We often talk about social justice at BlueNC, but we rarely talk about reparations. I'd like to take a step in that direction this morning. I'm not an expert on the subject and until recently didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. This article in the May issue of The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates helped me get over the hurdle of understanding the necessity of reparations.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
Part of what kept me from embracing the idea of reparations was the enormity of what needs to be done and the knowledge that it won't be enough.
How do you put a price on a slave's life? We aren't going to find a number in an actuarial table to help us here. There is no magic formula and no matter what number we come up with it will be woefully inadequate.
How do you put a price on a man or woman's freedom? Again, you will not find a handy formula for calculating this figure. Africans were stolen from their homelands and were shackled into cramped spaces in the bellies of ships. If they survived the journey, these men and women were sold at auction and faced lives of hard labor and torture.
How do you put a price on the opportunities lost to American Slaves and their descendants, especially when Black Americans continue to face hurdles that are not placed in front of the rest of us?
I still haven't answered these questions. I do not know specifically how we do this. I do not know how we determine who is a descendant of slaves. I do not know how we calculate an amount or whether we are talking about cash or other programs like free college tuition and special mortgage programs. We may never come up with a perfect solution, but we should not let that keep us from trying.
We also need to understand that reparations are not the end. There is no magical moment of healing that comes from this. It is simply a step in the right direction.