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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A model for reparations

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To say 2020 has been historical so far is probably the biggest understatement of the year.

Not only have we experienced a global pandemic like nothing we’ve ever seen in recent times, we’re also experiencing a second Civil Rights Movement. Many media outlets consider this second wave of the movement a direct result of the murder of George Floyd. I take umbrage to that simplistic viewpoint. Floyd’s death was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We’ve had marches and protests before, but they always ended and things went back to the way they were before. This time, we gave a collective, “Hell no!” to the status quo. We are tired of racial disparities, inequities and injustices, the prison industrial complex, police brutality, etc. Basically, we’re tired of getting the short end of the stick as a group of people. 

So how refreshing was it to see some good happen in 2020? To see that we’re finally being heard and real action is being taken?

The city council in Asheville, North Carolina, by a vote of 7-0, moved to provide reparations to Black residents whose ancestors were enslaved. The council also apologized for the city’s role in slavery, denial of basic liberties to its Black residents and discrimination.

For those wringing their hands, worried about the city’s coffers, the resolution doesn’t include direct payments. Instead, it includes creative solutions to solve a problem that should’ve been solved a long time ago. COVID-19 continues to bring out the creativity in all of us. The city will create a Community Reparations Commission, and it will be the commission’s job to recommend programs and resources.

“The resulting budgetary and programmatic priorities may include but not be limited to increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities, strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice,” the resolution reads.

For too long the conversation about reparations centered on cash payments and opponents’ inability to conceive how America could deliver these cash payments, how to determine who was owed and if it is unfair to white people. (Don’t you just love how when it comes to Black people, we always have to be fair, but it’s never vice versa. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have these problems.) I’ve long said we don’t need cash payments but rather creative ways to provide actual equity to descendants of slaves. Well, they’ve figured it out in Asheville, North Carolina, and hopefully this city will be a model. 

By the way, there are only two Black members of the city council. Yes, a Black man, Keith Young, was the chief proponent of the resolution, but this measure passed unanimously. I don’t know the race or ethnicity of the other five members, but it’s clear they aren’t African American. It’s also clear they had the guts to stand up for what’s right. And reparations for descendants of slaves couldn’t be more right.

Yes, there are some who are angry, don’t feel responsible for slavery and don’t believe they’ve benefited from white privilege. Who cares? Living in a democracy means you may not always get your way. Majority rules.

America owes this debt. Just because you don’t want to pay the debt doesn’t mean it’s not owed. Try that move at a casino and see what happens. I don’t recall Black America ever forgiving the debt, either.

I explained white privilege in a previous column, and at this point, it’s not a matter of not understanding but a matter of refusing to understand. White people who continue to point out how their lives perfectly illustrate the lack of white privilege are being willfully obtuse, and I have no time for such mendacity. 

For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, and there are some white proponents of the resolution. One such supporter is David Greenson. Referencing the beating of Johnnie Rush, an unarmed Black man, in August 2017 by a police officer, Greenson said white people need to provide reparations “because our souls are in jeopardy.” While Greenson wasn’t involved in the beating of Rush, he acknowledged his tax dollars paid the officer’s salary.

Greenson gets it. The city council gets it. We need more people who get it.

We need more people to move away from theory and unproductive conversation to action. This is how you right a wrong, America. It’s the moral thing to do.

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