Our nation owes people of color a great debt. If not for their service, this nation would not be the strongest, most affluent country in the world. Yet we too often forget the price people of color have paid for our good fortune. Many people of color have been killed, maimed, tortured and traumatized both physically and emotionally. Those who survived often passed this trauma to children and grandchildren. Those of us who have not experienced the inhumanity that people of color experience are not in a position to judge them. We do have a responsibility to respond to their injury.
Our nation cannot repay our debt to people of color. However, there are many ways in which we can express our appreciation for their contributions. We can pay the tuition and living expenses of people of color in college and vocational school. We can offer people of color low cost mortgages guaranteed by the government. We can provide people of color with low interest loans to start businesses. We can give businesses who hire people of color significant tax credits. We can provide inexpensive healthcare to people of color. In these ways, while we never fully compensate people of color for their injury and loss, we demonstrate our commitment to their success.
Now that you’ve read this argument, pause for a moment to check your emotional response. Are you sympathetic or angry? Convinced or offended? Do you find the suggestions for specific reparations reasonable or an injustice to white people? Once you’ve determined your emotional response, reread the opening two paragraphs and insert “veterans” wherever you read “people of color.”
If you found the argument for reparations for people of color offensive, but find those same sentiments reasonable when applied to veterans, what does this say about you? Why would you support the benefits of the GI Bill, but oppose any legislation offering these same benefits to people of color? And, before you try to diminish the parallels between the experiences of people of color and veterans, consider what your support for veterans indicates.
1. You believe our nation has a responsibility to those injured in service to our nation, even if this injury was many years in the past.
2. You believe it is possible to target compensation to a specific group of people.
3. You believe the nation has the economic ability to offer a specific group of people special benefits,
4. You believe that all members of this specific group, regardless of the extent of their injury, by their inclusion in this targeted group deserve the same benefits.
So, if you are opposed to reparations for people of color, your opposition must be motivated by something other than the reasons above. If not for racial bias, why would you oppose this response for people of color when you so enthusiastically support it for veterans?
People of color and veterans cannot be compared
While the experiences of people of color and veterans are not identical, they are comparable. In both circumstances, every American has benefited from their pain and trauma. In both cases, the success of our nation is directly connected to their service and work. With each group, the white person or non-veteran should be grateful and not resentful. Indeed, you could argue that people of color are more deserving of these benefits than veterans. Many veterans volunteered to serve. People of color were enslaved and face systemic discrimination without their consent. Veterans served for a specific time. People of color are burdened for a lifetime.
Making reparations to people of color would bankrupt the nation
Few would make such an argument against offering these benefits to veterans. The passing of the GI Bill in 1944 was applauded as just and reasonable. Granting this largesse to veterans did not bankrupt the country. Indeed, economists consider the GI Bill as one of the primary wealth creators of the 20th century, catapulting millions of white families into the middle class. Raising the economic status of people of color could have a similar impact on the American economy, inviting millions of people of color into the middle class. Reparations should be seen as a national investment and not a redistribution of wealth.
It’s too hard to determine who qualifies for how much reparation
A veteran is someone who joined the armed forces. A person of color is someone who is not identified as white by our culture. Ancestry and DNA is irrelevant. Systemic racism is targeted at people who society identifies as non-white. Determining the extent of the damage is also irrelevant. All veterans receive benefits even if they were uninjured. Likewise, descendants of slaves may have experienced a more serious injury, but every person of color in our society has and does experience the wounds of racial bias and discrimination. No one would demand to see a veteran’s scars and no one should require a person of color to prove injury.
I won’t be motivated by guilt for something I didn’t do
Those of us who did not serve in the armed forces should not feel guilty, but we should feel a genuine responsibility for aiding those who did. Those who have not directly participated in the discrimination and oppression of people of color should not feel guilty, but we too should feel an ethical responsibility to right this wrong. If we can make the distinction between guilt and responsibility for veterans, we can make it in responding to people of color. However, it is important to remember that when it comes to veterans, the injuries were caused by others. When it comes to people of color, the injuries were caused by our nation. Therefore, our responsibility is even greater than for a veteran.
I am opposed to any redistribution of wealth
It is possible to oppose reparations for people of color and not be racist. If you are opposed to any redistribution of wealth, opposing reparations – while ethically questionable – is a consistent position. However, to hold this position, you must be willing to apply your objections to both reparations and programs targeting veterans. If not, it is probably time to examine your racial bias and reflect on why you’re able to justify one redistribution and vilify another.
If we do this, when will it ever end?
With both our support of veterans and of people of color, we must offer these benefits until they are no longer necessary. When wars cease, we will no longer need a GI Bill. When systemic racism ends, we will no longer need reparations. When the economic vitality of people of color is no different than that of white people, we will know we have succeeded. Reparations can end. Until that day, our nation has a responsibility to pay its debts.