There was a reparations senate hearing last week.
There was all sorts of response. The audience in the Senate that day filled four overflow rooms. Now it seems like no matter who you are, you’ve got an opinion.
There are two main categories of people who oppose reparations:
Some fall in the basket with Mitch McConnell who believes that reparations are irrelevant now because no one alive was born into or had anything to do with slavery. For these people, reparations aren’t in order. Slavery is behind us so reparations should be too.
For others, reparations border on slander. It seems to them as if reparations are another way to put Black Americans down. To this group, reparations devalue Black people because it tells them that they can’t do it on their own, even though they have been ever since slavery ended, and even before.
To all who think US’s white supremacist ancestry has nothing to do with us, let me bring Reparations into today for you.
Racism By The Stats
Let’s pretend for a second that slavery never happened — a really really wrong thing to do, but give me a second.
Let’s step back and look at where Black Americans stand in today’s society.
21.2% of Black Americans in the US were considered in poverty in 2018, this demographic has the largest poverty rate in the US. This rate is nearly 3 times higher the poverty rate of White Americans 8.7%.
The percentage of Black Americans who have a bachelor’s degree or higher is 24.3%, 10 percentage points below the national average and 14 percentage points behind White Americans.
Why? Well because only 57% of Black high school students even have access to courses that prepare them for college courses and standardized tests — the things that get you into traditional colleges. 71% of White Americans have access to sufficient courses.
In 2015, 61% of Black American students met none of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks.
None of these statistics have anything to do with the inadequacy of Black people. They have everything to do with the inadequacy of the US in ensuring equality.
Even if slavery didn’t happen the country would still owe Black Americans reparations because of the systematic racism that has forced them to work several times harder to get out of the situation a government built off of racism has put them in.
Black Americans are often successful in spite of all these stats, but there is no reason they should have to fight to get out from under the system then go into the fight for success already exhausted.
Racism By The Mind
The bizarre thing about racism is that it isn’t isolated to people who hate other races. It isn’t isolated to people who sanction the Ku Klux Klan.
Unconscious bias is in all of us. These are the biases that culture has drilled into our heads about what ‘ghetto’ or ‘shady’ people look and act like — urban style clothes, cornrows, chain, rap. The list of what makes a person look like you wouldn’t want to walk on the same side of the street of them are often traditionally Black American styles.
This may be because there are more Black Americans living in poverty — but that’s its own problem, isn’t it? This ‘other’ problem, creates an unconsciously racist circle of reasoning. The ghetto is largely black so black is ghetto.
You can find the effects of this reasoning everywhere from your potential employer to online service providers.
In a study that explored racism on Air BnB, a request sent under a traditionally Black sounding name reduced the likelihood that a house owner would approve the request by 8%. No picture. No ‘street’ talk. No bad ratings. Just a name.
It is incredibly unlikely that hosts were thinking “Oh, this person is black, I’m not going to accept them.” Most likely they just had a ‘gut feeling’ — they might not have even pinned down the reason — that this renter wasn’t going to work out. This ‘gut feeling’ can be traced back to cultures generalization about the trustworthiness of Black people, a generalization completely unfounded by facts and that could be traced back to Slavery, Jim Crow, and Racism.
Reparations aren’t only about taking racism out of our vocabulary and taking action where systems shove minorities under the bus, but it is also about recognizing and addressing the unconscious bias perpetrated by our culture.
Racism By The Hate
Another issue worth mentioning is the hate that still surrounds Black Americans today. Hate crimes have hit their heyday these past couple years in the US and on our current trajectory they are just going to keep on going up.
Out of the pool of hate crime victims, 59.6% of them are targeted because of their race.
Of that 59.6%, 48.6% of victims are Black Americans.
In other words, about 29% of all hate crimes are aimed at a group of people that only makes up 12% of the population.
The next largest victims of race-based hate crimes are white people, but they come in at 17.1% of all race-related hate crimes. White people make up 76.5% of the population.
Racism By Belittlement
Some say — aren’t reparations just another way to put Black people down?
Isn’t giving Black Americans a leg up just saying, “you can’t do it alone,” when they have been doing it alone since slavery ended, and even before?
Isn’t it a little belittling to cry back to an institution 154 years dead and say that it is the reason less Black Americans are in our movies, our board rooms, and our jobs?
It seems that this argument misses the current point of reparations, however. From the draft of what reparations are actually suggesting, all that is being asked is that the government consider the potential connection between our countries history of slavery and the current position of Black people in our economy.
Then, the bill asks that the government deal with the disparities. They ask that the government find a way to address the conscious and unconscious bias against Black Americans.
Reparations are a recognition that equality isn’t easy. That making a ‘level’ playing field takes more than just believing we should have a level playing field.
And it takes more than just freeing slaves. Sure, slaves have been illegal for over 150 years, but what white people did at that point was say, “Yay, you’re free! now you’re on your own in this world of people who still hate you because of your skin and where the road to success is labeled ‘whites only’ so you have to climb a damn mountain instead of going through the valley we’ve created for everyone else.”
Making reparations isn’t only about our history of racism, but it’s about removing the ‘whites only’ sign on the valley road. It’s about building another road so all the people halfway up the sheer face of the mountain get to move onto the valley road.
Reparations aren’t only about saying, “we messed up,” and it certainly isn’t about pitying people for their history. It is about making the road to success the same road for everyone no matter their race.
There is this idea that the time to apologize for slavery is long gone. Or as so eloquently put by Mitch McConnell that having one black president has somehow healed the countries racist past and present.
This idea means that people see reparations as irrelevant nowadays. They see it as trying to put a bandaid on a scar that is long healed over.
But it’s about time for all of us to recognize that even if the scars of slavery had healed, the scars of racism are still fresh cuts, and more are made every day.
If the word ‘reparations’ makes you think of pity and trying to patch over something that ended years ago, don’t think of it as reparations. Think of it as the first step in making equality accessible.