A discussion of reparations
By Guest Columnist RICHARD ROSE, president, Atlanta Branch of the NAACP
America’s enduring human tragedy is racism that started with Columbus’ miscalculated arrival in the Caribbean. The failure to successfully enslave Indigenous people led to the importation by force of sub-Sahara Africans in 1619 that was justified by Christianity.
In my opinion, the concept of monetary reparations is both incalculable and insufficient, given the timeframe that has embedded discrimination into all societal systems. The dual objectives of oppression, deprivation and denigration, must be factored into any and all efforts to repair the effects of 246 years of institutional enslavement followed by 156 years of targeted racism ingrained in American law, policies, practices and extra-judicial bullying.
The NAACP’s initial focal issues were education, voting rights, equal justice and economic opportunity. A random selection of 10 whites and 10 Blacks will still reveal significant differentials in each of these owing to a legacy of privilege that continues to victimize newborn Black babies and empower the dullest of white youth. There are success stories of non-superstar athletes, musicians and scholars but data confirms that opportunities are still skewed by race.
Discrimination has been so complete that each of Georgia’s private Historically Black Colleges and Universities was founded before Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington, Georgia’s first public high school for Black students, was opened in 1924. This year, the Georgia Legislature stepped back into the 1950’s with voting rights legislation, Senate Bill 202, that targeted the most populous counties where Black voters fled from small-town justice. Branding Black men as lazy, dishonest, shiftless and oversexed has created both the suspicion of illegal behavior and the fear of retaliation that results in the execution of unarmed Black citizens running away or cowering in a closet with raised hands of surrender. Black men and women are still the last to be hired and first to be furloughed or laid off. Black businesses are automatically branded as second tier by consumers, investors and banking. Less than 2% of state of Georgia contracts go to Black-owned businesses.
Like the campaign of oppression against Black Americans that included violence and psychological symbolism, a campaign of reparations must be multi-faceted and long-term, not to disenfranchise or subjugate anyone else but to offset the lack of equity long denied. It must start with the removal of the psychological symbolism of Confederate monuments. No monument is “history;” rather, they are political statements of the time and place. These statements set in stone and metal declare and encourage white supremacy and racist policies. Germany banned the symbolism of anti-Semitism while not forgetting its horror. America can do likewise.
K-12 education must be improved with a focus on each student. Instead of identifying “failing schools” for takeover, the emphasis must be on failing students to bring each up to grade level expectations. The elite private schools provide tutorial assistance in each class daily. Public schools must offer the same services. The long-term societal cost of allowing Black students to fall behind because of the lack of resources at home lasts a lifetime. The cost of incarceration exceeds the annual cost of college or trade school. School is temporary while incarceration can last a lifetime.
After high school, there is now the opportunity for non-superstars to take on a mountain of debt. A 1960’s Black college student could work a minimum wage job and afford the tuition, fees and books at either school in the Atlanta University Center. Tuition now exceeds two full-time minimum wage earnings. Non-superstar (sports, music, academics) must now assume a mountain of debt unless their Black parents have been able to pay off their student loans and fund cost of $100,000 to $250,000 for a four-year degree. Black students deserve grants for trade or liberal arts programs equal to the cost of matriculation of a state’s flagship university for at least the next 156 years to counter the policy of education apartheid. Exceptions can be made for students of well-to-do households, but current terms are oppressive and another form of economic enslavement.
Even a cursory review of arrest, prosecution and incarceration policies confirm the policy of unequal justice for non-white citizens. Despite the claim of “a few bad apples,” the entire system of policing is racist, having been evolved from slave-catching patrols and the practice of fulfilling convict leasing quotas, especially in the states of the former Confederacy. Each prosecution and sentencing of every Black defendant should be reviewed by an outside body with the power to reduce or overturn unfair sentencing. Public safety must include mental health and social work professionals and exclude both uneducated and biased officers.
America has become car-dependent and that dependency affects access to the basic services we all need: medical, education and workplace access. The expense of a car is prohibitive for so many Black families. Beyond the purchase price is the cost of insurance, licensing, maintenance and operating costs. This barrier can be offset with effective and available public transportation, but racial considerations again trump humanity. Southern states are the last to embrace public transportation for the public good.
The success of the City of Atlanta’s Black business participation goals should demonstrate its propriety and equity. The State of Georgia should adopt a similar program with tools and policies to both encourage and assist participation. Blacks are about 33% of Georgians and have been deliberately excluded from commerce opportunities. Funding for recruitment, training and a program of mentorship are easy solutions that will likely reduce the overall cost of services by expanding competition.
Voting should be made easier instead of more difficult. Too many Black men and women see no payoff in casting their vote. They feel discarded and ignored. Economic and educational advancement can overcome the apathy of poverty and make for a better America for all of us. At America’s birth, voting was only for the landed gentry. There is no functional reason that a resident of a county could not cast his or her vote in any precinct in that county. We do it in the early voting period. Why not?
None alive today created the all-encompassing system of racism that exists in America. We are all victims, some more than others. The system is at fault, but we are at fault if we fail to recognize that the fears that consume us today were planted in years past. The system enslaves us all unless we free ourselves from the selfishness and envy of racism and embrace the freedom and promise of America. That all men (and women) are created equal and should be accorded the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Note to readers: The proposal to establish a federal Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and a vote is pending in the full House. House Resolution 40 was first introduced in 1989 by the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), who described it in this statement. HR 40 has been re-introduced in every Congress since 1989.