The new multicultural members of Congress have a mind to replace Columbus Day and revive the question of reparations for slavery.
Reparations are not only controversial, they are baffling in every aspect. We may understand why, but who deserves them and who should pay for them? More importantly, how would they cure racism?
I don’t deny that racism exists, any more than I would deny anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or any form of ‘us versus them.’ It’s human nature, nay, all nature. ‘To each his own’ goes down to the cellular level.
One solution to racism was thought to be intermarriage – sometimes called miscegenation, amalgamation, or race-mixing – but the reality has been that society identifies the blend as more People of Color not White.
In the 1950s, court rulings – toward desegregation and equal rights – was the road taken to combat racism . With the race riots of the 1960s came massive government welfare programs, affirmative action, and urban renewal. Today, other minorities will not accept mandatory African American quotas at city schools and universities around the country. Merit is the yardstick now.
I have written and still believe that African Americans have achieved an amazing transformation, reaching the top echelons of society both politically and economically. Much of the credit goes to their own relentless lobbying efforts, grounded in voting power and White “guilt.” But White guilt can only go so far.
Fewer and fewer Euro-Americans buy into White guilt. They may acknowledge White Privilege as a factor in their own success but they also see Euro-ingenuity and Euro-entrepreneurship as the reason America is the Land of Opportunity in the first place. They wonder where the Black entrepreneurs and African American corporations are to lift their own people via “Black Privilege.” Then, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates explained why the vexing problems need a national sacrifice.
Coates recently found out that he has almost 40% European DNA. Notwithstanding, he stands by “The Case for Reparations,” a piece he wrote in a 2014 issue of Atlantic Magazine. Explaining that enslaved African Americans were the oxen that propelled American success, for which the country owes his 60% community big time. He doesn’t suggest an outright financial settlement, only a national conversation that will lead to some appropriate compensation. Coates, like many African American and some Euro-American intellectuals, believes that a national conversation on racism, poverty, incarceration, single parent households, et al, will reveal that all their community problems stem from being torn from Africa, enslaved for 400 years, and traumatized by discrimination to the present time. These dots can certainly be connected, but many wonder if money or a national conversation is the ultimate cure.
Until he disgraced himself as a sexual predator, comedian Bill Cosby was the whistleblower of the African American community. [I wrote about Crosby and this subject last April in “A Messenger Lost.”] His public speeches before the NAACP and other Black venues shook his community to the core. He condemned the epidemic of unplanned pregnancies, poor parenting, lack of education, non-standard English, and counter-culture dress for perpetuating poverty in depressed neighborhoods. He called those who betrayed the sacrifices of civil rights heroes “knuckleheads,” and dared to ask single moms if they even knew who their children’s fathers were, let alone where they were. “This is a problem of epic proportion,” he wrote.
One hundred years before Cosby, Booker T. Washington (born Booker Taliaferro) was often denounced by other Black leaders for his Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he made vocational training the path to Black success. But his critics only saw Black plumbers and carpenters as another form of servile labor to benefit White people.
This, then, is the essence of the Euro-American response to any talk of reparations: recognize your own defects and overcome them with the talent you already possess. Use the success you have notably achieved in sports, the media, entertainment, and business to restore a viable culture in your community, and not depend on dreams of reparations.
As we have found in the Italian American community, many problems are self-inflicted. -JLM