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Greens and Reparation

Yesterday’s vote by the House of Representatives to apologize for slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws may provoke a discussion on reparations for descendants of African slaves. Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente are on record in support of such reparations, and the Green Party platform has the following to say on the subject:

People of color in this country have legitimate claims to reparations in the form of monetary compensation for centuries of discrimination. We also uphold the right of the descendants of African slaves to self-determination, as we do for all indigenous peoples.

There can be no question that Greens have been at the forefront of the fight for racial justice. A national discussion of reparations would give the Green Party a platform from which to articulate a clear and progressive reparative policy, so we need to think about how we want to approach the subject of reparations. I think there are at least two ways we can do that.

One way of approaching reparations is what I’m going to call comprehensive reparation. A comprehensive reparation approach would look toward the future, toward actually repairing the problems that have afflicted the African American community as a result of slavery, Jim Crow, and other discriminatory actions in our nation’s history.

For example, comprehensive reparation would address the educational disparities that have left many African Americans behind. Progressive policies like universal pre-K schooling and universal higher education would help to give African Americans the bright futures they should be able to look forward to, futures often unavailable thanks to our nation’s history of racial discrimination. Comprehensive reparation would address health care disparities by providing universal health care, so that African Americans in the inner city are no longer forced to endure substandard care at free clinics. These are just a couple examples of what a comprehensive reparation policy could look like; there are many others.

Such a comprehensive policy would seek to unite the American people rather than dividing them. Many white Americans don’t understand why they, who never owned slaves and who do not believe in slavery, should have to pay those who have never been slaves. Yes, most white Americans recognize that the legacy of slavery and discrimination against African Americans is an enduring legacy. The effects are still felt today in the African American community, and white Americans understand this. That’s why I believe white Americans could support a comprehensive reparation policy that would seek to better the lives of African Americans as well as all Americans.

The other approach is to offer out and out reparations, or “monetary compensation” as our platform puts it. While this is the approach favored by the McKinney campaign and many other Greens, there are several flaws to this approach aside from the problem that it would divide rather than unite the American people. These flaws deserve serious consideration.

To begin with, how do we go about providing “monetary compensation”? What price tag do we put on the enslavement of a whole population and a history of discrimination that spans centuries? What figure do we write on a check that will make up for that? And what will any monetary compensation that we offer African Americans do to solve the manifold problems facing the African American community? Moreover, by throwing money at the African American community, will we absolve ourselves of any responsibility to work toward a better future for African Americans? Will we slap a band-aid on a gaping wound and pronounce it healed?

There is also the problem of where to begin and where to end with monetary reparation. If we’re looking at where to begin, we need look no further than the First Nations (or Native American) community. Our government’s treatment of First Nations people has been even more brutal than the treatment of African Americans, and where steps forward have been taken to correct discrimination against African Americans, the First Nations community still suffers under pervasive systematic discrimination. If we’re going to provide monetary compensation to African Americans, don’t we have the responsibility to first provide it to the First Nations community?

There are also questions about where monetary reparation should end. Do we provide monetary compensation to Irish Americans whose ancestors suffered under strong anti-Catholic discrimination? Do we provide it to Appalachian Americans, generations of whom have been trapped in poverty and deprived of the opportunities available to other Americans? Do we provide it to Jewish Americans, many of whom are the descendants of Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps as America did nothing? Do we provide it to Chinese Americans, whose ancestors were virtually enslaved by the railroad industry, or to Japanese Americans, whose ancestors were indiscriminately interned during World War II?

Do we provide monetary compensation to Vietnamese Americans, many of whom had to flee their home country because of our unjust war? Do we provide it to Latino Americans, many of whom have been modern day slaves working at extremely low wages and in substandard conditions due to the exploitation of illegal immigration? Do we provide it to American women, who had to wait until 1920 for suffrage and who still face inequality in education, the work place, etc.? Do we provide it to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Americans, who are still waiting for full equality under the law and who in some states, until very recently, could not even have consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes? Do we provide it to Arab, Iranian, West Asian, and Muslim Americans who have been the targets of discrimination, sometimes even violent discrimination, since at least 2001?

The truth is that America has a long history of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. Some of this discrimination, such as that directed at First Nations people, has been even worse than that directed at African Americans. Some is regarded as less severe. Regardless of the severity, however, we have a national responsibility to make reparation to all those who have faced discrimination in this country – some of whom I have no doubt forgotten to mention.

Even if we could figure out some price tag that would make reparation to the many who have been discriminated against, it would be impossible to do so. The only feasible way to make real reparation is to take a comprehensive approach that would better the lives of all the people mentioned above and those I have forgotten. We should approach reparation with the goal of creating a better future for all Americans, for that is the only reparative goal that is truly possible.

Nate Nelson

15 Comments

  1. Ah, commenting on my own post. That has to say something about me. I just wanted to add that I am not one of the white Americans who would have a problem with paying monetary reparations. But there are many who do, and moreover I stand by my argument that such a reparation policy would do little to solve African American problems and would not adequately address other forms of discrimination.

  2. Nate,

    I agree with you. Monetary reparations and an apology is in order. After the shameful Japanese internment period, the U.S. government paid reparations and offered an apology for the U.S.’s actions. Why not here right? The U.S. should also apologize to the indigenous Native Americans; Canada, Australia and other country have already apologized to their indigenous people.

    I would have to concur that yes, monetary reparations might not help heal the damage wrought by imperialism and the colonial mentality, but it certainly will help – justice is justice, let’s put it on the record for future generations.

  3. The Bush administration should apologize to the American People for destroying our reputation, our economy, our justice system, our pride, our homes, the value of the dollar, and New Orleans.

    Reparations at this point – the dollar is tanking. Better ask for hard currency like Euros or Barrels of Oil.

  4. LOLOLOLOLOL!!!!

    I love it. The ultimate insult.

    The U.S. Dollar isn’t even worth asking for anymore. Oppressed people should demand Euros!!!!

    ;)

    I know that reparations are needed. I am not sure what is the best method. I have thought about giving descendants of slaves entirely free college educations and other measures like that, which are clearly resources, but not money (which can be diverted or skimmed).

    I usually don’t see money as a solution to anything. But, I stand by and stand back while people of color make their own arguments and demands.

    Peace,
    Kimberly Wilder

  5. I would favor a more comprehensive and sustainable reperations policy. A check and apology will hardly undo the injustice, much like the stimulus checks don’t repair our economy. I would be open to a monetary check as part of the solution, but it shouldn’t be the spotlight.

  6. I beleve that reperations of some form should be made but my problem with direct cash payouts is how do we decide who gets them?

    My great great grandmother was a slave so I would fall under the 1/16th rule but if you were to look at me, you would never be able to tell. I am about as white bread as you can get and I also had a great grandfather who was Cherokee. Could never tell by looking at me.

    Would we only give money to people who could prove they are decendants of slaves? How many people today could do this?

    I guess my point is where do we draw the line.

  7. Ah – this is a GREAT dialogue to be having. In it is the essence of why so many left-leaning Libertarians have an issue with the Green Party.

    It would be a good time to come up with a policy that describes what reparations would look like and thereby capture some of those disgruntled green-leaning Libertarians. Many of them left their convention very disappointed in the selection of slick businessman and media personality, Wayne Allyn Root, who wrote amongst other things: “The Zen of Gambling: The Ultimate Guide to Risking it All and Winning at Life”

    The strong second place candidate throughout the convention was Mary Ruwart who represents the left-leaning Libertarians. She carried nearly half the delegates throughout the convention and many had hoped that the ticket would ultimately be Barr/Ruwart which would have fairly represented the breadth of the party’s members. However, with so much testosterone in that party, Ruwart was dismissed as being too nice, basically.

    Kim’s idea of free college is a great one – though I’m of the mind that college should be free for everyone given certain performance or community service requirements. Medical professionals and teachers especially.

    I don’t know if a mule and an acre is what is most useful. Like Kim, I would hope that well-appointed, selfless leaders from within the affected community would bridge the needs of soulful repair with practical solutions.

    And euors and gold are looking pretty good right now.

  8. Whenever there is discussion of reparations, it is always in very broad, general terms, and seems to still be in the “idea stage”. So I am going to join Kim on the sidelines, and wait for reparation supporters to provide a plan of action that would include specifics on the following questions.

    How are payments made? Direct “cash payments”, comprehensive, community building, “institutional” reparations, or some combination of these?

    Who receives benefits? Anyone who identifies themselves as African-American today? Would it be open to any race, but only those who can provide family links to enslaved persons?

    Who pays? The U.S. Federal government alone? Would England, France, and Spain, who ultimately ruled the colonies prior to 1776, share in the payments? Is the U.S. share broken down into states? Would states admitted as “free states” be required to pay? Would it be proportional?

    How much? If it is comprehensive/institutional, how much would be budgeted, and for how long? If it is “cash payments”, how much would the payment be, would it be spread over time, and what would the total allocation be?

    These questions are not meant to be argumentative, but rather informational. How can you begin to negotiate a settlement without these very basic questions being answered?

    If anyone has seen a specific proposal, please post it.

  9. I am encouraged by the dialogue and complimented by people noting my thoughts.

    Though, I wanted to clarify my position is stronger than waiting on the sidelines.

    I am for reparations. I don’t care if people are vague, I can support the idea that someone is/was oppressed and wants justice.

    I am guessing that there are more specific proposals out there. It is just that my white-person focus has not landed on that research yet.

    For a hint of where to find answers, at the Green Party convention in Chicago, one of the speakers was said to be active in the reparations movement. Consider looking up: Jahahara Amen-RA Alkebulan-Ma’at. He is the former National Co-Chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA). He has just released his newest book, “Reparations Sasa!”

    I have a few moments of Jahahara speaking about the topic of reparations from the GP-US workshop in Chicago. I will probably get the tape up over the next several weeks. Lots of tapes, and I need to petition for Cynthia. Really, I am just stalling by writing here. I need to get off the computer and walk out the door with a clipboard…

  10. In case anyone is following the thread and the adventures of my life…I actually did get out the door.

    It was slow going. In NY, we have to collect Green Party members’ signatures to get on the State Committee. So, we have to do door-to-door.

    I will also have to somehow spend some time at a festival focusing on just Cynthia petitions. NY needs help. Two more weeks to go until signatures have to be handed in.

  11. Yeah…I read the original post, and have read the platform once or twice…these items do not address my questions…

    How are payments made? Direct “cash payments”, comprehensive, community building, “institutional” reparations, or some combination of these?

    Who receives benefits? Anyone who identifies themselves as African-American today? Would it be open to any race, but only those who can provide family links to enslaved persons?

    Who pays? The U.S. Federal government alone? Would England, France, and Spain, who ultimately ruled the colonies prior to 1776, share in the payments? Is the U.S. share broken down into states? Would states admitted as “free states” be required to pay? Would it be proportional?

    How much? If it is comprehensive/institutional, how much would be budgeted, and for how long? If it is “cash payments”, how much would the payment be, would it be spread over time, and what would the total allocation be?

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