Dispatch #73 June 30th 2020
Day 1328 Post-Ascendency of White Supremacy & Misogyny
Day 1256 Post-Installation of White-Supremacist-Misogynist-Pussy-Grabbing-Self-Aggrandizing-Demagogic-Bully-Illegitimate-PeeeOTUS & his White-Nationalist-Fascistic-Christian-Supremacist-Quislings
While I have never much liked the white privilege approach to motivating white people to get woke about White Supremacy, this current moment of reckoning cannot be about what privilege white people need to give up.
This current moment must be about the amends that are due to Black people for the enduring and debilitating consequences of living/surviving under White Supremacy. We white people must school ourselves to the point where we are deeply convinced about necessity for enacting Reparations sufficient to make amends at long last.
Six years ago, Ta-Nashi Coates made the case for reparations in a widely-read essay in The Atlantic that examined the 150 years of ongoing plunder and destruction wreaked on Black people since the end of the Civil War. www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
Six years later, Nikole Hannah-Jones – Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur Genius awardee, creator of The Project 1619 (www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html), George Polk special awardee – offers a powerful, urgent and undeniably righteous case for Reparations. Her New York Times article titled “WHAT IS OWED If true justice and equality are ever to be achieved in the United States, the country must finally take seriously what it owes black Americans” must be required schooling for us white people – please commit one hour to read this entire article! www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/24/magazine/reparations-slavery.html
Hannah-Jones shines the piercing spotlight on the enduring economic consequences of slavery and white supremacy for both white people as well as black people. That is, while enslaved black people were left absolutely penniless after the Civil War and then endured 150 years of systematic plunder over generations, during this same period white people benefitted from public policies & programs that enabled the accumulation of wealth over generations.
Hannah-Jones reminds us that free black labor created America’s wealth during the 240 years leading up to the Civil War, benefitting both the North and the South.
We sometimes forget, and perhaps it is an intentional forgetting, that the racism we are fighting today was originally conjured to justify working unfree black people, often until death, to generate extravagant riches for European colonial powers, the white planter class and all the ancillary white people from Midwestern farmers to bankers to sailors to textile workers, who earned their living and built their wealth from free black labor and the products that labor produced. The prosperity of this country is inextricably linked with the forced labor of the ancestors of 40 million black Americans for whom these marches are now occurring, just as it is linked to the stolen land of the country’s indigenous people. Though our high school history books seldom make this plain: Slavery and the 100-year period of racial apartheid and racial terrorism known as Jim Crow were, above all else, systems of economic exploitation.
At the time of the Civil War, the value of the enslaved human beings held as property added up to more than all of this nations’ railroads and factories combined. And yet, enslaved people saw not a dime of this wealth. They owned nothing and were owed nothing from all that had been built from their toil… Millions of black people, liberated with not a cent to their name, desperately wanted property so they could work, support themselves and be left alone. Black people implored federal officials to take the land confiscated from enslavers who had taken up arms against their own country and grant it to those who worked it for generations.
Freed people, during and after slavery, tried again and again to compel the government to provide restitution for slavery, to provide at the very least a pension for those who spent their entire lives working for no pay. They filed lawsuits. They organized to lobby politicians. And every effort failed. To this day, the only Americans who have ever received government restitution for slavery were white enslavers in Washington, D.C., who were compensated for their loss of human property.
Just after the federal government decided that black people were undeserving of restitution, it began bestowing millions of acres in the West to white Americans under the Homestead Act, while also enticing white foreigners to immigrate with the offer of free land. From 1868 to 1934, the federal government gave away 246 million acres in 160-acre tracts, nearly 10 percent of all the land in the nation, to more than 1.5 million white families, native-born and foreign.
During the 100-year period of racial apartheid and racial terrorism known as Jim Crow Black people experienced generationally recurring economic terrorism. The scale of destruction of black communities and ongoing loss of property and wealth is incalculable. Black people fleeing/leaving the South found new forms of economic terrorism and exploitation in Northern cities.
To understand how racist housing policies, local profiteering, and government complicity created the devastating theft of wealth from black families trying to buy homes – literally billions of dollars – in Chicago, go to Episode 2 in On The Media 4-part podcast titled “The Scarlet E: Unmasking America’s Eviction Crisis.” www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/scarlet-e-unmasking-americas-eviction-crisis
Hannah-Jones demands that we grasp the white supremacist dynamics of government policies and programs that were designed to exclude indeed penalize black people:
As part of the New Deal programs, the federal government created redlining maps, marking neighborhoods where black people lived in red ink to denote that they were uninsurable. As a result, 98 percent of the loans the Federal Housing Administration insured from 1934 to 1962 went to white Americans, locking nearly all black Americans out of the government program credited with building the modern (white) middle class.
“At the very moment a wide array of public policies was providing most white Americans with valuable tools to advance their social welfare — ensure their old age, get good jobs, acquire economic security, build assets and gain middle-class status — most black Americans were left behind or left out,” the historian Ira Katznelson writes in his book, “When Affirmative Action Was White.” “The federal government … functioned as a commanding instrument of white privilege.”
….while black Americans were being systematically, generationally deprived of the ability to build wealth, while also being robbed of the little they had managed to gain, white Americans were not only free to earn money and accumulate wealth with exclusive access to the best jobs, best schools, best credit terms, but they were also getting substantial government help in doing so.
Wealth begets wealth, and white Americans have had centuries of government assistance to accumulate wealth, while the government has for the vast history of this country worked against black Americans doing the same.
Hannah-Jones crystallizes the critical significance and consequences of the lack of wealth being a defining feature of black life since the end of slavery to this current moment.
Wealth, not income, is the means to security in America. Wealth — assets and investments minus debt — is what enables you to buy homes in safer neighborhoods with better amenities and better-funded schools. It is what enables you to send your children to college without saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and what provides you money to put a down payment on a house. It is what prevents family emergencies or unexpected job losses from turning into catastrophes that leave you homeless and destitute. It is what ensures what every parent wants — that your children will have fewer struggles than you did. Wealth is security and peace of mind. It’s not incidental that wealthier people are healthier and live longer. Wealth is, as a recent Yale study states, “the most consequential index of economic well-being” for most Americans. But wealth is not something people create solely by themselves; it is accumulated across generations.
The difference between the lived experience of black Americans and white Americans when it comes to wealth — along the entire spectrum of income from the poorest to the richest — can be described as nothing other than a chasm. According to research published this year by scholars at Duke University and Northwestern University that doesn’t even take into account the yet-unknown financial wreckage of Covid-19, the average black family with children holds just one cent of wealth for every dollar that the average white family with children holds.1
Hannah-Jones demands that we white people understand that the vast social transformation and bold national policies required to achieve social justice and equity must be based on Reparations:
“The cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy,” the authors of the Duke study write. “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap. For the gap to be closed, America must undergo a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”
Reparations are not about punishing white Americans, and white Americans are not the ones who would pay for them. It does not matter if your ancestors engaged in slavery or if you just immigrated here two weeks ago. Reparations are a societal obligation in a nation where our Constitution sanctioned slavery, Congress passed laws protecting it and our federal government initiated, condoned and practiced legal racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans until half a century ago. And so it is the federal government that pays.
If black lives are to truly matter in America, this nation must move beyond slogans and symbolism. Citizens don’t inherit just the glory of their nation, but its wrongs too. A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and then works to make them right.
If we are to be redeemed, if we are to live up to the magnificent ideals upon which we were founded, we must do what is just.
It is time for this country to pay its debt. It is time for reparations. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/24/magazine/reparations-slavery.html
In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr spoke these words to a secret gathering of white politicians and civil rights leaders in Atlanta:
“For well now 12 years, the struggle was basically a struggle to end legal segregation. In a sense it was a struggle for decency. It was a struggle to get rid of all of the humiliation and the syndrome of depravation surrounding the system of legal segregation. And I need not remind you that those were glorious days. … It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now. Now we’re going to lose some friends in this period. The allies who were with us in Selma will not all stay with us during this period. We’ve got to understand what is happening. Now they often call this the white backlash. … It’s just a new name for an old phenomenon. The fact is that there has never been any single, solid, determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans to genuine equality for Negroes.”
Nearing the end of her piece, Hannah-Jones includes these quotes from Duke and Northwestern research that “Americans are largely unaware of the striking persistence of racial economic inequality in the United States,” and that “most Americans are in an almost pathological denial about the depth of black financial struggle.” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2378023120916616
So yeah, we white people, we must rise to the occasion of this moment and demand Reparations and thereby establish our solid determined collective commitment to true justice and equality for Black Americans.
1“A Penny on the Dollar: Racial Inequalities in Wealth among Households with Children”Christine Percheski, Christina Gibson-Davis. First Published June 1, 2020 Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, Vol 6
Abstract: The dynamics of racial/ethnic wealth inequality among U.S. families with resident children (child households) have been understudied, a major oversight because of wealth’s impact on child development and intergenerational mobility. Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (2004–2016), the authors find that wealth gaps between black and white households are larger in, and have grown faster for, child households relative to the general population. In contrast, black-white income gaps for child households have remained largely unchanged. Wealth trends for black and Hispanic child households have diverged, and by 2016, Hispanic child households had more net worth than black child households. Between 2004 and 2016, home ownership rates and home equity levels for black child households decreased, while educational debt increased. In 2016, black child households had just one cent for every dollar held by non-Hispanic white child households. These findings depict the extreme wealth fragility of black child households https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2378023120916616 https://journals.sagepub.com/home/srd