Note to my white self…
I’m really glad you understand the depth of the injustice inflicted on people of color in the United States. You’ve done your homework. You’ve educated yourself about the genocide of Native Americans, the horrors of slavery, the massacre at Wounded Knee, the reign of the KKK, the exploitation of Chinese workers in mines and on the railroad, the institution of Jim Crow Laws, the exclusion of people of color from the New Deal, the internment of the Japanese, the oppression of migrant workers and the continued mass incarceration of people of color. You’ve expanded your understanding of history beyond the whitewashed version you were taught in school.
I’m glad you’ve become a proponent of reparations, of systemic compensation for systemic oppression. This isn’t a popular position in a white culture enamored by the myth of a level playing field. You can expect to be mocked and vilified for suggesting white people have a responsibility for the racist acts of their ancestors, for pointing out the presence of systemic racism today and for acknowledging the need to balance the scales. Stand firm. Your verbal support for reparations helps deconstruct justifications for past and present injustice.
But verbal support isn’t enough.
You’re not naïve. You know, in this present political climate, the odds of reparations becoming a reality are slim to none. You know that for the past twenty-five years, US Representative John Conyers has introduced the HR 40 bill, calling for a study of the impact of slavery and appropriate remedies, and has watched both Republican and Democrat Congresses ignore that bill. You know rhetoric is unlikely to make reparations a reality.
So don’t be guilty of what conservatives claim. Don’t let your support for reparations be an act of virtue signaling. It is far too easy to support reparations when they are unlikely to ever occur. You can claim nobility without any personal cost. If you really support reparations, you don’t have to wait on other whites to agree. You don’t have to wait on a Congressional study committee. You don’t have to wait on legislation remedying past injustices. If you truly believe in reparations, you can begin paying them today.
Here are a few simple suggestions…
- Make a significant monthly donation to organizations that work with or for people of color. Treat that donation as a monthly debt obligation and not as an act of charity. Give enough to notice the difference in your bank account.
- Seek out businesses and professional services owned by people of color even if they aren’t the lowest bidder. Invest in the entrepreneurial endeavors of people of color, knowing that traditional sources of capital are often denied to them.
- Offer your products and services to people of color at a discounted price. Eliminate any economic behavior that exploits people of color. Make certain domestic workers, roofers, and landscapers aren’t being exploited for your benefit.
- Tip people of color twice the norm when they serve you.
- Assist a person of color in attending college or vocational school.
- Attend events and performances created and sponsored by people of color. If you are never the minority at an event, make that happen.
- Financially support people of color who are seeking political office.
- Consider including people of color and their causes in your will, thereby redistributing your accumulated wealth.
Since you are in favor of reparations, begin today. Until you begin doing these things, your economic footprint is exactly the same as that of a white supremacist. You both benefit equally in the advantages of white privilege. Neither of you are paying your debts.
Be the change you want to see. If thousands of white people like you began to pay reparations, the economic scales in America might begin to subtly shift. In that process, more people of color will be empowered and political momentum could change. Perhaps, if enough people commit to personal reparations, “justice will finally roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
(This post is the third in a three part series on reparations. The first post in the series was “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question” and the second post was “A Reasonable Reparation.”