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How I Can Offer Reparations in Direct Proportion to My White Privilege (


I had a fascinating breakfast conversation with my 11-year-old daughter a few days back. The nigh before I had a fitful dream - one that was short on plot and imagery, but chock-full of emotion. In this case, the feeling was of a deep, immovable sorrow. When I awoke, it didn't take long to recognize that the article I'd been working on - this article - was definitely working on me, too.

During breakfast I knew my daughter could tell I wasn’t on solid ground. She’s a sensitive soul, and I figured I should go ahead and tell her what was going on. “I’m struggling with my article, Isa,” I told her. She already knew that I was working on a piece about reparations. The word was new to her, though the concept was second-nature. She took a bite of her apple as I continued: “What do you do when there’s more damage than you could ever hope to repair?” Still chewing, Isa gently prodded me with her eyes, not quite understanding what I was getting at. “Like with what White people have done—and continue to do—to Black people and to Native Americans,” I said. “All the violence and theft. All the broken promises. What do you do when there’s so much more than you could possibly repair?”

Isa finished her bite, then spoke without hesitation: “You should repair as much as you can,” she said. “And then you should teach young people about what happened, so it doesn’t happen again.” Guileless, she took another bite from her apple. It gave her time to find the rest of her answer: “And you need to say sorry.”

We’re in a bona fide all-hands-on-deck situation here. To rally the strength and vision our historical moment requires, our many and varied social and ecological movements are being called beyond mere collaboration and intersectionality. We’re being called to a level of coherence and unity unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.

My purpose here is different. I’m addressing White folks already in the choir to make the case that at the cusp of the convergence of a great movement of movements, the widespread, systematic enactment of reparations for the victims of White supremacy in the U.S. should be at the top of our social change priority list.

I say this cognizant of the fact that those of us who identify as White, or who are identified as White in our society, represent a huge and unwieldy spectrum. The spoils of slavery, genocide, and continuing systemic racism are distributed among us in a most unequal fashion. The call for reparations doesn’t frame White America as a monolith. Rather, it challenges each of us to take responsibility for our part and to repair what we can and should.

A radically hopeful beginning would be for those of us who are White and who are already awake to the moral rightness and necessity of reparations to set aside enough time for some brutally honest personal inquiry: What might it look like for me to offer reparations right now, in direct proportion to the unearned advantages (including, for those of us who have it, surplus wealth) that my Whiteness has afforded me?

“Repair as much as you can.”

Nobiss insists that reparations must be multifaceted and believes that direct action can be one of its most powerful expressions. “It’s all about intention,” she says. “We saw reparations on the front lines at Standing Rock, when White people—who had come to realize how much violence and abuse people of color are facing—put their bodies in front of Indigenous people to protect them. I can’t think of a more intrinsic example of reparations than of putting your own life on the line.”

“Teach young people about what happened, so it doesn’t happen again.”

The bottom line being that treating such content as an add-on, if that, to White-centric curricula is a grievous example of White supremacy that needs to go. What’s needed instead is holistic, truth-telling curricula that presents Black subject content “as part of an ongoing narrative of oppression and resilience, not as historical artifacts.” Clearly the same holds true for Native American content, and that of the other groups that have been victims of White supremacy in the U.S.

“Say sorry.”

Neither Bill Clinton’s expression of regret in 1998 for slavery or the U.S. Congress’s official apology in 2008 for slavery and Jim Crow cut through the media haze in our country. Even more obscured was the 2009 apology to Native Americans enacted by Congress and President Obama, which was buried deeply and tragically within a defense appropriations bill. Few Americans are aware that any such official apologies were ever made.

To read more of Chris Moore-Backman's article, please click here.

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