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Reparations: To Be Or Not To Be?

By John L. Horton

 I just finished reading the latest issue of TIME Magazine (double issue, September 21/28, 2020). The magazine has a feature/society piece about the “Rosewood massacre” (circa 1923), where nine survivors and descendants have been awarded some “reparations” ($2.1 million), by the Florida state legislature.

          It was pointed out that this action was a single, arduous effort to repay a sliver for that horrendous event in American history. It has been suggested that the surprising success of the Florida case could offer a model for a new generation seeking justice for historical wrongs.

         Meanwhile, it should be noted that national support for reparations is a hotly debated issue along racial lines: 72% of Blacks support compensation; only 14% of whites support such a measure. (ABC News/Ipsos poll).        

Previously, I have written an article (“Beyond Reparations”) on this very topic for The Guide. Moreover, the issue of reparations was discussed during the recent Democratic presidential debates, with several candidates (Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris) favoring some type of reparations for Black Americans affected by slavery.

Recently while taking an evening walk in my neighborhood, I had a very interesting conversation with the “wise man on the streets”  on whether or not African Americans would be getting “reparations” any time soon.  I was “chastised” by the wise man on the streets, as if I had just asked a stupid question or made a silly comment.

      According to the wise man on the streets, “Man, we ain’t gonna be getting any reparations, now or never.”  Furthermore, he went on to say, “There are some things that black folks are just going to have to get over, and this ‘reparations thing’ is one of them.  White folks and the government ain’t gonna give us no 40 acres, no mule, and just like white folks ain’t gonna be giving up their guns.  Hell, if we got a mule, it would probably be blind, cripple and crazy, with a bad case of running bowels.  Man, that be true!  So, black folks just need to get over it!” 

     Then, the wise man on the streets goes on to ask me a series of questions related to reparations.  “Do all white folks have to pay us reparations?  Do any black folks have to pay reparations?  What about those white folks whose ancestors fought and died to abolish slavery, not only during the Civil War, but before and since – do they ante up, too?  What about recent immigrants who have come to America, will they have to pay black folks, too?” 

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     Other pertinent questions were painstakingly asked by the wise man on the streets.  “Who is going to be the keeper of the reparations funds and/or investments?  What form or content will the reparations come in?  Who decides this?  Who/what decides the equitable division of reparations?  Who determines who gets how much of what, and how?” 

     As the heated conversation with the wise man on the streets continued, he wanted answers to other important questions.  “How much black/African American blood does one need to qualify for reparations?  Who/what determines this?  What if only one parent is black, or part-black?  What if there is a minority of black blood in your family tree?” 

     The longer our conversation lasted, the more highly agitated the wise man on the streets became with me.  He wanted answers to more in-depth reparation questions.  “Is everyone who ‘qualifies’ for reparations going to get a full share, or some percentage thereof?  What about highly successful or wealthy African Americans, will they also be eligible for reparations?  And, who is going to be responsible for coming up with the money to pay black folks?  How is this ‘payment’ going to be collected?”

      Our conversation about the “pros and cons” of reparations continued for several hours.  I made my impact upon the wise man on the streets.  He certainly made an impact upon me.  I must say that I understood where the wise man on the streets was coming from.

These were just some of the questions that concerned the wise man on the streets.  He hopes that answers to his reparation questions will be forthcoming – soon.  Otherwise, he sincerely believes that “black folks ain’t gonna be getting any reparations, now or ever.”  Moreover, he profoundly believes that “all this talk about reparations is just another ploy by the ‘powers that be’ to divide black folks against themselves and against other Americans.”

      My conversation with the wise man on the streets left me thinking…deeply and critically.  Is he right, or is he wrong?  Is he correct in his thinking, or is he flawed?  So much for the wise man on the streets.  In parting, I ask of you, what do you think about reparations for African Americans?  What do you think about the wise man on the streets?

John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to this newspaper.

 

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