Reparations: Attacking the misconceptions and acknowledging their need in today’s world

By George Ploss

President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “You don’t take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all others’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair.”

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

When you look around this country, what do you see? You see lines of stratification that have existed and grown for a little more than one hundred years. This country has tendency to forget its racial history that has not yet been reconciled, but when you look around you see the lines of race and class. Many critics would now say that segregation is more economic than racial, but the fact is that racial and economic lines have been blurred by the veil of political correctness that was pulled over the American eye after the Civil Rights movement. Don’t get me wrong; there has been a character shift as far as people being more open-minded, but just as Aida Hurtado said, “It doesn’t matter how good you are as a person if the institutions of the society provide privilege to you based on their group oppression of others. Individuals belonging to the dominant group(s) can be infinitely good because they are never required to be personally bad.”

So just because you are not racist doesn’t mean that the system isn’t, which is why systematic racism is still prevalent. Which brings me to my point: reparations. What are they? Slavery ended so long ago, why can’t black people just get over it?

Germany paid reparations to Israel. The United States, Canada, and Australia paid reparations to Natives Americans and Aborigines. The United States paid reparations to Japanese-Americans after they were imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II. Even Iraq paid reparations to Kuwait and the United States after the first Gulf War. So one would think after 400 years of enslavement a country, the one superpower in the world, built by African slaves that went on to become a cheap labor force – after the abolition of slavery – who weren’t even allowed to vote from reconstruction until the Civil Rights movement, would have repaid its most sacrificing citizens with more than just the NBA.

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Reparations are not just monetary. Reparations are also about educating the country and the world about the reality of the American slave trade and how it still very much affects us today. Reparations are museums and monuments dedicated to the millions who died and the millions displaced by an illegal practice of colonial powers. Reparations are a respectful acknowledgement of an evil time in our country’s history and an attempt to repair the lives of those who were most affected by it. They are truth and reconciliation.

The cotton industry, sugar industry, tobacco companies and – of course – the government were all beneficiaries of slaves; even Harvard, Brown and Yale. Yale’s first professorship was endowed by Phillip Livingston, a nefarious slaveholder. John and Nicolas Brown, co-founders of Brown University, were slave traders. And the Harvard Law School was endowed with money from slave trading in Antigua.

By not paying reparations, this country is dishonoring its founding mothers and fathers of the workforce. But who cares? Legal slavery ended over 160 years ago. Black people have it so much better now.