One of my proudest moments as a mom is when one of my kids as an undergrad got his essay making the case for reparations included in a philosophy textbook. Of course I read it at the time and admired it, and of course I can no longer find it in my copious archives.
Also of course we know that Black author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2019 essay “The Case for Reparations” has become part of the canon at this point.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy.
Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
Now, in 2022, the U.S. is still far from whole and in fact becoming more fragmented every day. There’s an essay in that, but what I’d like to focus on today is one of the most surprising things I learned when I still worked as a history teacher.
Black veterans of WWII did not receive their GI bill benefits.
Only a white person could be as incredulous as I was when I found this out rather late in life.
My own father went to college on the G.I. bill. My maternal grandfather refused to use his G.I. bill benefits as he was so digusted by the Army that drafted him and sent him into Nagasaki after destroying the city and its inhabitants with a nuclear bomb.
The original bill in 1944 was written to offer equal opportunities for all veterans to access funds for education and loan guarantees to buy homes.
Unfortunately, the states and local governments were then empowered to disburse the funds. So Black GI’s were turned down when applying for tuition or home loan guarantees that white veterans were getting.
Local control often sounds good on paper but mostly, I believe, results in lack of equity and a continuation of structural racism. Black Girl in Maine blogger Shay Stewart-Bouley recently called on white “allies” to stop with the empty performances of antiracism and run for office.
She’s not wrong. (Full disclosure: I just made another reparations payment, albeit small, but something I do regularly. You can, too.)
In the super right wing area where I live, me getting elected is doubtful and I can no longer drive after dark anyway. These are true facts but it is also true that I would rather crawl over broken glass than sit through discussions of snow plow purchases and bus maintenance past my bedtime. Foreign policy is my thing, as progressive school curriculum was for 25 years. So, yes, I have guilt about this.
Back to the case for reparations.
What are the generational impacts of being shut out of home ownership and/or college tuition?
Just some of the long-term effects:
- Paying rent to build someone else’s equity rather than your own.
- Being unable to leverage the resource of equity in real estate to educate your kids, or refinance to improve your home, or buy a car, or whatever else people do via refinancing their mortgage.
- Lack of access to jobs that require college degree(s) and have real financial benefits over the long term e.g. full coverage health care, employer contributions to retirement savings, company car, etc.
- Lack of access to generational wealth, the resource other people use to finance the costs of college and grad school, or make a down payment on a first home, or the capital to start a business.
Median net worth for white families in the 2019 study above: $188,000.
Median net worth for Black families in the 2019 study above: $24,000.
Enforced poverty is a structural problem, and poverty has a cascade of associated problems including poor health, shortened life expectancy, high maternal mortality, and a reduced ability to bounce back from an emergency, accident, or illness.
I didn’t create these conditions but I have certainly benefited from them in the working class/middle class family I come from. It would be impossible to live in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from the legacy of slavery and white supremacy.
I hope if you’re white like me you’ll find recipients and make your reparation payments today.
Another group whose work I admire and contribute to is the Black Alliance for Peace.
But follow your heart. Go ahead and share your wealth with a Black author, artist, athlete, student, organizer, or another Black person you know or know about.
Important point: make your reparations payments with no strings attached.
The recipients don’t owe us anything. On the contrary, we owe them.