Tuesday Talk*: Can There Be A “Day Zero”?

When the House of Representatives held hearings on H.R. 40, it went poorly. Not so much because the concept of creating a “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans” was itself a bad idea, but because the concern that it would devolve into a cesspool of obsequiousness or being ripped to shreds as a racist, or self-loathing black person, happened almost immediately. Coleman Hughes spoke against it, for which he paid dearly.

In memory of the first ship of African slaves to land at the colonies, the New York Times has published the 1619 Project.

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

The project includes numerous essays telling American history through the eyes and understanding of black people. Nikole Hannah-Jones writes:

Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.

One fact proffered is that the motives of our founding were not pure, and not to obtain freedom from England for freedom’s sake, but to prevent England from ending slavery in the colonies. Even the Boston Massacre, for which the British soldiers were acquitted after being defended by John Adams, is “reframed.”

The very first person to die for this country in the American Revolution was a black man who himself was not free. Crispus Attucks was a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave his life for a new nation in which his own people would not enjoy the liberties laid out in the Declaration for another century.

Within hours of the publication of the 1619 Project, American history curriculum was being changed, with aids being offered to teachers to correct the erroneous history that had been taught up to now. And people of good faith read and considered the content of the reframed history, as well they should.

But those who questioned, even quibbled, without denying slavery, racism, or the impact it had on African Americans, were immediately tarred as racists and attacked. Maybe they deserved it. Maybe not. Even considering the possibility of not acquiescing to Jones’, et al., vision was unacceptable. This bodes poorly for any hope of “discussion,” if there is no option but to accept and adopt every word of this reframed America as beyond question.

Was this the beginning of the “reckoning” with slavery and racism that America needed but refused? If so, where did it go from here, and when did it end? Could it end? Should it end? So I asked the question**.

The replies, as well as the quote-twits, were unsatisfying. Some construed this as suggesting that it would somehow eliminate history, drawing a poor analogy to Jews and the Holocaust. Some responses were mere social justice restatements of the question, providing a clear signal of virtue without any useful response.

There was a cynical response that racism was too facile a means of pushing the progressive agenda that it could never end as that would leave people without excuses, grievances and money-making opportunities. There was a cynical response that black people would let this white guy know when, and in the meantime he should shut up and do as he’s told.

None of this suggests that there is either interest or agreement that we can achieve some point of reconciliation with the past (not forget history, but get past it). It we were to have a commission to consider reparations, putting aside the enormous issues with the concept, would it matter if a generation from now a new cry for a reckoning is heard, new demands for reparations are made, and whatever is done now no longer counts?

No one speaks for all African Americans, just as no one speaks for any identitarian group, so it’s not as if there is one person who can give a hard answer like “admit you’re wrong, apologize sincerely and never do it again” will resolve the issue.

The problem, however, is that if the issue cannot be resolved, can never be faced by everyone, then there is a serious question about whether we’re attempting to do something useful for America or opening a Pandora’s box that will never close and never satisfy anyone or fix any problem. So I ask the question here: Is there any way to face our historical failings, whatever they are, and resolve them so that we can all, black and white, overcome racism and move forward?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

** To some, merely asking the question was itself racist, or at least had some nefarious implication.

57 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Can There Be A “Day Zero”?

  1. KP

    ..and THIS is why they should never have taken Africans to America! Not because slavery is now wrong, but the endless demands for special treatment and a free ride for life will not stop. Never mind that the wrongs were not done to the claimants, that the present descendants are far better off than their cousins ‘back home’, any excuse to push Socialism is a good one for some people.
    Same for the various native races in the colonised world dragged out of the stone age by the Europeans, people who would not survive the old life now want a free ride on the productive.

        1. Guitardave

          Hey…you helped me go from low self-confidence to being a shameless self-promoter…take it easy on the “greatness” stuff….i already need a 3x motorcycle helmet…i don’t think they make ’em any bigger. And thanks again for the stage with an audience, i don’t care what the Twitterati say, your a good man and good friend.

    1. B. McLeod

      And not just NYT history. I can remember when people used to sing about “Day 0.” It isn’t a new concept.

  2. Skink

    “Is there any way to face our historical failings, whatever they are, and resolve them so that we can all, black and white, overcome racism and move forward?”

    The twits answered your question. Handed an issue, not one addressed it. All of them found some other issue. It’s as though they were handed a picture of a dog and asked whether it was of a cat, and the responses, all of them, were about flowers, trucks and Congress.

    How can an issue be resolved if it isn’t engaged?

    1. SHG Post author

      They were quite disappointing, not just for their avoidance of the issue but the abject meaninglessness of their replies.

      But here’s the real question: how many people will have the guts to comment here with something real, or is this too dangerous a topic to touch?

  3. B. McLeod

    Probably in some number of centuries, if the country and the world last that long. Other, older countries seem to have put similar issues behind them.


    As long as the race hustlers and grievance mongers keep getting face time on all the main stream media stations, no we won’t be able to put racism behind us because they won’t let it go.

    I travel for work as part of my job…three weeks here, six weeks there, ad nauseum, and from what I see and experience, most of the people of different skin tones and ethnicities just want to get along and live their lives in peace. But I’m an easy going guy and I get along with most everyone.

  5. CLS

    Until we can agree on a central definition of racism, I’m afraid I’ll chime in with “no, there never will be a Day Zero.”

    Growing up, my evil white cishet shitlord educators taught me “racism” was a belief certain races were superior or others inferior.

    Over time the word’s changed to include institutions prejudicial to certain races at the expense of others. Then it was racist to question or deny someone’s “lived experiences.”

    Now the word’s just a thing you hurl at someone or something you don’t like. Don’t talk enough about Philando Castile or Eric Garner to a person’s liking? You’re racist. Question why a white stick figure at a crosswalk is oppressive? You’re racist. And heaven help you if you utter the words “I don’t see color,” even if you’re literally colorblind.

    If we can get past this notion to label everyone and everything unsavory as racist, there may be hope. But I’m a realist, so I don’t think it will happen.

    1. SHG Post author

      Definitions are always a stumbling block, particularly when they are meaningless or constantly moving. I’m informed that racism is whatever anyone victimized by it says it is. That doesn’t seem to be a definition designed to squarely face and end a problem.

  6. John Neff

    I am old enough to remember when overt racism was a subset of classism. Then classism/racism became covert and now because of a favorable environment it has returned to being overt. I suppose it will return to being covert once people realize how destructive it is. I think we will have to wait for the racists to die.

  7. JAV

    I was born after the civil rights fights of the 60s. and it’s hard to think of an environment more hostile, but changes happened because there were people willing to deal with each other in good faith. the model was moral suasion with a message people had to confront and think about.

    if our remaining problems with race are as driven by the extremely online as they seem today, there’s no way forward, because there is little moral suation, and there’s no message. Right now, it’s all quips, and ‘dunks’.

  8. Morgan O.

    I think there will be a Day Zero for the issue of African slavery and racism in the United States when those issues get replaced with something else. Like discrimination against people from the Moon (see “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”) or from mining colonies (see “The Expanse”*). It’s power dynamics. A group gets discriminated against because it benefits the group discriminating. Then, later, we determine that was bad and the people who aren’t quick enough to change gears become totems of guilt and shame that we try to cast out to ritualistically cleanse ourselves. Rinse, repeat.

    Unless we get invaded by aliens. Then we will all hate them.

    *I’m an MCR guy myself, mostly because they have the shiniest toys. Also, a huge nerd.

  9. MikeE

    To answer the question, it may be helpful to look at other cases where two groups of people were able to put aside the grievances of the past.

    Consider the Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons, though I have been told we don’t like that nickname anymore). The church in the first half of the 1800s was not treated well by the people or the government of the USA. We fled to what is now the western states beyond the reach of all but the most determined of persecutors. For a while we harbored a collective resentment to the nation that many of the members were still technically citizens of.

    Over time though, most of that resentment has dissipated. Some part of it is still there (usually in the form of hypersensitivity to a perceived insult or a common belief that ‘Those people are WEIRD!’) but those of us that live in the nation today like to think that we are part of the USA these days.

    I was not alive to witness the dissipation, but I would guess that it took about two generations of feeling little-to-no persecution to reach what you called Day Zero.

    What contributed to the day coming? You would need to ask a historian but here are my lay theories:

    1. Both sides had ideals and mythology that taught that getting along is the natural and right way for things to be (The Bill of Rights, Freedom of Religion for the USA, the belief that America is a blessed land for the Mormons)
    2. There was/is a fuzzy and permeable boundary between the two groups. (People can join or leave the church fairly easily, and friend/family relationships cross the boundary all the time.)
    3. Leaders across the board saw the advantage of de-escalating conflicts when they did come up. (Playing the persecution card was frowned upon in nearly all circumstances)

    Thanks for reading. The task of applying these ideas to current race relations in the US is left as an exercise to the reader.

    1. Guitardave

      Mike, the only exercise I’m getting here is typing my reply. I guess i may be a bit simple but i can’t tell a Mormon from a Catholic from a Methodist from a Baptist from a…do i need to go on?…or do Mormons wear some kind of identifier?….an arm band perhaps? (sigh)

      1. MikeE

        It is possible to hide your religious affiliation much easier than it is to hide race, but I don’t think that makes as much difference as one might assume.

        Most of the period of interest here is the late 19th and early 20th century, when everyone knew their neighbors. You knew who was a Mormon and who was a Catholic by noting which church you saw them walking into on Sundays.

        Assuming I understand your broader point, Yes, the overcoming of religious resentment in this instance will be different from (and easier than) overcoming the racial resentment and biases that we are working with today.

        The last line in my post was intended to make a small joke out of the difficulties of applying principles that worked in one setting to another. Clearly my joke fell flat, and for that I apologize.

        1. Guitardave

          Don’t apologize…sometimes i’m a bit dense. i missed the joke.
          True, i know the small community, everyone-knows-everyone thing. I’m of the opinion that as long as we self identify with a group/tribe there will always be the “he’s one of them” social stigma dynamic. I just don’t think it’s near as nasty as the instant damning projected by “color” racists.

          Country simple; the black man didn’t choose to don a funny hat or garb claiming, “my imaginary friend is better than your imaginary friend”…so the comparison is rather weak, IMO.
          PS; Noxx?..this reply is for you too.

  10. Jeff Gamso

    Here I go again.

    Back in the day (earlier day than yesterday’s [was it just yesterday?] day), a friend, an African-American we’d call him now, or perhaps a, aw fuck it, he was a friend, was giving out buttons, plain old gray buttons. They stood for integration.

    Here’s the thing, if we just shut down all difference, the world would be a much duller, but far more peaceful place.

    And the answer to your question is, I’m afraid, “NO.” All in caps. Bold. Italicized. (I don’t know how to do that stuff here.) With circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back to . . . . Oh, wait, those are from the pictures that were showed to the blind judge.

    Anyway, NO!

        1. SHG Post author

          To quote Robert Zimmerman, “A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool spouted out that liberty is just equality in school.”

  11. Noxx

    I’m going to refer to the history of the Jews and say “probably not”

    Regardless of any length of time we’ve cohabited, or any contributions we’ve made to human progress, the Jews remain a textbook ‘other’.

    I just don’t think humans are there yet. I firmly believe we are an evolutionary step away from renouncing tribalism and its associated evils.

  12. Jake

    “Is there any way to face our historical failings, whatever they are, and resolve them so that we can all, black and white, overcome racism and move forward?”

    Sure. Just hire a big accounting firm to determine the cost of:

    – What wages were lost had slaves been paid as though they were not slaves
    – What economic opportunities they lost as a result of not having the wages they would have earned as citizens
    – What opportunities they missed as a result of not being treated as equal citizens of the US before, during, and after the civil war

    And then hire a big law firm to determine:

    – Their damages as a result of being torn from their homeland and families
    – Their damages as a result of the violation of their civil rights

    And then pay an equal share of the amount to descendants of slaves. I suggest bankrupting any people or organizations who profited from slavery to foot the bill first, though I suspect the rest of us will have to shoulder some cost as well.

    Then we can move onto a good faith attempt to make the descendants of the indigenous population of the US whole.

    1. SHG Post author

      Putting aside your simplistic idea of how reparations would be determined, would reparations put it to bed, now and forever? Is that all it would take to “fix” it?

      1. Jake

        If you’re asking whether or not we can change the human instinct towards tribalism, I suspect that will take a little longer.

        But white/black racism in this country has a very specific, systemic, and identifiable root which has not been dealt with. Slavery and the other legal instruments white people have employed since the civil war to continuously dehumanize black people must be dealt with before anyone can declare: “we’re at day zero, we as a nation, have dealt with one of our founding sins and we can now move forward with the clear conscience necessary to build a relationship as equal races.”

        Until that happens, everything else is just nice mouth noises that gesture towards the underlying problem. We didn’t just kidnap people, we robbed them of the benefits of their own labor and opportunity cost, and then systemically dehumanized them before, during, and after. This dehumanization has made white/black racism far more pernicious than that which faced the Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, Latino, and every other migrant group who came to here since, but it has also made those types of racism and dehumanization easier for white Americans to slide into.

        Will there be some whites who are resentful in my utopian fantasy? Of course. I suspect the losing party in most any civil suite continues to feel aggrieved for a long time after paying the freight. But they would clearly, historically, and legally be in the wrong.

        1. SHG Post author

          I predict no one of any race, color or creed will ever be resentful of your Utopian fantasy, Jake. You’re safe.

        2. Ed

          The morality of it aside, slavery wasn’t illegal at that time in the British colonies nor in the United States of America until the constitution was amended in 1865.

          So how would they “clearly, historically, and legally be in the wrong?”

            1. Ed

              A book worth reading on the subject is ‘The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing sides in the War of 1812′ by Gene Smith.

              The first abolitionist in the colonies were the the Quakers. They banned the importation of slaves to their colony in 1712. The British Crown said no to that.

              The Quakers believed in the golden rule. Don’t do anything to another you would not have done to you.

              I am posting on Thursday hoping Tuesday rules still apply.

            2. SHG Post author

              TT rules are more of a concept than a temporal limitation. That said, does this book that I will never read prove anything, or is it merely a tangential factoid thrown in to show your erudition?

    2. B. McLeod

      But, as we all well know, all the earnings sucked down by the big accounting firm and then the big law firm would go disproportionately to the wealthy, non-black Shitlords who control large accounting firms and law firms, thereby generating an additional travesty and injustice. Also, there would have to be issues as to whether said Shitlords could be trusted to perform an honest calculation or distribution.

  13. Black Bellamy

    On the eve of the Srebrenica massacre, during a television broadcast a defiant Ratko Mladic warned that the time had come to avenge centuries of conquest by the Ottoman Muslims.

    The original grievance was at least 600 years old, but an idea that can be useful can never die.

    Anyway, it’s begging the question. It assumes there is an us that is concerned about racism. In reality it’s just a couple of people and the rest wishes they would just shut up.

  14. Ben

    Black Bellamy has it: “an idea that can be useful can never die”.

    These questions will be raked up forever by hustlers after their own advantage, and if we allow them to, they will poison society.

    There is the practical issue: Who ought to receive reparations? Former slaves? Their descendants? Anyone who looks a bit dark? Who ought to pay them? Descendants of slaveowners? Anyone who looks a bit light? Should a descendant of Italian immigrants of 1870 pay reparations to a Jamaican immigrant of 1990? This is not just a practical problem, it’s fundamental.

    But quite apart from that, it will involve appointing an ombudsperson with a staff, with broad power and a lot of money to distribute, which seems like a really bad idea to me.

    We all have undeserved misfortune. But we all have undeserved fortune, too. I did nothing to deserve to be born in an era of modern medicine, plentiful food and widespread prosperity and peace.

    I’m grateful. No doubt my life might have been better if Them As Did My Ancestors Wrong had not done that wrong,

    But it’s still better than I deserve, because I did nothing to deserve to be born at all.

  15. Rendall

    Zero Day will come when descendants of slaves are fully integrated into American society in such a way that this particular heritage is a historical curiosity with no more weight than having Irish or Norwegian ancestry: it’s no longer notable that a black person owns a successful business or is middle class or is upper class or holds high office.

    Personally, I think this is possible, but I am optimistic by nature. There is also a cognitive bias by which a member of any kind of minority holding a rare position will always be notable: albino millionaire CTOs are exceedingly rare, and it would be difficult never to reference it. So it may be too much to ask not to notice when there is a black US President, for instance. But after zero day, it would be no _more_ notable than if the President were Mormon or unusually tall.

  16. John Haberstroh

    The academic and legal institutionalization of racial/ethnic/gender grievance and affirmative action means Day Zero will be delayed as long as the 1% can keep the bottom 90% fighting for scraps.

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