Comment sent to CURE from William Otto
Hello, My name is William Otto. I am a white American young man who lives in Savannah, Georgia. As I watched the C-SPAN broadcast of the "Millions for Reparations" demonstration in Washington, D.C., I was upset by the fact that I was being made to feel guilty for something that I did not know I had done or that I had something to do with. I am honestly not a racist in ANY way towards blacks, or any other ethnic group, I am simply a young AMERICAN man who wants to better understand the reparations movement. I am not trying to be derogitory in any way, shape, or form, I am truly seeking answers to things that I do not understand. I do not feel that I should have to feel anger for something because I do not see its reasons or purposes, so I contact you in an effort to better understand what you and/or your organization stands for. If anyone is willing to correspond with me in an effort to help me see your points of view, please contact me through my e-mail- Otdog277@aol.com. I know I am but one person, but isn't one less ignorant person worth the effort? Thank you VERY much for your time and I hopefully look forward to your contact in the near future.
With Regards, William Otto
Feedback from CURE member Larry Yates:
I am a white American, the son of a man who grew up in rural Georgia. I am 52, so probably a bit older than you. And I have spent most of my life learning how complicated race is in this country. I believe that a lot of the things that seem obvious to you -- that you feel in your gut to be true -- are in fact false. I know that I have spent years un-learning things that seemed obviously true -- mainly with the help of African-American friends and colleagues.
Is it possible for people to deceive themselves about something so important? Well, think about this. A couple of years ago, millions of Americans believed that we had entered a "new economy" in which information ruled, in which millions could be made without making or selling anything, and that durable goods, paper periodicals, and traditional accounting were things of the past. Whoops.
The racism scam is much much older, and it is even more effective. Key to it is the deception that racism is about being nasty and mean towards people of color. The reality is that prejudice is a common human feature, shared by people of all colors, and that a small number of people are really viciously prejudiced. I am sure you are not one of those people.
But racism isn't about prejudice. It is an almost invisible system, like the economy or academics. And most of us participate in it without even thinking about how it works. For example, as a white person, you probably have more assets than black people of your age and educational level -- and you have more access to a house that you can sell or refinance for more money. You have access to better medical care and will probably live longer. All that's true whether you are prejudiced or not, and whether you ever think about race. In fact, real racism is designed so white people won't have to think about it, let alone act mean and nasty most of the time.
When I point all that out, it probably makes you feel angry or guilty. But if you examine that emotion, I didn't create it. Instead, it comes from years of being vaguely aware that things weren't quite fair, but not knowing what you could do about it. I merely exposed and sharpened those feelings, just as listening to the reparations rally did.
I certainly am not asking you to feel guilty, nor are those proposing reparations. I feel a lot less guilt than you probably do. This is because I know that most African-Americans are not angry at me. They are angry at racism. So I only have to feel uncomfortable and guilty if I identify myself with that system. I still do sometimes, of course. After all, I benefit from the system, even though I try to oppose it.
Reparations, to me, isn't mainly about what happened centuries ago. It's about what happens right now, when an African-American woman walks into a bank to get a loan, or an African-American baby is born with a curable medical condition. What happens is that centuries of history continue to have an impact, that they continue to live in the present, and continue to need to be repaired.
Let me close with this. As a southern white male, you have heard folks mourn over the impact on the south of Reconstruction, of Sherman's March to the Sea, and the loss of life during the Civil War. I think those stories have some truth to them. Whites in Georgia and other southern states did suffer from the war and somewhat from its aftermath. But if that story is still worth telling, if that damage is still worth regretting -- then why is it wrong for African-Americans to continue to seek redress for what they suffered, which was incomparably worse, and went on not for 5 or 10 years, but for centuries?
I do not expect you to accept these ideas overnight. But I hope you will open your heart and brain to them. Nothing in my life has been of greater value to me than the lessons I have learned -- political, moral, spiritual and scientific -- as I have tried to understand and combat racism in my country and my community. Nothing has helped me more to understand who I actually am and how that has been hidden from me.
Feedback from CURE member Bob Powell:
William Otto's letter was refreshing in its honesty. As a resident of Richmond, the local paper here the Richmond Times Dispatch (aka Disgrace) has always been the message boy of the most reactionary political and economic interests of Virginia. Lately, it has carried many letters against reparations as well as columns. Most letters about reparations are variations on reducto absurdums like one who agreed that every living slave should be paid by every living slave owner for services rendered. Other letters call in the oppression of white ethnic cards. Very few mention reparations to Native Americans because Virginia has several Native American tribes with issues. Hopefully, I will say something to convert the unconverted. If not, I will settle for re-enforcing the already convinced as to the rightness of reparations to African Americans.
II. Moving Backward
I start my discussions on reparations in the era of legal segregation in the South I grew up in. While there are no living slaves or slaveowners around there are plenty of living victims of segregation. And I think even the most unreasonable and ahistorical thinkers would agree that segregation by law was the son of slavery.
The first victims of segregation that come to my mind are black Vietnam Veterans. While only 12 percent of the population is black, African Americans were 50 percent of the front line troops. The best ticket out of the war was a college deferment. Blacks were locked out of colleges by their lack of money or de jure segregation of educational facilities.
Even in the so called liberal North, racist trade unions run by white ethnic groups often kept out qualified blacks from various trades. It took demonstrations and lie ins in the 1960s in New York, home of the limousine liberal, to integrate construction trades such as carpentry, brickmasons, etc.
African Americans in the 100 years after slavery were relegated by law, custom and greed to the lowest rungs of the economic order. Savings for colleges, job benefits, health plans that whites took for granted were denied blacks. Blacks did not amass property as valuable in quantity or quality as whites did. One reason was lower economic power. Another was segregation by law through restricted covenants that legally barred the sale of property to non-whites and sometimes white ethnic groups such as Jews.
Even today, in every major city, the areas that were black in circa 1920 are still black today. Harlem is still Harlem, Roxbury is still Roxbury in Boston and Church Hill in Richmond is still black. About the only time historically black residential areas make substantial rises in value is when whites want to gentrify them. I am not talking about events that stifled the formation of black capital in 1860 but within the 20th century.
III. The Great Leap Forward and the Farce on Poverty
In the 1960s, the mass movement for civil rights won significant political victories that enabled African Americans to vote, access to public accommodations, fair housing laws, job discrimination. There are some that say these civil rights victories were hollow and meaningless. I sometimes wonder if people who get that short sighted are hollow and meaningless.
As a white Southerner, 6th generation Virginian, born and brought up in a political family, I can tell you exactly why my great grandfather as a Virginia legislator did everything in his power to disenfranchise his former slaves during Reconstruction. Political power in the hands of whites meant blacks would have no political or economic power. One Southern Supreme Court judge, who once was a Klansman, but became a liberal, is said to have privately said: "The reason for segregation was to screw blacks to the wall."
IV. Economic Power Today
The simple facts of life why African Americans and other non-whites as well as some European ethnic groups are not as well off as whites are simple. Non whites do not own the major means of production. There maybe an African American owned car dealership near you but name me a black owned car manufacturer, steel magnate, electronics firm or other major capitalist firm that dominates the market and is black owned. Yes, there have been successful African American businessmen in insurance and black owned banks and other enterprises. But these in scope of their comparative wealth to white owned counterparts are small operations.
Since the 1960s, blacks have as a class, gained on whites and entered the middle class in greater numbers. But lingering discrimination in housing, mortgage loans, the Dept. of Agriculture scandal over capital loans to Black farmers, job discrimination are still with us. In short, 35 years of tenuous, relative freedom is not going to eradicate the effects of 350 years of planned exploitation.
V. The Ethnic Question
Its no complement to America that we exploited European ethnic groups shamelessly. But one thing America has done very successfully is to integrate various European ethnic groups into one entity, white America. Exploitation of ethnic groups usually only lasted a generation. And often these ethnic groups, through unions, political groups, violence moved upwards at the expense of African Americans.
This social cohesion among whites is easily proved through marriage. By stereotype, Poles are allegedly the least intelligent and most uncouth of white ethnics. I dare say that Joe Southern Six pack would not object to his daughter marrying a Polish American. If her choice was African American, his reaction in 2002 would most likely be very negative.
VI. White Ethnic Exploitation
My paternal ancestors were Welsh. They were an internal colony of the English after the forced union of England and Wales brought about the Anglo-Welsh Tudor dynasty. The Welsh appeared in America before African slaves. They were brought to labor as criminal punishment, as religious dissenters, as political prisoners as a class known as indentured servants. My Welsh ancestors worked in the same fields as African slaves and often intermarried with them in early Virginia before the hardening of racial slavery.
But however exploited the Welsh were they had advantages over Africans as recognized English citizens. A mythical Welsh indentured servant with a very Welsh name like Llewyelin Jones may have been white trash in America but his cousin Lord Jones in England may have cared for him. English courts gave him rights, he spoke English and he could run away and blend into the general population. As Roger Taney, in the Dred Scott decision, the black man had no rights white men were bound to respect.
By the 1770s, my own Welsh ancestors were fairly well to do slaveowners growing tobacco in Franklin Co, Va. On the other hand, no African or African Americans owned Welsh Americans. The Welsh experience is largely played out with other ethnic groups. Ethnic groups became assimilated.
VI. Screaming at the Computer Screen
Its time for a conclusion. I believe in reparations for two basic reasons. One is moral and symbolic. I do have an optimistic faith that Americans overall are decent and fair minded people who want to see the ideals of democracy fulfilled. Within my lifetime, I have seen great changes from the de jure segregation of my 1950s childhood to today. If I wrong a man intentionally or unintentionally, I have a duty to right that wrong. So the same principle applies from one group of people to another. The first Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619. It was not until 1963 that a serious redress of their social, political, economic and legal status was considered. That redress is incomplete. I do not want to stop that redress in circa 1963. It is an ongoing process.
Being idealistic and saying your sorry is not enough. Since African Americans have been systematically shut out of American economic and political life, there should be capital or monetary mechanisms to address it. Reparations have been made to many classes of people for social wrongs. Native Americans, Japanese Americans, Germans to Jews, the Tobacco Industry, and so on I have probably been long winded and said too much.
Comments sent to CURE from Catherine Campbell:
I was so relieved to find your organization's website...I can't tell you enough! I am a full time social work student at Eastern Michigan University, a mother of a teenage son with some disabilities that have caused him to suffer prejudice and discrimination (as well as our family), a wife, a relatively recent convert to Reform Judaism, and caucasian. I can remember holocaust survivers who were friends of my family when growing up, and I take seriously what I have learned from African American literature and cultural studies (as well as labor history in the U.S.). I am a member of Americans United for the separation of Church and State, and am active in my synagogue. Although my time is extremely limited, I want to become involved in your organization...even if it means "licking stamps"! We can never make up for our use (or abuse) of priviledge in this country, but we can at least try.
If I understand correctly...isn't John Conyers, congressman from Michigan, involved in seeking reparations for African Americans? Perhaps I need to contact him.
In any event, could you please tell me more about who I can contact in the Southeastern Michigan area?
It would be most appreciated.
Feedback from CURE member Ida Hakim:
I really appreciate your desire to make up for abuse of privilege in this country. You are so right, and I welcome you into our reparations community. All you need is the courage to stand upon what you believe, and be able to communicate over the internet and in your own community.
The point of entry into reparations work for CURE members, is to get involved on our website, and connect with the other CURE members around the United States
I'm sure you saw on the website a number of articles written by CURE members. Some are professional writers, and some simply advocates who want to express the reason for their beliefs. You are welcome to write something for the articles section, and send it to me. I have already put you on our e-mail list so you will receive the dialogue section questions, and be able to respond and have your response posted. Third, we have a photo gallery, where members and supporters (only if they want to) send their photos to be posted along with a sentence or two about themselves. All you would have to do is send a photo via e-mail, plus a few words about yourself.
Once you have begun to get involved in this nationwide community, you can practice your pro-reparations arguments so that you'll be able to answer the questions that come to you in your local community and your daily life. There is no group at the moment, in the Southeastern Michigan area although we may have CURE members in your region. You can begin to organize a group simply by starting to talk about what you believe to your family and friends, co-workers and so on. We will be here to support you in your local work. When you find white people in your community who want to work for reparations, you can bring them to the CURE community and also have your own group activities.
The CURE members are Muslim, Christian and Jewish, political and spiritual minded, professional and non-professional - so we are quite different. The statement of belief on the front page of our website will tell you what unites us. If you agree with the statement, and want to belong to a community of advocates, that is all that is required to be a CURE member.
Please be in touch,
Comments sent to CURE from email@example.com
Why is it important to WORK for reparations? Is CURE simply engaged in human rights education for the sake of racial harmony over the reparations issue (I do not mean to denigrate that important work)? Isn't this a matter for the courts that ordinary citizens have little influence over (white citizens that is, blacks could file suit)? In short, why should I devote my progressive energies to this cause at this time?
Feedback from CURE member Molly Secours:
i think it's important to highlight that reparations isn't a noun, it's a verb, meaning that reparations is a process rather than a definitive and limited action. i believe that for many that's why the issue of reparations is so frightening because it is not contained. but neither are the residual effects of the slave trade. and until recently, there has never been a concerted effort to determine cause and effects, only band-aids to minimize civil action and potentially, revolution. after spending several years working with young men in prison--overwhelmingly african american--there is little doubt that the residual effects of slavery are alive and thriving in this country. when you start to make the connections between prison and slavery and you see the numbers and sentencing differentials between whites and non-whites it is difficult to deny the far-reaching effects of slavery.
as far as the question: Isn't this a matter for the courts that ordinary citizens have little influence over (white citizens that is, blacks could file suit)? In short, why should I devote my progressive energies to this cause at this time?
by this question am i to understand that this person is suggesting that the american judicial system is immune from adhering to the guidelines of a white supremacy? because of civil rights laws racism and the system of white supremacy have, by necessity, become more sophisticated and subtle. everyday there are new statistics popping up to prove that racism is dead. last month an article came out which listed the 50 most powerful CEO's in the U.S. who are of African descent. Of course this is great but the reason it is big news is because these are *exceptions* to the rule. The very fact that is *news* and is being promoted as evidence that all are equal demonstrates the very opposite. the achievements of these men and women are certainly worthy of applause *because* of the difficult obstacles that people of color *still* are faced with. and it is these obstacles that are being addressed in reparations studies currently being conducted by John Conyers, John Hope Franklin in the U.S. and many others around the world.
why is it important that one spend their efforts on reparations? because reparations is dealing with root causes rather then reflexive actions to minimize resistance. reparations is about making connections between current, concrete injustices like disproportionate rates of poverty amongst people of color and rampant land theft that took place in the last half a century. between astronomical incarceration rates among blacks and the fact that until after the civil war there were few prisons and little need for them. now CCA (corrections corporation of america) is one of the fastest growing companies in the country and look who inhabits them? these are just of few of the connections that need to be made and until they are acknowledged and dealt with--which is what a reparations study is for--we will be sweeping more dirt under the carpet and vacuuming over it.
Feedback from CURE member Kevin Chestnut:
Why is it important to WORK for reparations?
* Slavery reparations is a social justice issue. Advancing justice in this area advances justice for ALL people. It is quite clear that there is huge resistance in our society to reparations--or to even discuss it--so effort is needed to clear the way for the public examination of the facts. Sensitizing the public may not be essential to win some of the battles in court, but this step will certainly help to minimize the social disruption and loss of life when favorable judgments come through. JUDGES certainly need to be sensitized, also.
Is CURE simply engaged in human rights education for the sake of racial harmony over the reparations issue (I do not mean to denigrate that important work)?
* Working towards racial harmony is, of course, desirable. However, reparations is primarily about a stricken population getting recompense for a huge injustice done to it, in terms of compensation for forced labor, sufficient amelioration of the gross harm done in twisting and violating their social fabric, and to provide fair access to the basic social supports needed to live in dignity (housing, food, education, protection), with the opportunity for self-determination. The just redistribution of assets and their access is the prior immediate concern--working towards harmony happens along the way and afterwards, but this should not hold up any actual compensation.
Isn't this a matter for the courts that ordinary citizens have little influence over (white citizens that is, blacks could file suit)? In short, why should I devote my progressive energies to this cause at this time?
* When a justice issue involves a minority-population claimant, it is always helpful--to all sides--to hear overt support from those in the majority culture, to have allies across the human spectrum. And ordinary citizens DO have influence over judges. One of the greatest heartaches in America is the issue of racial division and fearfulness. There has been very little honest, caring, and respectful dialogue in this area for the common person, and as the gap in wealth continues to widen in the U.S., the racial strife and turmoil will continue to grow. This is a good and very timely place to put our social-change energies. It goes to the root of much of our society's distress.
Comments sent to CURE from firstname.lastname@example.org
Your call for "reparations" is immoral. The institution of slavery itself was immoral, for it deprived human beings of their freedom, their dignity, and the fruits of their labor by force. Today, you and your "reparations" gangsters hope to deprive free people of the fruits of their labor by force, and that, too, is immoral.
Feedback from CURE member Kevin Chestnut:
You seem to be overlooking a link in the logic of reparations. Yes, slaves were deprived of their freedom, their dignity, and the value of their labor. Slavery could only exist because it MADE PROFIT for some very particular people and the governments that enforced it. Otherwise, as the most disgusting and disrespectful way of living possible, it would have fallen flat on its face. So the value for that labor WENT somewhere and WAS NEVER LOST. No one burned that money. It continues to be passed down through the generations, mainly through inheritance. The reparations movement simply seeks restitution for this theft and the further harm it created in our society, and only from those families and governments that are proven beneficiaries.
email@example.com continued: Why aren't you honest about the violence that you are prepared to use to enforce "reparations?" Yes, violence- you intend to collect your "reparations" from individuals at the point of a gun, if any individual is so foolish as to decline to pay his "reparations tax." Perhaps you really think that all free men and women will hold open their doors for you to loot their homes and pillage their savings? You want us all to go quietly, but be honest- you're really looking forward to busting down some doors and busting some heads on the way to seizing what you have not earned.
I support slave reparations through an organization of other whites known as CURE. We do not advocate violence and we do not wish anyone harm. We DO advocate upholding any court judgments regarding slavery reparations. I personally would accrue no benefit from a reparations judgment, other than the general correction in my community for the harm that has been done over many generations. I am not speaking for people of color, but simply those fellow European Americans who I am working with.
Why don't you go ahead and admit that "reparations" are really the thin end of a wedge called "vengeance?" You want money to start with, but once you draw blood from free people who oppose your extortion you'll become intoxicated and then we'll all see what you're really about.
Again, I as a supporter of reparations, am not looking for any financial gain. I simply look forward to the tremendous injustice and harm done by slavery being finally straight- forwardly faced and addressed, bringing an end to the strange and harmful dynamic of endless "white guilt." It's an interesting (but baseless) theory that you have about becoming intoxicated by money from court judgments.
Well, many of us will NOT go quietly, and you WILL have a fight on your hands when you come first to extort and then to loot. You know you'll never be satisfied- free people will never have paid "enough", and you'll always believe that the "needs" of your "people" justify kicking in more doors and stripping more productive, intelligent people of what they have earned.
Perhaps surprising to you, slavery reparations is about ENDING any extortion. Popular commentator Juan Williams recently wrote, "...white guilt opens the door to the idea of national obligation to repair the damage of racism" and said he is concerned that it is only "collective white guilt that fuels support for social policy to help poor black people." I believe that social policy should no longer be based upon the wringing of the "white guilt" sponge. I think that we whites (and our social system, in general) can be more rational than that. The fair presentation and weighing of the facts in court can lead to judgments based on reason and put an end the bottomless guilt pit. Again, remember that the wealth created by slavery went to some particular people and to particular governments, which still retain and multiply that profit.
You will not be successful. When you say that racial tension in America "can't get any worse than it is" as a result of reparations you show just how naive you really are. Millions of fair-minded whites will turn against their black fellow citizens when they see the bullying and violence that you know will be necessary to enforce your "reparations tax."
True, we may anticipate much negative reaction to a favorable finding towards reparations, just as happened throughout with U.S. with the racial integration of public facilities in the 50's and 60's. That does not mean that step was wrong or not needed. Human decency asks that our society move in this direction. Perhaps you are Christian, as I am myself. Many Christians believe that God calls us to stand courageously with the oppressed--we feel that our support for slavery reparations is a faithful response to this moral call.
Comments sent to CURE from Lou Schoen:
As a justice activist with a "retirement" career working predominantly as an anti-racism organizer and trainer in the institutional church, I agree with CURE's overall philosophy and objectives, and with responses to the critical letter published in the "Your Comments" page.
I would, however, like to see at least a footnoted explanation why you choose to continue using the term "Caucasians" in the organizational name. Its continued use by the Census Bureau and others is another manifestation of white cultural arrogance in an age when anthropology has finally disowned any scientific validity for "the four races of man" and the original names of the other three have been dropped from common usage.
Feedback from CURE member Ida Hakim:
CURE was founded 10 years ago and it has been hard at work since then. Not once in those 10 years has any Black leader said to me, "Why do you continue to use the name Caucasian - it is offensive to us." I suggest Black people have ample reason to think of us collectively as a "race" or at the least as a human family (a dangerously uncivilized family). CURE has earned a reputation in reparations work and it is, to the best of my knowledge, a highly regarded organization. I am personally content to keep the name for the simple reason that it is recognized and well thought of by Black people.
Since reading your letter I have been giving thought to your concerns about white cultural arrogance. We've been forcing our self perceived "racial superiority" on the earth for a long time now, and we've been racking up a good long list of atrocities that we should, and I believe will, be required to take responsibility for collectively. As our victims begin to turn the tide and require justice from us, we stand up and declare that there is only one race - the human race. Could there be some self-interest hiding deep down inside this anthropological enlightenment? Would we like to escape collective responsibility for the deeds done by our human family? Based upon our past history it's something I wonder about.
Black people who have endured slavery and its legacies are asking to be recognized and restored - not in a superficial manner, but restored as a family - one of the families of man. Now are we going to say, "Oh no - you can't be restored as one of the families of man because we are all one family - the human family. This is the way we're going to eliminate racism in the earth."
You know what I wish - I wish we could humble ourselves to the point where we can follow the lead of Black people. I believe they can lead us into a greater way of being if we just listen.
I am most happy to submit to the mind of the Black woman and Black man with regard to their reparations and restoration and with regard to the name of our organization. As long as the Black leaders I know don't find the word offensive, then I will, with the blessing of CURE's officers, leave it as it is.
Feedback from CURE member Donna Lamb:
From the get-go, when I started writing against racism and for reparations, I always had one heck of a time figuring out what to call myself and what to call people of African ancestry. I tried calling myself: European American--which I think sounds snooty and elitist; white--though I find it absurd to refer to my pinky-gray skin as "white," and besides, it's so distressingly popular with the WHITE supremacists; Anglo American or Anglo--which aren't as common in their usage as I like the words I use to be; and Caucasian--which I think sounds way too academic, and besides, it's so darn hard to spell! I don't like any of the above.
I have just as big a problem as to what to call people of African descent--the term I prefer, but often find too cumbersome when I'm trying to communicate. I have used the terms: African Americans--though I know many consider themselves to be deprived of their rights as an American citizen (I agree) and therefore not really American; Africans in America--though I hate the arrogance of appropriating to ourselves the name for all of America when this country is really no more than the United States of America; people of color--which still rubs me the wrong way every time I see it or feel I have to use it; and Blacks--because this is what most people of African descent who I know prefer to be called, even though they are no more "black" than I am "white." Again, nothing feels wholly right to me.
I say all of this because I want you to know I have really thought about this subject--you might even say agonized over it because I take the words I use very seriously--and no, Mr. Schoen, I don't like the word Caucasian much more than you do. But I can't seem to find anything else I really like either, so what am I to do?
The thing that really troubles me about the debate over this word in our title is that the entire reason we're here--TO SUPPORT REPARATIONS TO THE DESCENDANTS OF SLAVERY--gets lost in the shuffle! Rather than leading into honest, meaningful dialogue about the subject, as all true questioning should, it pulls us out into left field to fight over something that isn't really that important. At least not to me.
And, from my experience, not to Black people either. Like Ida, I am yet to meet one Black leader--or ANY Black person--who had anything bad to say about CURE's use of the word Caucasian in our name. When I speak to Black people about CURE and my support of reparations, any questioning goes to the real heart of the matter: how much do we really mean it; how thoroughly do we know what we're talking about; how strong will we stay under opposition? To me, these are the issues that really matter, and I'm glad to be examined on these points.
Therefore, I can't help but wonder, too, why IS it that only white "progressives" have brought this subject up with me? Is it possible that some people are actually uncomfortable with what CURE is about, REPARATIONS TO BLACKS, but they just can't admit that to themselves so they pick on our name? I don't know. I'm still trying to find out.
Donna Lamb, July 11, 2002
Comments sent to CURE from firstname.lastname@example.org
Why not start paying the Chinese for their prima facie enslavement during the construction of the trans-continental railroad? Or the Japanese for their imprisonment during WWII? Or the Germans for the destruction of their country at the end of World War II? Or the Jews for turning away hundreds of thousands of them on ships and sending them to their deaths? Or the Mexicans, for supporting the rebellion that took away their land (Texas)? And what about the Indians? There are hundreds of thousands of them who have lost everything that once belonged to them.
Aside from that, let me make a point. It has been over a century since the black people were set free. There is, yes, still prejudice in the United States against their people, and, unfortunately, there always will be. The thing I want to point out is, where in the world is this not the case? If you or I, light skinned human beings that we are, were to go into certain areas of Africa or the south east islands, we'd never come out alive again.
Then what of the things that people with black skin do to people with black skin? Which of them do we give reparations to? How do you decide who does and who doesn't get reparations? Should we deduct from these reparations the millions of dollars spent on welfare? And while we're at it, let's deduct the court costs, the police salaries, and the other assorted legal fees that have been incurred because of people of "black" skin behaving badly.
I want to know who we are going to have pay the reparations? Do I have to pay reparations? My "white" family was too poor to own slaves. So should I have to pay reparations, too? I guess your family was so rich and mighty that it had, what, fifty or sixty slaves? I have a lot of friends who come from poor white families from that era in the United States. Can we get reparations for the unfair trade practices that your ancestors had during the period of Slavery? I mean, you had all that free labor, and our ancestors had to do the work themselves for less profit.
What about black people that were not slaves? There were some roaming around, actually, you know. Should their decendents get reparations too?
Feedback from CURE member Donna Lamb:
I now take a communication CURE received at this website and answer it in detail. The reader's questions and comments are italicized in quotes, and my answers appear in between. The reader asks:
"Why not start paying the Chinese for their prima facie enslavement during the construction of the trans-continental railroad?"
I think we ought to. I'd love to see their descendants ask for reparations.
"Or the Japanese for their imprisonment during WWII?"
We did pay them--with your and my tax money. And I have no problem with that whatsoever. It was some of the best use of our taxes I know of! "Or the Germans for the destruction of their country at the end of World War II?"
We did! Under the Marshall Plan, we poured millions of dollars into all kinds of construction--buildings, highways, etc.
"Or the Jews for turning away hundreds of thousands of them on ships and sending them to their deaths?"
We were instrumental in getting Israel as a homeland for the Jews, and in forcing Germany to pay them reparations and the Swiss banks to give them back their money.
"Or the Mexicans, for supporting the rebellion that took away their land (Texas)?"
I long for the day we do pay them reparations for that.
"And what about the Indians? There are hundreds of thousands of them who have lost everything that once belonged to them."
You're right about that. I have as large a shame about what we did to the Indigenous People--massacring them and stealing their land--as I do about what we did to captured Africans. I only wish we would do right by them at last--though the magnitude of our injustice is so large that, just as with African descendants, it will be impossible to ever completely make up for it.
So you see, at least we start off agreeing about something! I support the struggle for justice to ALL people who have been wronged, in addition to descendants of slavery. And I'm always amazed at how many people make the assumption that if you support reparations to Blacks, you don't support these other tremendously important things as well. I certainly do! And one of the reasons I am a supporter is because I hope that Blacks' struggle for reparations will inspire many additional movements all over the world for reparations and restitution. I'm eager to see more and more descendants of exploited people--be they of whatever culture or ethnicity--rise up and demand justice. This includes your ordinary white working stiff--anyone who has been dealt with unfairly in this system.
"Aside from that, let me make a point. It has been over a century since the black people were set free. There is, yes, still prejudice in the United States against their people, and, unfortunately, there always will be."
You say that there is still prejudice so casually, almost as though you're mentioning it to get this not-too-important fact out of the way so you can get on to what's really important. Well, let's not skip over it so fast! From the privilege of our white skin we can see prejudice as a minor matter, but for the one who's being subjected to it, it's big! Along with the monumental wear and tear on the spirit of having to go through your life knowing you're looked down on, racism takes in discrimination as to jobs, housing, medical care, education--literally everything. It makes for some very real and tangible problems. The fact that there is this ongoing prejudice is one of the main reasons I believe we owe reparations. Our colossal injustice didn't end with slavery; it's continues now!
"The thing I want to point out is, where in the world is this not the case? If you or I, light skinned human beings that we are, were to go into certain areas of Africa or the south east islands, we'd never come out alive again."
Yeah, and there are also several places right here in this country, inhabited by white people, that it would be arrogant and unwise for us to go to, too. You're dragging in, as you do in several places, issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with the question of whether we owe reparations or not.
Also, I'm not interested in using injustice elsewhere in the world as an excuse for my injustice, or that of my country. As my mother used to say, "Two wrongs don't make a right." The injustice of others doesn't lessen one bit the injustice we committed and continue to commit against Blacks--and others.
"Then what of the things that people with black skin do to people with black skin?"
Again, my answer is the same as the above: regardless of what anyone else does, it doesn't make our misdeeds any the less. But I'll also add this: the way we have despised and denigrated Black people hasn't exactly helped them to respect and love each other, either. And going back to slavery, one of the main tactics of slaveholders was to set people against each other so they wouldn't rise up as a united front. The bad effects of that linger on as well.
"Which of them do we give reparations to? How do you decide who does and who doesn't get reparations? I want to know who we are going to have pay the reparations?"
The good news on this one is, WE don't have to decide anything about that! That is strictly up to the descendants of enslaved Africans. I know, that may come as a surprise to you--as it did to me when I first heard it--but in any charges injured persons bring against the people that injured them, it isn't up to the people being accused to decide a matter like this. It's completely up to the people asking for redress.
"Should we deduct from these reparations the millions of dollars spent on welfare?"
Nope. Along with acknowledging the fact that by far more whites have received welfare than Blacks, we should look at why Blacks have needed it to begin with. Is there any causation that can be traced back to slavery? I believe the main reason many Blacks have been less fortunate economically than many whites began with slavery and has continued. From the get-go, we placed people of African descent in a position where it was impossible for them to earn a living on par with ours, and, by George, we made sure it stayed that way! One of the major ways has been by providing inferior education--which is the reason many Black Reparationists focus on plans to rectify that as one of the central features of reparations.
"And while we're at it, let's deduct the court costs, the police salaries, and the other assorted legal fees that have been incurred because of people of "black" skin behaving badly."
As to Blacks behaving "badly"--I think they've behaved remarkably "well" considering the magnitude of what they've had to endure from us!!! In fact, I often think it's a wonder that a lot more doesn't happen, given the situation. So many crimes have to do with the lack of money, lack of hope, rage--all consequences of our injustice.
And don't even get me started about the racist nature of our "just us" system, as many Black persons call it! I believe, for instance, that our "war on drugs" is really a war on Black and Brown people. We all know that whites by the tens of thousands use drugs, but they aren't targeted for arrest and prosecution. Therefore, far from thinking we should deduct court costs, etc., I see this all as just one more reason we owe reparations.
"Do I have to pay reparations? My "white" family was too poor to own slaves. So should I have to pay reparations, too? I guess your family was so rich and mighty that it had, what, fifty or sixty slaves? I have a lot of friends who come from poor white families from that era in the United States."
The thing is, all whites benefited from slavery--whether they wanted to or not--regardless of how rich or poor they were. Whether you were a slaveholder or a passionate abolitionist, you couldn't help but benefit because the whole infrastructure of this nation was built on the ill-gotten gains of slavery. The government raked in millions of dollars in taxes on cotton alone, and the ways that money was spent benefited all whites.
"Can we get reparations for the unfair trade practices that your ancestors had during the period of Slavery? I mean, you had all that free labor, and our ancestors had to do the work themselves for less profit."
An interesting point. I think it's related to why I also think descendants of slave-owning families should be made to pay back what they got from slavery. There are some super rich--and, unfortunately, revered--families that got their starting wealth through slavery, such as the J.P. Morgan family. I'm all for the people who benefited massively and directly being made to take on more of the responsibility of paying it back than the rest of us average people who benefited indirectly.
My family, by the way, did not own slaves that I know of. My father's side arrived very early and my mother's side much more recently. However, I believe that we, as white people, benefited from slavery and all the white privilege nonetheless.
"What about black people that were not slaves? There were some roaming around, actually, you know."
Yes, but even freed Blacks used to have to worry about being kidnapped, taken south and sold into slavery. And whether one is descended from the relatively few freed Black persons or from enslaved Africans, it doesn't make much of a difference now in terms of how one is seen. You know as well as I do that all Black persons are looked on in essentially the same way now, regardless of "little details" like that. If a Black person were to go around telling whites that he or she is a descendant of freed people not "slaves", they would probably be ridiculed and seen as putting on airs.
"Should their descendants get reparations too?"
Again, that isn't for us to decide--though I'll be perfectly happy if they do. Everything about how descendants of slavery will make their case, what they'll ask for, how they'll spend the money and who will get it is none of our business. The only thing that really is our business is looking honestly at this question: Did we, as a country, commit a crime against people of African descent for which we owe reparations? That's all. If we aren't trying to answer that honestly, everything else is just an evasion.
Donna Lamb July 3, 2002
Feedback from CURE member Daniel Warren:
You bring up many excellent questions that I will attempt to respond. "Why not start Paying the Chinese", Japanese, Jews, Germans, Mexicans, Indians. These peoples were not brought to America in slave ships, deprived of their family, their language, their culture for 400 years. Yes they suffered at the hands of us Whites but not for generation after generation. The American Indians I feel suffered the most from the above list I believe, but look at today, they have been provided with their own Land and live TAX FREE, let us at least do the same for a people that suffered more and actually Built this Land.
Black on Black crime here in America is horrible, yes but Look at what our white society has taught them and provided them in the way of drugs. We as whites have it easy today compared to the Black people of today. It is not necessarily our individual fault but our wealth overall is based on the slavery of yesterday and the underlying, implied racism of today.
Feedback from CURE member Ferrell Winfree:
Many of the peoples you named have, in fact, been paid reparations by different governments. The fact that more than one people have been ill treated is no reason for refusing to do what is right.
The residual effects of slavery is the reason I support reparations. There has been no other group of people so victimized as the African and his descendants. The lack of assets to pass down to children, the lack of education allowed, the lack of value of life, the 400 years of denying the abilities and talents, the lack of opportunity to advance in business, the lack of representation in government, all of these things lead to the need for reparations.
The idea of who is to decide who will be qualified to receive reparations if not for us, as white people, to decide. That would be like allowing the criminal to set his own punishment.
Ferrell Winfree CURE Outreach Leader
Comments sent to CURE:
I was hoping to pose a question to you that is not solely about supporting reparations but is certainly connected to it. it seems to me that in addition to working to support a national/international movement towards atonement and reparations, we as white americans also need to do some homework on our own, personal connection to the issue of slavery. it has been my experince that in spite of knee jerk remarks by white folks who claim that "my family never owned any slaves," most people haven't checked to see if this is true or not.
with that in mind, and as we still work to support a larger movement, i would like to ask what else those of us whose family's did own other people/slaves can and should be doing. as one who recently discovered this about my own family i have a list of questions and want to know more. some of those questions include such things as how to talk with my family about it in a respectful way? how to discuss it in a broader context in a respectful way? what should we do or say as a family? how to get more information about who was involved and what the story was? etc., etc. you get the picture. any ideas or suggestions would be helpful.
Feedback from CURE member Ferrell Winfree:
My first thought is that you have made a beginning by caring enough to ask the questions. The initial discovery can be the start of your doing a work which can bring to you some ease for the pain of knowing the truth of the past. The future is what matters now. Speak to your family. Do this without laying blame or guilt. It is a matter of facts and place those facts before them. You may be surprised and find there are others that would also wish to make a difference today. The residual effects of slavery are so prevalent in our country. The answer to this terrible disparity must come from the Euro-American. I commend you for your interest and I pray you will not stop with only questions. You can make a difference. Your work in this area could be especially powerful BECAUSE of your ancestors.