by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Voltaire said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” Once I conversed with a Black man who told me Black people are still disenfranchised.
I asked him to define disenfranchised.
He said it meant Black people were denied the opportunity to establish business franchises. I told him it meant to deprive someone of the right to vote. He asked me, according to whom? I said the dictionary. He told me he wasn’t enslaved by White dictionary definitions.
Now, here’s a dictionary definition of reparations:
1: The act or process of mending or restoring
2: The act of making amends or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury
3. Compensation in money or materials, payable by a defeated nation
It appears the term has been defined.
But on an episode of Black and Intellectual—in April 2019, the host made this preliminary statement to popular Black progressive Benjamin Dixon, “People seem to have a problem defining reparations, some people want to regulate it to slavery, some people want to isolate it to being about this or that.” Then Dixon was asked how he defined reparations. Dixon said, “I don’t have a clearly defined definition.” Dixon suggested it was necessary for congress to pass H.R. 40, the bill to study slavery and develop proposals for reparations, in order to get a unified definition of the term.
In May 2019, Quillette columnist, Coleman Hughes, was at a town hall discussion about reparations, and Hughes told the panel, “We’ve seen in the past few months the word reparations, increasingly means whatever anyone wants it to mean in the moment.” The following month, at the Juneteenth U.S. House Hearings on Reparations, Hughes dismissed the concept of descendants of slave-owners transferring cash to descendants of slaves to correct the past, but said reparations should be paid to living “Black Americans who grew up under Jim Crow and were directly harmed by second-class citizenship.”
But Columbia professor John McWhorter stated, many times, The Great Society Programs launched under President Lyndon Johnson, whose stated goals were to eliminate poverty and racial injustice, along with Affirmative Action policies, were reparation payments for Jim Crow.
McWhorter also explained between 1989, when H.R. 40 was first introduced to Congress, and 2000, when Randall Robinson’s book—“The Debt: What America Owes Blacks”—was published, all discussions about reparations centered around payments for slavery. Then in 2014 Ta-Nehisi Coates published an essay in The Atlantic called: The Case for Reparations. Coates dealt with slavery and Jim Crow but added racist housing policies—redlining—to the discussion. Coates claimed these policies prevented Blacks from creating generational wealth. The redlining argument shifted the emphasis from “reparations for slavery” to reparations to replace what could have been inherited if racist housing policies didn’t exist.
At the Juneteenth House Hearing on Reparations Coates told Congress the real dilemma posed by reparations is a dilemma of inheritance. Coates reminded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said before the hearing America shouldn’t be held liable for something that happened 150 years ago, since none of us currently alive are responsible, when slavery ended, America could have extended its principles of—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to all, regardless of color, but America had other principles in mind that extended into Senator McConnell’s lifetime. For a century after the Civil War, Black people were subjected to a campaign of state-sponsored terror. Senator McConnell was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of Black homeowners of some $4 billion, victims of that plunder are alive today. Coates was arguing for reparations to reduce the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites, but does reducing wealth disparities correspond with any definition of reparations?
Some people will make a moral connection, but others will hear Black people are still disenfranchised.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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