Inevitably, whenever you get a mixed group talking about ethnicity and racial justice, and history, the topic of reparations of one form or another is brought up. The topic could be slavery in the New World, cultural and population genocide of the indigenous in the US, cultural and property genocide in Australia – but the topic in one form or another hits this supposed sleeping giant.
And the defense, the very natural defense for us white folks – and I sure as heck have thought this and used this line since I was twelve till about the time I started shifting maybe eight or so years ago:
But I didn’t do it. Maybe, maybe some of my parents were involved. But, see some of my parents were Puerto Ricans (or fill in your blank, non-white descriptor), and most of them were poor or weren’t even IN this country at the time or they were Northerners and Abolitionists fighting to free the slaves, but even if they were slave owners or slave drivers, that wasn’t me…
Those who use this defense are not necessarily bad or racist or even ignorant. Rather than going after the individual making such statements, it is beneficial to remember that we all suffer from bias and from a system that demands and takes and orders and cushions and protects itself against all others. This line of thinking, it is important to remember, is another tool in the pervasiveness of Dominant Culture Survival – another line where the dominant culture (particularly Western/Euro-American) tries to protect itself from considering our own culpability – and we, growing up white in America, almost naturally adopt that defense as if it were our own.
But that wall of protection (just like the “I’m Not a Racist!” defensive wall) becomes a barrier to justice. And that barrier to justice is a barrier to humanity and wholeness.
Let us start with the recognition that history has a current role in racial injustice. Globally, and particularly in the Americas and Australia, the indigenous have been deliberately robbed of their wealth, land, and (for most) cultural signifiers such as language and history. The African diaspora that is currently in the Americas (including not just the US, but Haiti and Brazil among others), have also been robbed of their ancestral cultures as a collective cloth (though much of it survives in bits and pieces and still more is being found and rediscovered by the descendents), their language, their work, their families, their blood, the value of their work. The wealthy elites, bosses, and agents of White America saw generations and perhaps centuries of tremendous profit to be made for themselves and their progeny – and that profit could most easily be made if those working for them did so as perpetual, soulless children, bereft of will and completely dependent on the whims and moods of their “masters.” They tried their damnedest to steal the dignity and humanity of the indigenous and tribal.
Fortunately, that experiment failed. Economically, the northerners figured that a “free” labor source (though still ridiculously low priced) without fear of so much upheaval would be cheaper than maintaining and propping up a system of continuous fear and paranoia (it’s a delicate economic line that the very wealthy are still trying to distinguish between in struggling between FreedomWorks, CitizensUnited and various Koch-backed agencies on the one hand and the Buffetts, Gateses, and other millionaires who aren’t as willing to see hungry masses crash the gates just yet on the other).
- Prison population disproportionately filled by people of color*
- Unsustainably and persistently lower wages
- This sheeeet right here
- Massive displacement – whether through cultural genocide (of the type seen in Gaza), war and refuge-seeking, or gentrification
- Drastically higher rates of unemployment, homelessness
- Lack of adequate health care coverage (even when we factor in insurance, still African Americans receive worse care than white counterparts)
- Massive blight and decay as areas are divested and economically slummed (Chicago’s West Side; the city of Detroit)
- People of color are multitudinously more likely to live in and near emergency-level poverty
- Children of color are also much more likely to face hunger and hunger insecurity
These devastating realities did not just happen. They certainly did not happen because Black and Latino Americans (or fill in your marginalized people group) are lazy or inferior (though there are supposed “scholars” who make it their work to argue just that, and entire populations who eat that sh*t up for breakfast). In fact, to speak broadly, people of color in these here United States have had to work much harder than White Americans just to get by – just to literally survive. Much the same can be said of the indigenous and the African diaspora globally.
The awful truth is that Euro-colonialism has stolen from non-Euros and continues the trend of stealing from them, from their wages, from the fruit of their work, by refusing care. What remains is not much – and for many, it’s much less than adequate. Do we who have more access to wealth and privilege due to those robberies owe them any debt? I believe we do – at the very least to erase the debt, to start the clocks over again, to release the prisoners, to declare the year of jubilee.
We who have descended from Europeans like to say (and as a White – though also bi-racial – American, I have also myself since at least the age of fourteen until the last five or so – almost twenty years) that WE should not be held responsible for the sins of our ancestors. Yes, sure.
But neither should the indigenous nor other people of color be held responsible for the sins of our fathers.
Especially while we still benefit from those sins…
* Because I’m speaking of a global phenomenon, I do not want to show trends rather than figures. The links provided, however, give just a glimpse as they are focused on the United States and particularly the relationship between Black and White Americans in dealing with justice. It doesn’t give a comprehensive picture, of course – and if you would like to offer some extra links, maybe we can have a link dump in the next blog to demonstrate the global inequity. The figures that are presented in these links, however, are staggering and mind-blowing, but I also want to point out larger trends – not just in the US, but in Canada, throughout the various Latin American countries and regions, in Europe and white-run sections of the rest of the world (South Africa and Australia come to mind), as well as throughout Africa and Asia.