As several commentators have recently had to address reparations while the proliferation of white, male Bernie Sanders’ supporters talk over and for other groups (“Bernie Bros”), thought it may be time to have a discussion on what reparations could look like since many seem stuck on the notion of cash payouts. First, a primer on the relationship between race, class, gender, and property.
Race is a social construct made necessary for the wealth exploitation of racism, an invention of the colonizing West dating back at least to the Spanish explorations exploitations of the New World and the Portuguese explorations exploitations of Africa. Racism was a necessity for the wealth building that would be the foundation of capitalism and the modern world, by which most of the world is still exploited vis a vis racism.
The legacy of the United States and other Western powers, as marked by none other than Marx, in regards to black and native people is one of severe wage theft and land plunder, buoyed by state-sanctioned murder. This is not a radical or new concept to anyone familiar with US history near the margins; this is the foundation of land grabs and reservations, chattel slavery and sharecropping, Jim Crow and mass incarceration necessary for American economic and military expansion. This is the legacy of colonialism and empire brought to a head.
This theft and murder did not end 150 years ago nor 50 years ago nor – despite a slowing – will it end anytime in the foreseeable future on its own. There is a necessity to correct the evils of police brutality and mass incarceration focused on black and brown people as well as the numerous schemes* to steal the labor, wages, property, and wealth of Native and Black people. To not correct and make right is to accept the evils of racism and exploitation through the course of American blood.
In a White Supremacist Capitalist system like the United States (or the rest of the West), we cannot come to terms with classism and wage theft without antagonizing racism.
Likewise, we cannot hope to defeat racism without confronting classism.
Indeed we also cannot address these concerns separate from sexism and gender.
We cannot center these concerns on the feelings of white men. We cannot understand the gravitas of these concerns without considering how they affect the Black and Native family and the ones directly affected by it due to their weight and responsibility – the women in these communities.
Not class over race but race as a tool of class with different strata depending on ethnicity and color. Starting as early as Reconstruction, Black people were made to be the permanent underclass of the United States, partially as a means of keeping the white masses in check. Natives are in a continual genocide-erasure, as a means of continuing to claim deed over the nation’s lands.
But I’m honestly more interested at this point in how reparations can work. To me, the notion of cash payouts makes little sense. The money is there, the money is gone – this is the fate for all poor people within a status-heavy consumer capitalist society. This is why lottery winners go broke within a few years. Poor people are exploited even with our wealth.
What does make more sense is community investments.
The following loose suggestions are based in large part on years of living in highly segregated Chicago and from hearing others. So there are a few biases here – some ideas are more thought out than others (ie, I don’t know nearly as much about Native communities), but the idea is to offer suggestions and begin to get the creative juices flowing. Feel free to add, think about, take, adapt in the comments and elsewhere.
Reparations for African Americans:
- Land and property within African American communities given to those communities. This would include vacant lots, abandoned buildings, residential buildings. To be divided up according to community needs and desires.
- Grants for businesses within black communities, including lending institutions, grocers
- Influx of black-owned and operated grocers provided by funds
- Land and water set aside for urban farming purposes
- Part ownership of all US-based banks, universities, and other institutions that profited heavily from slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, housing theft on the backs of Black labor and violence.
Reparations for Natives:
- Full sovereignty of lands
- Minority stake/ownership claims in all US corporations
- Taking down of all Indian Mascotry in sports
- Business and community investments
Reparations for Women:
- Universal, unquestioned access to reproductive rights
- Universal childcare
- Comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual and gender justice training throughout schooling
- Comprehensive domestic violence and abuse prevention training and resources
- Laws protecting against gender wage disparity
Primarily though, the work of reparations is to repair and thus must be both of liberatory and solidarity actions in steps, goals, and outcomes. I believe that public works and public goods programs will lift all working class and middle class families, but proportionately the above. Minimum basic income would raise all out of poverty (with the exception of undocumented citizens at present rate of national conversation. Something else will need to be in place for their protections), but particularly for women and people of color as well as poor white people. Universal childcare will mostly positively affect mothers, but other parents as well.
It’s I think important to note that these gender and racial thefts are components of a wider scale plan and system against the overwhelming majority of people in both the United States and in the world. Oxfam recently released a study showing that the world’s 69 richest people hold as much wealth as half the people in the world – that’s 3,500,000,000 people who collectively have as little scrape together as less than 70 people. And the wealth of those top 69 people has only increased in the last five years – by 42% – while the wealth of the lower 3.5 billion fell 41%. In 2015, for the first time, 1% of the world’s population owns more assets than the other 99%.
So the problem is widespread, but by reducing racism and sexism and making repairs to those who’ve been harmed by it, we can open up the doors for all to benefit.
*Pay day and car title loans, check cashing stations, preventative childcare costs, prepaid phones, redlining, rent rates, gentrification, policing fees, cash bail – all unfairly and unduly targeting the black working class.