Reparations Are For Negroes
The perennial topic
The following is a mashup of things I’ve previously written on the subject of reparations for descendants of African slaves in America. A word or two may be tweaked in order to adjust it for the sake of clarity. My current view respects Stoicism, Christian ethics, Enlightenment individualism and the universality of human psychology as rational counters to racial theories, racial identity and racial politics. So I really have only a curious interest in reparations because I’m convinced it won’t happen. It won’t happen for some tawdry, some practical and some good reasons. It’s actually more likely that Black Lives Matters mints a cryptocurrency and a few black Americans get rich. The real economic opportunities for black Americans far outweigh the theoretical and wishful thinking. “Keep Hope Alive” is not a strategy.
Reparations Are For Negroes (2014)
The Negro is the person who needs to express himself in terms of his ancestral previous condition of servitude in his approach to life in America. The Negro is trapped in dual consciousness because he is isolated in the world and completely dependent in his self-image to white Americans and his interpretation of America's culture and its place for him. Black consciousness was invented to cure and ultimately transcend this condition.
A Negro would never think of moving to Costa Rica and being done with it. The Negro needs and desires some exceptional accommodation from the white American. He expects something he might get from some white Americans that he could never get from others. And so for many, the Negro Problem persists - how do you exist in a society that you are convinced cannot stand your very presence, or as someone presciently said back when I was a child 'How does it feel to be a problem?'. Thus constrained, the Negro can never be truly whole until he escapes those mental shackles - which is something he can only give to himself. Of course, being a Negro, he can't realize that until he gets a boot to the head.
The great irony of Reparations is that no matter how much money is spent, it doesn't solve the Negro Problem. Neither did the Civil Rights Movement solve the Negro Problem. As Cornel West presciently noted over twenty years ago:
The liberal/conservative discussion conceals the most basic issue now facing black America: the nihilistic threat to its very existence. The threat is not merely a matter of relative economic deprivation and political powerlessness - though economic well-being and political clout are requisites for meaningful black progress. It is primarily a question of speaking to the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness and social despair so widespread in black America.
The liberal structuralists fail to grapple with this threat for two reasons. First their focus on structural constraints relates almost exclusively to the economy and politics. They show no understanding of the structure of the character of culture. Why? Because they tend to view people in egoistic and rationalist terms according to which they are motivated primarily by self-interest and self-preservation. Needless to say this is partially true about most of us. Yet people, especially degraded and oppressed people are also hungry for identity, meaning and self-worth.
So basically the need for Reparations is not a need for money, it is a need for healing and curing that has still, after the unbelievable election of a black man to the Oval Office, not been satisfied in millions of African Americans. Of course there are many millions of black Americans who have eradicated all traces of the Negro predicament in their own minds. They won't ask you for jack. Then again there is another set of millions that haven't quite made up their minds whether they are Black, black American, African American, Negro, Afro American or some hybrid. Still, I know a Negro when I read him.
As I think upon this, the predicament of the Negro reminds me of Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark. Hmm. All over again.
'At last he lays his head flat on the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this, made all the signs to me of subjugation, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me as long as he lived.' -- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
'The problem of internalizing the master's tongue is the problem of the rescued. Unlike the problems of survivors who may be lucky, fated, etc. the rescued have the problem of debt. If the rescuer gives you back your life, he shares in that life. But if as in Friday's case, if the rescuer saves your life by taking you away from the dangers, the complications, the confusion of home, he may very well expect the debt to be paid in full.' -- Toni Morrision, 1992
Morrison brings up an interesting tangent. If America paid the Negro his Reparations, what do you think it would ask for in return? It doesn't matter the actual price, it's a psychic bargain, a deal with the Devil if you will, another form of shackles. Perhaps we ought to note and confess that the Negro is always with us. Is that truly who we want to be?
Racial Equilibrium (2008)
Back in 2002 I was unbecoming a race man and beginning blogging. The stellar and stunning thought which contributed to this political transformation I called 'The Cost of Not'. The subject was Reparations. Back then I wrote:
my point is that a good portion of negotiating a peace requires a credible threat of war. that's how nations are reformed. african americans are not going to issue a credible threat of war for reparations, and the amount of reparation due from this nation requires that much. i believe olgetree will make the case and prove the theory, but the cost of not repairing is not high enough.
Since that time, I have looked at American politics with regard to the extent that black partisans can unify and aggregate black political opinion and negotiate concessions from non-blacks who see black progress as zero sum in America with Reparations being the primary case in point. But immediately I realized that everybody who was doing anything was doing that. It was kind of an alternate version of that quote that the future is already here, it is only unevenly distributed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates last week about the utterly depressing state of race relations in this country.
And I responded: I think you are coming to the realization that nobody can broker relations for an entire race. As soon as that becomes perfectly clear, then you'll recognize why it's not even desirable.
The first step towards this realization is this: America is at racial equilibrium. Everybody who wants to do anything with regard to changing what race relations means is, at this very moment, living that reality.
Essentially, I think race relations in America is moving at the pace of progress of television sitcoms. Which is to say no faster nor slower than pop culture. It is not any reason to celebrate nor is a reason to be overly concerned, unless you feel put-upon by the racial status quo. People who feel put out and uncomfortable will be cynical and try to get away with as much racial bullshit as possible. That basically covers both sides of the coin, as well as the third side which would be 'disinterested observers'.
My essential observation is that nothing, including the trashing of Obama and the killing of Sean Bell and the execution of Tookie or the freeing of Mumia Abu-Jamal is capable of sustaining a fundamental or national movement. It all just slouches forward or backward if you please, one Supreme Court decision at a time, if that. We're done, and nobody really cares. Or perhaps I should say that nobody who cares, and knows is capable of doing much. Then again, the answers are already here. The examples of doing it right are plentiful and spread all over, just maybe not in your patch. And so the politics are at a stalemate.
It has been a while since I've considered the opportunities for institutional reform vis a vis racism. I basically don't see much changing of substance unless and until there is criminal enforcement of racist offenses. Basically you need a movement about the shape and size of the anti-illegal immigration movement so you can identify 12 million bodies and start punishing them and those who harbor them. That's not going to happen, because on the whole Americans don't care that much. On the whole, American racism is like American homosexuality. Sure there are people who are absolutely horrified by it, but nobody is going to stop it. Ever. So shout until you're hoarse, but it all comes down to the strengths of political movements.
I therefore now introduce The Rule of Whatever:
It is what it is. Get in where you fit in.
In general, The Rule of Whatever is in effect until somebody burns down a building, passes legislation in Congress or carries out an assassination.
The Conservative Brotherhood On Reparations (2005)
The last thing I was thinking about before September 11th 2001 was reparations. I came up with a brilliant solution in fact. Even people who were staunchly against the concept thought it was a pretty good idea. But I'll get to that later. Right now I want to describe my position on Reparations in the first of what will be many Conservative Brotherhood cross-posts.
I always speak of justice in terms of healing and curing. There is no question that a great injustice was done to us blackfolks through the institutions of and supporting slavery. It is an injustice that can never be repaid. We African Americans have healed ourselves, but the cure will remain unachieved.
The United States should repair. The moral case is clear. The United States will not repair. The politics are clear. African Americans should not worry about it. Our strength is clear.
There are plenty of legitimate arguments for reparation and I suspect that our legal system cannot really bear their burden. Charles Ogletree of Harvard is the man on point and I'm sure that he can make a case. But like everyone else, he'll have to come at it sideways, because at root, ours is an indictment of America itself, and of nations. We were a conquered people. We were exploited. We were left politically, for dead. And the interest of the Union superseded our dignity as a people - Reconstruction, which would have been the proper repair, was abandoned.
Nobody can argue that whitefolks never had the sense God gave them to recognize and do something about our horrid condition. There were many who saw us as brothers. I think that John Brown was one of this nation's greatest heroes. In the end, they failed. But we have not failed ourselves and our American journey only proves the indomitability of the human spirit - which we can never ourselves forget. We have become what we are primarily through our own efforts and nothing can take that away.
The strength of African America is what keeps this nation together, for we could clearly rip it to its foundations. This nation is always in debt to an idea that probably will never die, the idea that a black underclass can and will revolt. The idea is a bit colored, but only great injustice can bring it to fruition. Any such great injustice will itself be casus belli, it needn't be specifically racist persecution of blacks. If this economy fails, if some civil war breaks out for other reasons, if we become a dictatorship. As a conservative, I break with my colleagues in that they believe such events are imminent or already at hand. They seek revolution; they seek a purging by fire next time. They seek to collect that debt in blood and chaos. I am for stability and growth.
I believe that African Americans have it good enough and that our progress in marked by our quick study of this nation's infrastructures and institutions. And so when it comes to the question of Reparation, I believe that our system is not morally capable of repairing. I also believe that the relative condition of the African American nation is not nearly agitated enough to demand reparations. In other words, it would require an extraordinary effort to extract the payment due and African Americans by and large are letting the nation slide.
So I suppose the more reasonable question is whether or not blackfolks are cancelling the debt. The answer is no. That elephant is too big to ignore - even if we hanged every living Klansman. We're just holding it in our pocket while we shake your hand and smile. We are healed, our smile is genuine. But we are not cured and we both know it.
The Slave Dollar
(from the archives November 2000)
As a matter of apology and reparation, I propose the minting of a coin. This coin, preferably gold in color, would be distributed directly to [African] Americans through the US Post Office. What is important is that a sufficient number of these coins be minted such that their circulation through this country and the world such that their very presence indicate the breadth of the impact of any market originally directed at the labor of African Americans..
The amount minted might be, instead of reflecting an interest bearing debt on 40 acres and a mule, representative of some fraction of todays economy as expressed in proportion to that of the slave economy in its day. For practical reasons, it is not likely to be a 1:1 ratio. But if the slave economy was estimated to be 1/3 of that time, it might be reasonable to mint 1/3 of all dollar coins as the "slave dollar".
There are other practical considerations, such as the success of the coin itself, but I have little doubt that it would circulate widely among African Americans. There are currently many popular theories of 'recycling black dollars'.
The presence of these coins in the national circulation would show, over time, how pervasive the effects of money generated by the slave economy would be. One of the great excuses often given in resistance to reparation and apology is that no one living was directly responsible or directly victimized. But a coin minted and circulated specifically as the currency of apology ultimately reaches everyone, just as the money generated specifically by the institution of slavery.
In retrospect and in consideration of the Sacagawea Dollar, the 'disappearance' of the coin from circulation could cause bigger headaches than the gesture might relieve. But I still think it's a good idea.
Bringing us back to 2022 In closing, I want to emphasize something that is almost never discussed. Aside from the election of black mayors at the local level, enactment of civil rights non-discrimination laws at the federal level, desegregation of the civil service and the judicial adjustments made during the Civil Rights era, the biggest change in America was the creation of majority minority districts. I truly wish some scholar would follow up with the specific impact of this stoic observation.
The United States of America, for the purposes of inclusion, reapportioned every possible Congressional district by race in order to empower black Americans. I think that was a colossal move whose results were ultimately the final test on what political empowerment, above and beyond mere equality before the law can do for the average citizen. I think it’s marginal. Greatly symbolic, economically dubious and philosophically racialist. If its most significant result was the creation of the Congressional Black Caucus which was ultimately defunded in 1994, there ought to be a good deal of shame to go around. If its most significant result was to establish a permanent encampment of ‘the black vote’ within the Democrat party, that too is a dubious outcome. I think what it did on the congressional level was to establish the dynasty of a few singular and outspoken figureheads, the most notable of whom were Charlie Rangel, John Lewis and Maxine Waters. Rangel was probably the most irreplaceable of the three, but I don’t think he holds a candle to predecessors like Adam Clayton Powell. But there are certainly other black representatives who did good work and represented their constituencies well. My favorites were Mickey Leland, Kwesi Mfume and Julian Dixon. Yet none of them measure up to positive regard for Ron Brown whom I happened to meet in the early 90s in DC at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event at the time lobbying against the funding of the actual caucus was being debated in Congress.
It seems so long ago when politics was so important to me. Now all I care about is wisdom and the fate of the world’s peasant self-determination, for which I am skeptical Americans have any political clue despite our actual aptitude for it.
At any rate, there is plenty of history in trying to adjudicate domestic affairs by race few of which have been of outstanding permanent economic benefit. None of which have done anything comparable to native black American innovations in music, literature or Christian liturgy. Racial reparations will continue to pop up as a perennial issue at least until folks my age are dead. Debate about reparations will not heal. It will not cure. It will not inform. It will only distract.
Actual reparations would signify the beginning of the end for individual rights in America. It will generate a permanent franchise for caste membership in the republic and rip the heart out of meritocracy. Forgiveness of student loans is the trial balloon. Mark my words.