ON THE QUESTION OF REPARATIONS
On the question of reparations:
There are many who argue that racism is so virulent in America and that the history of being brought to this country in chains is so compelling, the descendants of slaves ought to be compensated for their suffering and that of their ancestors. There is a substantial movement afoot in America to pay African Americans reparations for all the lousy stuff that has happened to them. We are talking about Jim Crow and all sorts of other systemic lunacy based on skin pigment. Take a look at who has been denied the right to vote one way or another, or who is in our prisons, or who has suffered from environmental racism. The case for reparations, at least until we have eradicated racism and given everyone an equal chance, is hard to argue with.
There is no question that reparations should be paid for all the bad things that have happened to Black people in this country. Think of all those people who couldn’t buy a house even if they had fought for this county. Think about the educational disparities that exist in America. Think about what White kids in Scarsdale get in their school systems in comparison to what kids in our urban school systems get. Racism is unquestionably alive and well and pushed by such people as Donald Trump and his followers, particularly in the United States Senate.
Of course, there are others who will argue that reparations are neither fair nor right. What if a Black child gets into Harvard or Yale and is making a fortune at a top law firm? When the reparation checks are being given out, should that individual qualify for reparation money? The answer is a tough one. Of course not, but how do you equitably and fairly decide who gets and who doesn’t? When you look at New York’s specialized high schools like Stuyvesant, Science, or Brooklyn Tech you get an insight into both the formal and informal ways that Black people are being discriminated against. It’s disgusting.
Some very interesting theories have been advanced regarding reparations and why they might not be such a good idea. Among them are the terrible political consequences that might result. One can just imagine what the Trumpers would do with such a movement for reparations. While the arguments for reparations may be intellectually sound, the reaction of the right wing to the idea might be so strong that elections could be tipped to the right, leading to the question as to whether even calling a reparations bill would be worth it if the country were to be run by someone like Trump.
There are many ways in which reparations could be built into future political changes. One could argue that passing some bills, like a negative income tax or a universal health program, might meet many of the same goals. That way, we might avoid awful political consequences but still achieve some of the same desired goals. In fact, one could argue that reparations as a concept might hold back the advancement of social and political equity and be one of the worst things that we could do.
Many of the people, particularly on the left side of our politics, are not Black and may admirably argue for reparations. But if they do, and they will, it might actually set back the movement which so many of us are anxious to see moving forward. This is a very scary, divided country and the reparations movement may be the very thing that that will help the Fascist right in their quest for political power.
The last thing we want to see happen is for the middle left to offer a program that will enable those who so many of us despise to move their despicable way of thinking forward. We sure don’t need more racism.
Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected]