Crafting A True Reparations Plan (But First, Don’t Call It That)
Reparations for African (or American) Descendants of Slaves (#ADOS) has been a longtime aspiration of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). National discourse on reparations is gaining momentum following the 2018 Blue Wave election victory and Democrats taking control of the House. These discussions, in my opinion, unfortunately, miss the mark. While I am in favor of reparations and even a “Truth and Reconciliation” effort, I am well aware of the war waged against Black Americans and a multicultural society in general.
I believe the discussion of reparations will unfortunately never translate into actionable steps without a very specific vision, strategy, plan and method of paying for the implementation of a viable plan with measurable milestones toward specified goals with equitable outcomes. This level of visioning, strategy, planning and investing will never come from within White America, including from those who are allied with Black Americans on this issue. Sustainable solutions must come from the affected class of Americans.
Principally, and generally speaking, the vast majority of White Americans lack the knowledge of their own history of hostilities against Black Americans and the severity of the generational economic impact to fully understand the social and economic carnage created by their ancestors. Moreover, the vast majority of educated White Americans still lack knowledge of the last six decades of damage that their own grandparents, parents, and now they themselves have done and continue to do to exacerbate the egregious evils of segregationist policies and practices that protect white supremacy while oppressing nonwhites.
We can measure the damage. White leaders and influencers simply refuse to calculate the carnage. They won’t even discuss it. Even media ignore these data.
So, it is up to us, the affected class of Americans to design a sustainable solution of restitution and restoration. And given the rise of consistent discourse around reparations in Congress and the across America, we need to leverage the narrative now to direct discourse toward actionable and productive steps.
Ongoing National Discourse
Problem: The Reparations argument cannot be heard by White America because most White Americans aren’t knowledgeable enough about the extent of damages caused by systemic biases inherent in institutional policies and practices to fully understand the need for repair and restoration of targeted peoples over generations. Most of White America has bought into white supremacist propaganda that dismisses the problems stemming from slavery as ancient history. Most of White America believes that widespread systemic “racism” is a myth and doesn’t feel comfortable talking about race unless it is about White Americans, in which case the term “race” is omitted.
White supremacy is largely believed to be a problem only within fringe, marginalized extremists circles. And America is widely believed to be a meritocratic equitable society built on a foundation of generosity and benevolence inherent in a uniquely American democratic society that serves as a moral authority and leader for the world’s nations to emulate.
For this ingrained belief to be penetrated by truth would require a complete paradigm shift. That process would require a re-education of the American people with truth of their own hidden history. Most of White America has never even heard about the “most important event in US history,” the Negro American Revolution.
Solution: The nation is in desperate need of an ongoing history lesson that can only be provided through national discourse, debate and a full transparent airing of the past, present and future. This can happen through the funding of a Truth & Reconciliation Council that is created and operated through an existing network of Regional Development Organizations already funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (or “EDA”). RDOs have a national association and a footprint of economic development strategy and planning in every region across the United States. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel needs updating to include a driving governor that steers its direction. The National T&R Council can be supported by regional T&R Councils. They could exist inside of the existing RDOs but created as co-equal to RDOs with veto power over any Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) plan that fails to include equitable constructs, investments and measurable milestones for communities of color. The T&R Councils could also collaborate with local schools across all education levels. That’s the beginning structure. The daily operation of T&R Councils is a deeper dive conversation.
Problem: The first-level battleground for segregationist policies and practices protecting white supremacy is at the public schools level, where kids of color are the targets of ugly vile abusive hostility. Segregation of schools is as old as Black Americans ourselves. Prior to 1868, there were no such people as Black “Americans” because the US was established as a whites-only citizenry. “Black Americans” were born with the 14th amendment in 1868. And that triggered a war-like backlash from white Christian conservatives against black people, multiculturalism, and an Inclusive America that continues to this day.
As recent as 1960, little Ruby Bridges took the first step to integrate an all-White elementary school in New Orleans. Pupil Placement Laws that nullified the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education had ensured the Court’s ruling of desegregating schools with “all deliberate speed” would be met with “all deliberate delay” indefinitely, as Dr. King eloquently wrote in his book “Why We Can’t Wait” (which public schools still don’t have on their required reading list today).
Kids of color continue to suffer in low-quality public schools today that are as segregated now as they were on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In the world’s wealthiest nation, white Americans place the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable children as the lowest level of investment priority. This low prioritization of kids of color and racist dynamic in public policies hasn’t changed since Black Americans were forced to build our own schools and our own colleges and universities (HBCUs) over a 100-year span leading up to the Negro American Revolution in 1963.
Solutions: We must prioritize investing in public schools serving high poverty communities. We must redesign segregationist policies in school funding (currently based on real estate taxes that ensure white schools remain well-funded while nonwhite schools suffer). We must establish a strategy of investment priority that ensures elevation of the quality of schools serving high poverty communities to attain and sustain equal opportunities comparable to the nation’s best public schools. Every city should be able to point to its best public schools … all serving its most vulnerable populations. Whatever this costs, we can afford as the world’s wealthiest country.
Problem: In 1962, James Meredith was compelled to sue the University of Mississippi for denying him access to enrollment despite the fact he qualified in all measures. A Supreme Court ruling forced open the doors of the university, which was just one among an entire landscape of higher education institutions across the nation denying Black students access based on longstanding discriminatory practices. Meredith’s entry into the school was delayed as the governor stood in the doorway and barred access. A crowd of thousands gathered and a riot broke out. The military was required to quell the violence, but not before many people were injured and some killed. Meredith’s first day of school risked his life. I was born that year.
Solution: All students of color today whose families have a net worth less than $150K should be offered access to any college of their choice completely free of tuition, books and fees, with room and board included as long as they graduate high school with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Students with lower grades should be offered free access to two-year community colleges. Black American students attending four-year institutions should do so unencumbered by financial strains as long as they meet a minimum standard of 2.0 GPA each year.
Problem: All 2.6 million black-owned businesses today produce less than 1 percent GDP. This data point has never changed as long as the government has gathered data. It will never change unless a priority focus is placed on changing it.
Today, Whites still own 80 percent of all employer firms. Asians own 52 percent of the minority employer firms. Given the reality that ownership of assets builds wealth, and Black Americans have long been denied access to wealth-building opportunities through economic deprivation policies and practices, it is time to redesign an equitable economic infrastructure that prioritizes the growth of minority entrepreneurship and employer firms.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described three triggers of the Negro American Revolution in his 1964 book, “Why We Can’t Wait” (discrimination in education, housing and banking). Today, those three triggers remain. And the banking industry has internalized discriminatory practices to such a degree that in the decade following the Great Recession, the top banks paid fines of more than $243 billion for discriminatory practices that they were caught continuing to engage in. It’s been more than 50 years since we lost King to an assassin’s bullet. Yet, the segregationist policies and practices he fought against persist. It is time to hold the financial industry accountable for its role in systemic biases and widespread historic discrimination that continues today.
Solution: Every public school should incorporate entrepreneurship education, from elementary schools through high schools and colleges. Entrepreneurship Centers should be funded on all college campuses, including community colleges. A National Seed Fund should be established that can invest in market-testing ideas submitted by Black American innovators that meet a minimum standard.
A National Innovation Competition Tournament (think NCAA bracket) should be established to tap into the hidden talent and innovative genius of Americans of all races. Every state should run the tourney with entry levels for elementary, high school, college students, adults 25-55 and seasoned citizens 55+. All winning ideas at each level will receive cash prize investments along with a package of resources to assist the entrepreneurs in developing their ideas in the market.
Additionally, every region should be equipped with an Economic Gardening Center with free and low-cost resources to help existing minority small businesses sustain themselves and reach growth potential (i.e. job-creation level) with an emphasis on sustainability and growth of Black and Hispanic businesses in areas of industry growth in today’s global innovation economy and Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Question of Costs …
Obviously, when solutions are offered there will be questions of how to pay for them. America is the wealthiest nation on earth with a GDP of more than $21 trillion and annual business revenues that top $34 trillion. Our annual military budget of $700B is greater than the next seven largest military budgets in the world combined! The vast majority of America’s wealth is concentrated within the top 10 percent. The presumed lack of capacity to fund an economic overhaul of a capitalist system built by white supremacists to benefit white power and control in perpetuity is preposterous. America has the funds. We just need to have very specific targets where adequate funds can be invested and accessed. I have a number of ideas how this can occur even before the next election is held.
As long as we continue to speak in generalities and aspirations, we will risk undermining the energy and political will to take actionable steps. The term “reparations” is a trigger. It has all the same triggers as the term “racism.”
Few folks in White America want to discuss either reparations or racism. And the term slavery shuts most White Americans completely down. They don’t connect the dots and don’t see the correlation between slavery and the circumstances of today among Black Americans because they don’t know their own history of constant unrelenting wars waged against Native Americans, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and all immigrants of color. This historical void leaves nothing to link each of the 15 decades from today’s political environment back to the end of the Civil War in 1865 when White Americans had to revisit the original question they asked when forming the United States: What will we do with Black people? Since 1868 and the 14th amendment to this very day, White Americans have continued to battle relentlessly over that same question. The idea of establishing a multicultural Inclusive America with equal standing among all citizens of all races is still not a settled matter among White Christian conservatives.
This is why I propose a different approach to moving the ball forward. “Reparations” by any other name would still be better than closeted groups of Black Americans complaining to each other about how bad things are with no ability to affect a change in systemic policies that maintain the status quo.
I prefer to drop the “reparations” moniker and focus specifically on a clear vision, strategy and plan. That (reparations) plan can be introduced under a more favorable title and branding that attracts more support. But that plan will still address the basic elements of economic deprivation and disenfranchisement suffered by generations of Black Americans dating back to the 14th amendment in 1868.
This approach leaves the slavery issue out of the national discourse. The birth of an Inclusive America was 1868. The 14th amendment was supposed to address the question of what should the United States government do with four million newly freed slaves after the Civil War? The answer introduced by White Congressional Radicals: Make Black people equal US citizens with Whites with equal protections under the law. This solution, established as the core driving force of progressive politics in America, triggered a severe backlash from White Christian conservatives, across both the political and social landscapes, who sought then to “… maintain the status quo” as Dr. King wrote.
The resulting battle with President Andrew Johnson, who defunded the Freedmen’s Bureau and opposed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, has had lasting legacy implications beyond the failed impeachment and removal process that Congress executed against him. Johnson’s survival and the loss of the Freedmen’s Bureau has continued to plague Black Americans, who were targeted by a war waged against them for more than 100 years (1868 – 1968).
More than fifty years after we lost Dr. King to that war, we still see ongoing segregationist policies and practices that undermine success of the descendants of those families who became the first Black Americans in history in 1868.
I believe it is the responsibility of all Americans to redesign these inherited segregationist policies and build new equitable infrastructure with pathways to prosperity for future generations in an inclusive American society that invests in cultivating all of the talent inherent across all of America’s multicultural landscape. This redesign starts with a national Truth and Reconciliation process that leads to actionable steps toward repairing areas of our American body that have been deeply wounded for generations and need priority attention to restore to good health. #ados