America gaslights Black people.
Black people in America are in an abusive relationship with a country that was built on the blood of our broken backs and got rich off the sale of our humanity for centuries.
The dehumanization of Black people in America didn’t stop once chattel slavery ended; it simply evolved into other forms of subjugation and discrimination, things done both under the cover of darkness and boldly and directly in our faces.
So when the topic of reparations comes up, it’s also disappointing but never surprising when (some) white people try to diminish the conversation and whittle it down to what they perceive as a long-ago act that no one alive today had anything to do with.
“Slavery was hundreds of years ago,” they say. “Why should I pay for things I had nothing to do with simply because I’m white?” they ask.
These rebuttals pop up every time reparations are mentioned, as if the only thing America has to be repentant for is the plantations and the cotton picking, but not everything else that came after, as well.
On Dec. 19, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill that will make New York the third state in the union to create a task force specifically for the purpose of examining the case for reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black people in America.
As the New York Times reported, the commission will study the history of slavery and its lasting legacy and impact in other areas of life for Black Americans including “housing discrimination, biased policing, income inequality and mass incarceration.”
It is important for any discussion of reparations to include the ongoing and lasting impact of the legacy of slavery, but we cannot allow the conversation to be derailed by those who seek to whittle it down to the simple act of the enslavement of Black people.
Those people are either oblivious, willfully obtuse or flat-out disregarding the lasting impact the enslavement of Black people in America has left behind.
It’s not just about people being treated like chattel. It’s about the ways in which America has continued to do its best to subjugate an entire group of people who played one of the biggest roles in the building of this “great nation.”
Instead of thinking about these things, (some) white people would rather try to downplay the lasting impact slavery had on this country.
Take Nikki Haley, for example.
In case you missed it, Haley was participating in a town hall event in New Hampshire last week. An audience member asked her a very simple question: “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?”
What was the cause of the Civil War?
Nikki Haley: [conservative word salad]
The Correct Answer: Slavery.
Nikki Haley: What do you want me to say about slavery? Next question.pic.twitter.com/oDhZnks5gx
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) December 28, 2023
Because whiteness is so powerful and overwhelming and the need to uphold it and uplift it at all costs–even if it means looking stupid in front of the whole world–is the most important thing ever, Haley fumbled over her answer before admitting she didn’t really know and turned the question around on the person who answered it.
She never once mentioned slavery.
Whether it was intentional or it happened because the accurate teaching of American history is becoming a thing of the past, the impact of her gaffe is the continued gaslighting of Black people in America.
The Civil War was fought because the South wanted to continue to have the right to keep Black people enslaved as free labor. They didn’t want the federal government telling them this was a bad thing.
Haley represents the state of South Carolina – the first state to secede from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. How she has managed to get this far in politics without understanding or acknowledging that is a topic for another column, but suffice it to say her being either uninformed about or unwilling to admit the fact slavery played a part in America going to war with itself is just another reason why the discussions around reparations need to be more widespread.
Being able to be white and privileged enough to be “clueless” about slavery is a thing.
Black people will never be able to outlive the legacy of slavery in this country because it continues to live on in the form of the extrajudicial killing of Black people by police – the very same police and law enforcement that were borne out of slave patrols and the need to police the presence and existence of newly freed Black people.
The way Jim Crow was abolished but its skeletal remains still exist in some small southern towns is an argument for reparations.
The over-policing and mass incarceration of Black people are another legacy of slavery. They are one more reason reparations need to be a thing.
The fact that we have to legislate being able to wear our hair naturally the way it grows out of our heads is a legacy of slavery, a byproduct of white supremacy, and another argument for reparations.
There are other things too – including housing discrimination; employment discrimination; the massacres of cities and towns built by Black people; the dismantling of affirmative action; the continued racial terrorism against Black people, in all its many forms; the way Black people are either unbanked, underbanked, or flat-out discriminated against in banking; the way the areas of town that are heavily populated by Black people are veritable food deserts. These are just some of the many reasons for reparations.
But more than anything, reparations need to not just be monetary; as the saying goes, a true apology comes with changed behavior.
America needs to not only remunerate Black people, but it also needs to make profound changes to the way the systems in this country are set up – systems that currently work to keep us subjugated while the country continues to lie to us about how much things have changed.
As Black economist William “Sandy” Darity told NPR in 2020, a plan for reparations must include support for education and entrepreneurial activity as well as funds for individual recipients.
“And they must go in such a way that we in fact eliminate the racial wealth gap,” Darity said.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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