Reparations are required; anything less is an insult

Even the people who say they are progressive or liberal often become way less open-minded the second a Black person says anything with the word “reparations” in it. It’s always “how would we know who really deserves reparations?” or “how could we make that work logistically” or “but my family didn’t own slaves” or “slavery was so long ago.” (by the way, that last one isn’t true. It may seem a long time ago but it hasn’t been that many generations—my paternal grandparents suffered under sharecropping, which was right after slavery, and my dad grew up under Jim Crow laws…also, there were Black people still enslaved into the 1960s).

But there is some noise being made about moving reparations forward, as the House of Representatives recently concluded hearings to consider establishing a commission that would study the impact and fallout from slavery and look into ways reparations might be able to happen. That has a lot of white people in their feelings some kind of way—though not mostly in a good way.

But how about you sit down and listen to a story before we talk about reparations? Let’s set the stage.

See, there’s this super-wealthy family, the Andersons, who hate you and your family for no reason you can understand. It’s so bad that Uri Samuel Anderson IV, the rich-ass head of the Anderson clan, hires people to go to your house on the working-class side of town to do things like break your windows, punch holes in your roof, slash the tires of your car and beat you to a pulp every once in a while. So, you can never get ahead financially because you keep having to fix the damage or go to the hospital and you get demoted or fired from jobs for missing work so much.

But this isn’t just about you and Mister Anderson. Your families go way back.

Uri’s great-grandfather, Uri Samuel Anderson, lived next to your great-grandfather. He stole the deed to your great-grandfather’s farm, added the land to his own and tore down your family’s home, forcing them to live in a shack and farm for good ole U.S. Anderson without pay. And he did other very nasty things, but we won’t go into those except to say that he demanded thanks for every one of them.

Later, his son Uri Samuel Anderson II “graciously” allowed your grandfather and his family to earn money from farming (his other business interests left him little interest in doing any farming himself) but demanded most of their crops and charged them a ridiculously high rent that kept them poor and beholden to him and his family. He also did the same other nasty things his father did, but he didn’t make your grandfather and his family thank him for doing them.

Then with the next generation, U.S.A. III, who had really expanded his family’s empire, kicked your father and his family off the land after taking everything they owned and every penny they had. Then, when they started a business in town and started making progress in life, he sent thugs to extract “protection” money from them on a regular basis.

And now his son terrorizes you. In fact, he calls you up one day to insult you for being a loser who can never get ahead and you lose it. You  shout at him about all that he has done to hold you back and all that his ancestors did, back to U.S. Anderson the first, and all he can say is to snap back at you, “What my great-grandfather did was ages ago. Your family has had plenty of time to recover from that.”

I hope my metaphor is heavy handed enough. I want it to be.

The Andersons, or white America, started with using oppression and never stopped when slavery ended. They just changed it up every generation or so. The abuse may have lessened in some ways, but it remained really abusive and—and this is the really important part—the actions made sure to keep Black people from getting ahead. So from slavery to sharecropping to Jim Crow to the burning of Black Wall Street to the mass incarceration of Black people for weed or crack possession to predatory real estate policies to police violence and more. And while Black people were held down and then knocked down when they got up, white Americans profited off their misery. They got ahead through the generations with things like the G.I Bill and more generous interest rates and more opportunities, better educations, inheritances from their family, etc. But worse than that, like the Andersons, white Americans took credit for all their successes but wouldn’t take one bit of responsibility for the things they had done (and things they continued to do) to Black people to stay well ahead of them and keep them not only from getting ahead economically but preventing them from getting any power or influence whenever possible.

America, and most white Americans, have used and abused Black people. And when they haven’t been doing the abusing first-hand, they’ve watched the abuse happen or turned their backs because they didn’t want to rock the boat and they didn’t want to admit the ugliness. Which is complicity. There are extremely few white people in this country who can legitimately claim they haven’t benefited in the past (and usually now, too) in some way from the mistreatment of Black people.

Black people have been stolen from over and over. Time for America to pay us back now, as it should have done generations ago. Just because the country dropped the ball back then doesn’t get it off the hook now, and that’s because there still isn’t a fair playing field for Black people. And the inability for us to prosper enough to pass wealth to our descendants in the way white people have been allowed (and helped with government programs) to do is one of the biggest reasons we are so behind white America in terms of wealth levels.

And yet folks like Mitch McConnell in the Senate speak for much of white America when he says, as he did very recently, “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea. We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president.” For some perspective on just a few of the things wrong with that statement, go here.

But let me add that when Barack Obama was elected, white America lost its mind and hate crimes against Black people and other people of color went up, people accused Obama for years of being secretly Kenyan despite an actual Hawaiian birth certificate, and he was blocked at almost every conceivable turn by Republicans for trying to improve the country, after he saved us from an economic collapse that was looming because of George W. Bush and gang. So, I don’t think a Black president is much of a sign that America is sorry or that it planned to do better to Black people.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the people who has spoken very clearly (and recently) on why reparations need to be paid and why it’s the right thing to do. And The Root helped clarify just how many people still alive now are liable for reparations since Mitch McConnell and his ilk like to keep saying no one alive today has any responsibility to Black people for slavery and all its effects.

The bottom line though: Black people were robbed and continue to have their pockets picked. Time to pay up.

Reparations won’t fix race relations. They won’t end racism. What they will do, if done honestly and right, is to reimburse Black America for past wrongs and give them a chance to be on the even and fair footing the vast majority of them have been denied since the first stolen and enslaved Africans arrived on America’s shores. And, if the abusive and predatory things like police violence and unfair banking policies and more are reduced or, better yet, eliminated along with the granting of reparations, maybe we can start approaching a place where there is equity and Black people are allowed to live, breathe and maybe even thrive for once.

But I’m telling you true: The longer reparations continue not to be taken seriously, the more it’s gonna cost. Because we Black people have been very patient for too long (you might have noticed the lack of mass revolts and lack of race wars) but we sure haven’t neglected to keep the receipts and tally up the interest.

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Image by Olu Famule from Unsplash

The democracy is dead but it can be resuscitated

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news is that we are no longer a democracy. And no, this isn’t some kind of cute, semantic quibble about how we’re actually a republic or whatever. I mean the systems by which the United States government represents its citizens are no longer functioning. Our current president lost the popular vote. Even though he represents only a minority of Americans, he has stacked the Supreme Court as well as the federal bench. Also, democrats have won more votes during the past three senate runs, yet continue to be the minority. On top of it all, gerrymandering and voter suppression continue to solidify minority rule and distance us from actual democracy.

Yeah. It’s real bad. Pre-apocalypse kind of bad. It’s the kind of bad you read about in history books and think, How did they not see this? Why didn’t they do anything about it? The answer here is actually pretty simple: racism. We’ve never dealt with the problem and now the problem deals with us. If you actually look, it’s pretty easy to see. Every single social issue currently fucking up the world, from climate change to addiction to wealth inequality has already been experienced by Black and brown people as a whole for years. Political representation is not something Black and brown people have ever truly known in the USA. As a country, we now constantly talk about the loss of truth or the lack of belief in things like science, but neither truth nor things like science have ever been permitted to exist for Black or brown people. This country has set a moral precedent and if your morals can exclude one kind of person, then you will eventually and happily exclude another. And another.

Unfortunately, it’s probably all going to get much worse. This is because the problems are systemic, but we behave as though they’re personal. We like to think that we can persuade conservatives out of their conservatism. We act as though the problem is that our shitty uncles just haven’t thought it through. This, of course disregards the fact that conservatism is a fraud and conservatives are cowards and liars. And I absolutely mean #yesallconservatives. Trump’s very existence proves this at every moment.  

Religious conservatives support him, despite the fact that everything about him is and has always been antithetical to Christianity. Fiscal conservatives support him despite the fact that his entire, very public life has only ever shown him to be the very definition of financially irresponsible.

Conservatives will claim patriotism as reason to support Trump despite his proud mocking of the most respected POWs as well as Gold Star Families, not to mention the fact that he openly favors the undermining our elections by foreign powers.

Conservative claims of national security as justification for border walls and Muslim bans are undone by the federally known truth that the biggest threat to the country comes from within our borders.

But this is not just hypocrisy. And, while the fact that these people are totally willing to hurt themselves over and over and over again in support of Trump makes it seem as though stupidity is the problem, but that’s not the entire story, either. There’s something else that ties them all together.

What ties all forms of conservatism together, the thing that their collective actions never falter on is their shared racism. That’s it. That’s all conservatism is. Naturally, they claim otherwise, but as is the case with every coward and liar, their actions contradict their claims.

And of course, along with the racism comes misogyny and homophobia and transphobia and on and on. Their goal is and always has been to prohibit and restrict the rights of others, to go backward—and as long as they have a legitimate voice in politics, that is what they will continue to do. On that path authoritarianism is inevitable.

Now the good news: they are a minority. It may not seem that way due to their over-representation in our political systems and media, but it’s true. That means attacking the systems can result in an actual democracy. But what will never result in a return to democracy is you trying to change your shitty uncle’s mind. You can’t convince him not to be shitty any more than he can convince you to be shitty. Don’t let him distract you. Instead, go here, and here, and here and give your time and/or money.

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Image by Filip Bunkens from Unsplash

Biden is not a path to unity, progress or success

Ooooooooookay. So. A couple of the more recent pieces I wrote for BGIM were about Joe Biden. Most people were very receptive, but the pushback I did get mostly took this form:

“If it comes down to Biden or Trump, I’m voting for Biden!”

There are a lot of problems with this idea. The first is that it obviously disregards all of the information in those pieces, buuuuuuut the second is that it disregards everyone else, too! That is to say, while you may have resigned to voting for Biden, other people on your side will never vote for him and you will not convince them otherwise and you cannot win without them.

In case you didn’t know, 4.4 million Obama voters stayed home for Hilary. Those aren’t the racists who switched over for Trump. They’re also not the principal-only voters who went for a third party candidate. No, these 4.4 million people just stayed home. Why? Because people vote for whoever they feel represents their interests and to them Hilary didn’t feel like Obama.

This gets tricky because, while it’s easy to make republicans feel represented (be rich, misogynist or racist) it’s much harder for democrats. They have to make everyone else feel represented. Joe Biden does not do that. He actually does the opposite. I mean, this fool scoffs at the very idea that the younger generation (his biggest voting bloc) could even have any problems whatsoever.

The 2018 midterm elections brought the biggest representative change this country has ever seen. The diversity of gender, ethnicity and religion in newly elected officials was unprecedented. The lesson from this is that the more communities the democrats embrace, the greater chance they have of being elected. The opposite of this is to uncritically and prematurely succumb to a candidate because they appear to be the only eventual option.

Joe Biden is not the only option yet and if we get to the point where he is the democrats will have already lost. And I’m not just talking about morally. I mean, I am also talking about a moral loss in which the electorate of the country moves collectively further to the right because somehow they think that will stop the country as a whole from moving further to the right, but that’s not all I’m talking about. I’m also talking about a literal loss in which Trump gets another four years because the voters who were inspired during the midterms are left feeling neglected yet again by yet another candidate who openly excludes them.

All too often we think of unity as the sole responsibility of the marginalized and oppressed. We seem to believe it is entirely up to them to sacrifice their wants and needs in order to support leaders who are only interested in continuing to overlook them. But that is not how you achieve unity. That is how you keep people marginalized and oppressed. The only path to unity is to address the wants and needs of the people.

Honestly, and I hate that I’m saying this, but it’s a lesson the democrats could learn from the republicans. For instance, republicans want and need this country to be whites only. I’ve said this before, but for five years before he was even elected, Trump got in front of every camera he could find and pointed at the brown-skinned president and said that he didn’t belong where he was because he supposedly wasn’t from here. Then he ran a campaign promising to keep the brown-skinned people from the Middle East and the brown-skinned people at the southern border out of this country. Since entering office he has succeeded in keeping the brown-skinned people from the Middle East out and has created concentration camps for and stolen the children from brown-skinned people at the southern border. The result is that the republican politicians have all fallen in line, even the ones who have only ever publicly hated him. And as far as his supporters go, you can hear story after story of their continued devotion to him despite their own admitted suffering at his hands. That’s unity. It’s terrible and horrifying and more or less the exact same path taken by every dictator whoever incited the destruction of their own country or oversaw a genocide, but it is unity.

Yes, unity is easy for republicans. Their side doesn’t want or need anything too far out of the traditions of this country. For democrats, however, unity is going to take a lot of hard, internal work. That work is the only path forward and we’ll know whether it got done or not if it comes down to Biden or Trump.

Anyway, here: have a laugh.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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Photo of Joe Biden from 2013; official White House portrait (public domain)