…and a dollar short. Isn’t that how the saying goes?
I usually post on a Thursday. I like Thursdays. I was born on a Thursday. You remember the nursery rhyme? Thursday’s child has far to go…. The line has special meaning for me. I sure enough know I have far to go—
But I’m not really thinking about the fact that I’m posting on Friday, a day later than I usually do. Or even about the fact that, as I opened my laptop, I had no idea what I might post.
I’m thinking about reparations. —Just that. Because I’m still thinking on it. Studying on it. And, for you religious types, “pondering it in my heart.”
For those of you who aren’t religious, or who are unfamiliar with that particular passage in the New Testament, the phrase refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus. After the shepherds pay an after-hours visit to the newborn Christ-child and then return to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God….” Mary is sitting there in the dark stable or cave or wherever, having just given birth if we take Luke at his word. Perhaps she is reeling from the shepherds’ overexcited jabbering about angels and saviors. Perhaps pondering that her song-response to her cousin Elizabeth may have been more prophetic than she realized. Pondering, namely, that her whole world, that everyone’s world, is about to be turned upside down.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the [MOST HIGH]….
[God] has shown strength with his arm;
[God] has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly;
[God] has filled the hungry with good thingsLuke 1:46, 51-53 (NRSVUE)
and sent the rich away empty….
What I’m pondering is, what it would mean in our day and age for the proud to be scattered. For the powerful to be brought down and the lowly lifted up, for the hungry to be filled with good things and the rich turned away with empty hands–
What I’m pondering is what it would mean for white supremacy to make reparations to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of color. For white people to turn our racialized world upside down.
Just to be clear, I’m speaking to people who, like me, have been racialized white. Biologically there is no such thing as race. Race is an artificial construct that so-called white people came up with to maintain their dominant position in society. It is a false concept that turned the preaching of Jesus—especially the bit about love of neighbor and the story of the Good Samaritan—upside down in an effort to keep the hierarchical pyramid scheme rightside up, with so-called white people on top. (But only certain white people—a subject for a future post.)
When it comes to making reparations to people of color, doesn’t it feel like we’re more than a day late and much, much more than a dollar short?
During the period of Reconstruction, right after the Civil War, I do believe there were some people in the US government who sought a way to repair the breach–another good Biblical reference, from Isaiah 58. Reconstruction was an excellent opportunity to make reparations, and they began by distributing land to formerly enslaved people who found themselves newly freed and in need of places to live and work. There were attempts made by right-thinking people, both white and Black, to legislate reparations, to enshrine them in the Constitution: The 14th and 15th Amendments. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, passed by Congress over a Presidential veto. The Congressional investigation into the Ku Klux Klan—much like our current hearings on the January 6 insurrection—where Congress listened to the testimony of Black people for 8 months and published a report, including first-person stories, on March 10, 1871. (I’ve already ordered my copy of their findings.)
While I don’t have the space (or the knowledge) to go into the details here, anyone reading this page knows that such attempts at reparations, even on paper, were soon buried underneath laws—much like the laws being enacted currently all across the South, as well as in states across the country—aimed at restricting the access of Black people to the ballot and terrorizing them if they dared to find a way to vote anyway. Laws enforcing the segregation of everything, from railway cars to hotel accommodations, to restrooms and water fountains. Laws of the Jim Crow South, which took its name from the infamous character created by a famous minstrel singer, a white man in blackface who acted like a buffoon and parodied Black vernacular, distorting it and—
Hey, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I know that.
What I didn’t know was that for a few short years after the Civil War, during the active period of Reconstruction, there were actually Black senators in Southern states, like South Carolina, and in the US Congress, as well as representatives of color at every level of government. Black people began to establish colleges and schools, with Black teachers who held a passionate desire to instill Black pride into their students.
What I didn’t know is that, for one, brief, shining moment, there was a chance that our society might fundamentally change, that the written promises of freedom, of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” might actually be realized for everyone, regardless of the color of our skin.
Reparations: it’s a loaded word for many white people. Especially people for whom it is already a stretch to say that Black Lives Matter, who get all tangled up in arguments that all lives matter. As if there had ever been a time in this country when white lives didn’t matter. (Another subject for a future blog post.)
Meanwhile: Reparations–I’m going to leave the word here for all of us to ponder. Yes, it will mean turning the world as we know it upside down. Let’s not dissemble about that–
But seeing as how we’re more than 54,870 days late and a few billion (or trillion) dollars short, I think it’d be a good idea to make a start.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, by Henry Louis Gates on PBS: https://www.pbs.org/weta/reconstruction/
(By the way, I have no affiliate links on this site; everything I recommend is simply something I’ve found helpful and interesting.)