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June 21, 2005

TCB: On Reparations

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.

Three Parts
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 aruguments 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 And the interest of the Union superceded our dignity as a people - Reconstruction, which would have been the proper repair, was abandoned.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 causus 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.

Now the idea: 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 orignially 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 Sacagewea 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.

Posted by mbowen at June 21, 2005 08:59 AM

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A really unique idea, Cobb. Not sure what about it makes me a little uncomfortable, tho. For some reason the notion of having "nigger bucks" in circulation makes me knit my brow in worry. I'll have to think about that some more.

I know there's the idea of Native Indian-like tax relief as reparations. You can argue about how long that should go on for, but I think I gravitate toward something that is more likely to prevent waste and/or maximize our mutual benefit for the long haul. I have an idea for that of course (it's probably not too new): free education.

Higher education, that is. For the next twenty years (about one generation), anyone who gets the grades, gets the automatic grant for all fees, tuition, books, necessary living expenses paid for by the gubmint.

Imagine every black kid who wanted higher education from 1985 til now could get it free of charge? Where would we be now? Is that enough time for a depressed ghetto mindset to free itself and start dreaming of possibilities? I think so.

Of course, the real problem in any of these reparations machinations is determining who gets to be black. Do sesquimillaroons (or whatever) count? Who decides? I'd imagine a process where you'd have to apply before some panel or other where they eyeball you, check the degree of kink and apply calipers to the breadth of your nose.

I don't know. It all seems a dreamy mental exercise. What good is a coupon in your back pocket if you can never cash it?

Posted by: memer [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 21, 2005 10:26 AM

One other thing. If it helps some White folk feel better, mebbe it could be a pro-rated means testing thing. Poorest blacks get 100% coverage, middle-class some middling proportion and rich blacks get squat. Just tryin to get an ounce more realistic ;-)

Posted by: memer [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 21, 2005 10:30 AM

What I had forgotten about so many of the discussions around the politics of reparations was that if you look at the liberal agenda, it already wants to give these same things away to blacks. So the interesting thing is that you'll hear people say that they don't mind having free education or taxcuts given to the descendants of slaves, but heaven forbid they give them cash.

The answer to the distribution problem is so easy that I wonder why people even bother. Just make the inner city DMV office the place. Staff it with blackfolks, cameras and cops. On any day of the week, there WILL BE two or three hundred blackfolks in line for hours. How many whitefolks do you know are ready to deal with that?

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 21, 2005 01:34 PM

I appreciate the historical outrage, Cobb. The legacy of slavery never completely faded away. You see it every day in the rotting urban core of our cities.

But reparations are a fantasy.

How do you determine who is culpable? Much of my family immigrated after the Civil War. As far as I;ve been able to trace, even the ones who came before Emancipation lived in Free States, and worked as shopkeepers and merchants. I don't feel that my ancestors were any more responsible for slavery than any more than yours were.

How do you determine who has been aggreived? There are plenty of African-Americans in my neighborhood, but many of them are first and second generation immigrants from East Africa. Would they be eligible for reparations? If skin color is the only determinant, I have a real problem. This is bound to be more divisive than healing.

The answer, as I see it, is the resumption of Reconstruction. But it's not just a "Dixie" issue anymore, the real legacy of slavery can be found in our inner cities. We need to reconnect these islands of poverty and hoplessness to the rest of America, through education, infrastructure, and economic development.

Real "equal opportunity" is the answer, not another government handout.

Posted by: SMASH at June 22, 2005 09:23 AM

Smash, I have to say that reparations are a fantasy because the political opposition to them is emotional and not logical. The how and who is not the issue, but the why, and the bottom line to the why is why should African Americans get money?

What's wrong with the inner city has nothing to do with slavery, because during the Depression *everybody* was broke. There was sufficient racism in America in 1930 to make the differences between black and white today. Remember that Apartheid in South Africa only started in 1948.

'Divisiveness' is also a phony issue. If two million more blacks became as ghetto fabulous as Snoop Dogg because of Reparations, nobody has to change one thing for the new Snoop Doggs of the America not to be welcome in upscale white America. Snoop Dogg is already not welcome. The reverse is true too; no everybody doesn't love Raymond, and if he were suddenly ghetto poor he still wouldn't move to the black ghetto.

As I said, the healing is done. We are at an equilibrium. It's not necessarily pleasant, but it is stable. I don't think you can go anywhere and find blackfolks who think the political majority is going to give an inch on Affirmative Action despite the fact that it's high on the agenda of most blackfolks. Black politics has already priced white disinterest into the political market. Nobody is going to riot about it. Which is entirely my point, because that's about what it would take to get a white political majority to budge on the issue. The concept is dismissed out of hand by whites who don't even have to presume to be morally or intellectually correct. They simply have to be a majority who doesn't want it and doesn't care.

You say, just like the majority of Americans, hey it's a good idea to help blackfolks out through education, infrastructure and economic development - basically a transfer of wealth, an increase in government and private spending. So long as the reason is not reparations, you're all for it. That's my point.

If tomorrow the right blogosphere discovered that HUD or the Department of the Interior has spent 75 Billion dollars over the past 10 years on urban inner city poor blacks, it would raise eyebrows, but nobody really knows or cares withat HUD or Interior does. But a Reparations program that was half that would never get off the floor of Congress - hell, a 10 million dollar bill to *study* reparations would never get off the floor.

It's not the what or the who. It's the why, and we should all just admit that the politics are impossible.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2005 10:07 PM

I like to shoot first and find answers later, but smash couldn't those same arguments been used to deny japanese-americans their reparations for their stress during WWII?

On further reflection, it seems there can't be any perfect reparations when so much time has passed. We can try to put in some filters, checks and so on to avoid abuse of the dole outs, but perhaps the main thing is intent. The INTENT to correct must be attempted or old wounds will never heal.

I have a few more fairly ramdom bits on this topic:

* On Cobb's point about Liberal schemes and so on, I concede that it might be kind of grating to be told, in effect, you must spend it on this. And not to go as far as Chappelle, but we know, cuz we's all human (and that's one of the main points in this exercise innit -- to recognize and redress human failures), that SOME people will waste their slavery dubloons on some stupit blingery or t'other.

I look at the edumacation thing as setting a challenge. "oh, yeah, let's see you do this" and we do it, say thankyouverymuch and go on with our future generations advanced a quantum level over what might be otherwise.

* One other practical note, tho we still dreamin, is that taxes would have to be frozen for black folk during the free your mind sweepstakes. no sense us payin for our own reward.

* Anyway, mebbe all you demand is a full out, damn-the-lawsuits apology. Something stronger than Clinton's. If class-actions are brought, then it can be up to the courts to decide who is eligible and what's a "fair" recompense. Families would have to bring PROOF.

* hmm. along those lines, as far as determining who gets, perhaps we can use some kind of (really) soft proof method. Somebody, somewhere must have documentation of a family member being enslaved. Then we use a six-degrees thing that allows anyone related to the folks with proof to get in on the goodies. A white person will have to marry into the fams to get a piece of the pie. I can live with that.

Posted by: memer [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 23, 2005 11:09 AM

That idea is stupid, pure idiocy.
you cant just mint money, and you cant just adjust money to slavery days. this is ridiculous.

He seems to be talking out both sides of his neck. saying yes, but, no. But, yes. But , maybe. But - coins. Yeah, thats it, coins!!! LOL

only blacks could buy them?? huh
The money supply would merely adjust. It would have absolutely nothing but symbolic effect.

Posted by: sean mccray at June 28, 2005 06:16 PM

It must be very frustrating to your world view to find that there are people who don't see everything in black & white.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 06:43 PM