage reparations into nothingness. You give as directly as you can to the people affected and you provide what they need, not just what’s comfortable for you to spare. You prioritize people’s survival over your comfort because your survival is only guaranteed at their expense.
Reparations consciously acknowledges this and blooms accordingly.
Reparations might come in the way of job and housing opportunities previously denied but there must always be a financial aspect as well. All the terror, abuse, and murder was for financial gain and neither those lives nor that financial inequity can ever be restored but reparations seeks to expose it.
Whether happening on a large nationally enacted or individual peer to peer level, reparations remain a conversation long overdue. A conversation of privilege, security, and the lengths gone through to maintain that comfort.
Reparations seeks to open up this discussion with accountability and frankness. Reparations puts a dollar amount that people can feel on the labor unpaid, abuses unanswered, and terror still reigning.
With estimates in the trillions, the numbers thrown around for reparations are sobering, as they should be. Reparations aren’t meant to be a one time empty gesture. Reparations serve to heal the divide between Black and white America and to do that, we have to leave the sleepy drunkenness of complacency. We have to look at Black Wall Street, Emmett Till, Korynn Gaines and for once, say something more.
Reparations is no small task. We must allow space for the grieving and resources for the rebuilding of everything once taken from Black America. There are restless souls to appease and they won’t be settled with last years clothing and a gift card to BeniHana because we’ve sacrificed and we’ve been betrayed over a lot more than the worth of your leftovers, white America.
Reparations are cash where cash is king. Reparations are things we couldn’t realistically attain on our own. Reparations are getting us a fighting chance at life instead of just a glimpse at what was to be.
Reparations extend beyond a Facebook post and come before your mindless midnight stress shopping. They make us feel in the same boat as you, not like visitors granted a 12 hour guest pass into safety.
Reparations are a repayment for prior abuses and thefts and the start of an honest conversation about the toll of racism on our countries history. Reparations are not leisurely or optional but they are a necessary bridge allowing us to honestly address the crimes of yesterday and their influence on the “successes” of today.
Jay St James is a FS provider and Mom to 4 living in the PNW. They enjoy writing and speaking on a variety of social issues, all from the intersectional view of a single black sex worker with no time for B.S.