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Concerns and Grievances: The Question of Reparations

A very long list of my concerns and grievances about reparations for African descendants of slavery:

1). We should begin by critiquing an oft-recited argument made by the Right. The standard conservative deflection is that slavery “happened so long ago” and therefore “no one alive is responsible.” This line of reasoning fails to understand the relationship between anti-blackness and time. What we call “time” is, first and foremost, a human invention and social convention. We are led to believe that time always unfolds in a neat and chronological format; one that is labeled ‘beginning-middle-end’ or ‘past-present-future.’ The problem is: black people are always positioned outside of humanity and social integration/protection. Black people are relegated to the past, thus destroying the present and denying the future. The present and future collapse into the past. Therefore, anti-blackness suspends our normal understanding of time altogether. If we extract only one pearl of wisdom from the psychoanalytic tradition, it should be that time is cyclical – not linear. A child matures into an adult, but their adult personality and actions are largely determined by the traumas and fantasies that developed in their past/childhood. This individual principle holds true at the societal level, because civilizations have a “collective unconscious” (the words of Jung and Fanon) which energize and direct their styles of governance. The more the United States tries to run from its past, the more it will repeat it.

2). The fact that so many presidential hopefuls in the Democratic Party are co-signing reparations for black people should give us cause for concern. As of late, the question of reparations has become the litmus test for determining which politician “deserves” our vote. This is understandable, but we must remember that all of these candidates have pledged their unwavering allegiance to the white capitalist/imperialist establishment. Under these circumstances, reparations becomes nothing more than race-based welfare capitalism. Which raises an important question: where is Africa situated in this whole scheme? We seem to be forgetting that black people in the U.S. have class privilege over black people on the continent of Africa. Kwame Nkrumah argued that “neo-colonialism constitutes the necessary condition for the establishment of welfare states in imperial countries.” In other words: the ruling class is able to provide welfare (which I am using interchangeably with reparations at this point) to oppressed people in imperial countries because they recover those monetary losses by forcing the colonies to work harder. Politicians who support the subjugation of Africa to neocolonialism are on board with compensating African-Americans for slavery – thus creating an unspoken barrier to international solidarity. 

3). Any and all militancy of reparations is instantly decaffeinated when funneled through the Democratic Party. The idea seems to be that descendants of African enslavement should be given a larger portion of the wages stolen from us so that we can consume more products/re-invest in the private sector. In the imagination of Democrats, we are supposed to get our check from the Treasury and then endorse it over to our landlords or the bursar at the university. How does this dismantle anything? Considering that awful song and dance we saw during the hearing yesterday, I fully expect the U.S. Treasury to give black folks reparations Oprah Winfrey-style. They are going invite us into an auditorium and say: “Look under your seats! You get reparations, and you get reparations, everybody gets reparations!!” If we are lucky, they will give us a bag full of $20 bills with Harriet Tubman’s face on them. 

4). After centuries of black folks publishing articles and dissertations, we are still over here talking about organizing another toothless “committee” to do “research” on the matter? Politicians saying we need a committee to review the situation is their gentle way of putting it on the back-burner. 

5). One of the most prominent voices in support of reparations is Ta-Nehisi Coates. While his work is certainly majestic and powerful, we must acknowledge the glaring shortcomings in his vision. Coates argues that the call for reparations is about creating a “revolution in the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.” From this perspective, reparations aims to heal the fractured American spirit. Therefore, Coates fails to understand George Jackson’s statement that “we must accept the eventuality of bringing the U.S.A. to its knees.” Another issue with Coates is that he only seems to grapple with black suffering insofar as it can be attached/collapsed into non-black examples of suffering. He always references how Germany compensated Israel and/or how the U.S. compensated victims of Japanese internment. This error is what Frank Wilderson has termed a “ruse of analogy” – because it conflates the degrees of structural violence that accrue to different groups. Blackness is the absolute bottom-line and is without comparison. Perhaps more disturbingly, Coates wrote an entire article titled: “The Legacy of Malcolm X: Why His Vision Lives On in Barack Obama.” I honestly cannot tell you what the rest of the article says because I was too busy laughing. *Killmonger voice* Is this your king?! 

6). Just think of how difficult it is for people to get the lowest level of state assistance. To get $100 worth of food stamps per month, people have to stand in line for several hours, fill out a mountain of paperwork, have a photo ID, present a bank statement showing our account balance, and in some states – piss in a cup to prove we aren’t addicted to drugs. That being stated, we can safely assume that we are going to have to jump through all types of hoops for these reparations. Black people will likely be put in the ridiculous position of needing to “prove” not only that we are black, but that we are descendants of slaves. I would not be surprised if black people are expected to purchase Ancestry DNA kits and then send the results to the government. From there, our biological information is filed away in a place that is accessible to the police – thus allowing them to widen their nets and increase our chances of being incarcerated. Like everything else, it will probably turn into a meritocracy where only those who are “deserving” (i.e. respectable, law-abiding, etc) are awarded.

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