She works for the New York Times. She twits under the name Ida Bae Wells. And she won a Pulitzer Prize for making up a story that may be taught to your children, but just isn’t factually true. Her name is Nikole Hannah-Jones and she wants money.
It feels different this time.
And for the moment, it does. Hannah-Jones runs through the litany of black suffering, from being chattel to having a fraction of the accumulated family wealth. She offers studies to show that it’s not because black people are lazy or stupid, squandered their earnings or failed to put in the effort to achieve success. She offers other studies to show how racial discrimination has impacted black people to burden them, to cheat them out of their due, and then burden them some more.
Whether her descriptions are accurate, or sufficiently accurate, will be parsed by more knowledgeable people than me, from historians to statisticians. One of the problems with forfeiting integrity for the cause is that you’re no longer credible. Hannah-Jones isn’t credible. But that doesn’t make her wrong, and even if half her story isn’t factual, that doesn’t make racism go away.
After her lengthy discussion of suffering, she finally gets to her point.
So we are left with a choice. Will this moment only feel different? Or will it actually be different?
If black lives are to truly matter in America, this nation must move beyond slogans and symbolism. Citizens don’t inherit just the glory of their nation, but its wrongs too. A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and then works to make them right. If we are to be redeemed, if we are to live up to the magnificent ideals upon which we were founded, we must do what is just.
It is time for this country to pay its debt. It is time for reparations.
And with that, we’ve shifted from protecting black lives from the needless and wrongful killing by police to money. If black lives truly matter, we will give them reparations.
The question of reparations is one fraught with other questions. I’ve argued that it’s a subject that is worthy of consideration, although I have severe doubts that we are a nation capable of discussion anymore. We’re welcome to shut up and listen to lectures, mostly by “allies” who do the talking on behalf of the oppressed because they shouldn’t be put to the burden of having to exhaust themselves to explaining, but not express a position. Now that Hannah-Jones, among others, has informed us that reparations are due, is there anything left to discuss?
But there are questions. A lot of them, even though asking them is frowned upon in woke society. Who gets reparations? Surely those who were brought here by slavers, but they’re long gone. So their progeny? Who are they? How do we tell, or is their assertion of ancestry good enough? Does it matter what’s happened to them, their families, over the last 150 years?
What about black people whose ancestors didn’t come off slave ships, but jet planes? If they chose to come here to seek their fortunes, do they get to claim the benefit for those who came in chains?
And who pays? Old WASP families who enjoyed the benefit of their slaves seems obvious, but what about families that came here a generation ago, fleeing their own persecution, and treated like dirt when they arrived? Sure, they didn’t suffer anywhere near as much as slaves, but do they get a recent arrival discount?
How much would reparations be? Millions? Billions? Per person or altogether? And even if we agreed that this is different, would there be a next time, a hundred years from now, when the claim was this was insufficient, a failure to reckon, and we need to do it again “if black lives truly matter”? Is this a hurdle that, no matter what the decision, can ever be surmounted?
*Yes, it’s Thursday, not Tuesday, but let’s not be slaves to the calendar. Tuesday Talk rules apply.