Z. Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe. This piece appeared
in the August 6 issue.
wrote a piece saying America should apologize for slavery. This
resulted in an expected deluge of e-mails castigating me for dredging
up events that most white Americans today deny any tie to.
did not touch with a 10-foot American flagpole whether their white
privilege of today is in any way due to the fact that America
grew fat on slavery for nearly 250 years and white immigrants
moved past black folks for another 100 years in housing and education
under government-sanctioned segregation and repression.
on top of columns defending affirmative action for African-Americans,
Latinos, and Native Americans at the University of Michigan. It's
over, the e-mails said. Get over it. Get a life.
my feigned surprise that even as many white readers continue to
vent their anger at me, Congress is openly entertaining reparations
for white people in the plains, the prairies, the swamps, and
the mountains. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and 16 other
Democratic and Republican senators representing South Dakota,
Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa,
Georgia, Louisiana, and West Virginia have introduced the New
the federal government established the original Homestead Act,
which used free land to lure people out West (well, free once
it was stolen by slaughtering the Indians). One hundred forty-one
years later, the rural parts of America's heartland, once so fertile
for so many small farmers and mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, changed
as agribusiness and Wal-Mart moved in. Small factories lost jobs
overseas. Young people with fewer opportunities fled for the bright
lights and computer-oriented work of the cities.
heartland, 70 percent of rural counties have lost an average of
30 percent of their population in the last 20 years. The states
that have lost the most people since 1980 have been the Dakotas,
Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and Iowa. ''The heartland of our country
is being relentlessly depopulated, and we need to do something
about it,'' Dorgan has said.
factories and mills left the black community in the Northern Rust
Belt or the Southern mills, America said tough luck, that's how
the global economy crumbles. No one did anything about the redlining
that froze home values in black communities while prices soared
in the suburbs. Decimated black farmers say it is still hard to
get loans from the US Department of Agriculture despite a 1999
settlement (there were black farmers who took advantage of the
Homestead Act, but their communities withered away a long time
ago). For years the Urban League called for a Marshall Plan to
rescue inner cities.
of Capitol Hill and the states to lack of opportunity for African-Americans
was an unprecedented prison boom. Ten percent of African-American
men ages 25 through 29 are in jail, compared with 1.2 percent
of white Americans the same age.
and his fellow senators are not so heartless for the heartland.
For recent college graduates who resettle for at least five years
in depopulated plains counties, the government would repay up
50 percent of their college loans up to $10,000.
who stayed five years would get a $5,000 tax credit on their purchase.
Any losses in value could be deducted from their taxes. New businesses
would get tax credits. A $3 billion venture capital fund would
guarantee up to 40 percent of the smaller start-ups and up to
60 percent of large manufacturing ventures.
Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has also suggested tax incentives that
would make it easier for banks to make loans to new small farmers.
''No one county or state can turn this around on its own,'' Dorgan
has said. ''But the country as a whole can do it if it decides
the heartland is important to save.''
you know, Amtrak will have high-speed rail from Duluth to Des
As a native
of the heartland who lived in Milwaukee and Kansas City, I understand
the visceral appeal of some sort of rural preservation. Dorgan
said the New Homestead Act is ''a bill to reward the hard work
and risk of individuals who choose to live in and help preserve
America's small, rural towns and for other purposes.''
effort is also an inadvertent slap in the face of generations
of African-Americans who worked hard in hard jobs made harder
by segregation and discrimination. There was no Dorgan to offer
a restoration program after the economic rug was pulled out from
a decade now, Representative John Conyers of Michigan has asked
for a commission merely to study the issue of reparations. All
he gets is a derisive laugh from colleagues.
heartland of America could eventually get tax credits, college
loan repayments, and guarantees against losses. It is affirmative
action and reparations all rolled into one. When black folks want
it, we're beggars. When white folks want it, they're hard workers.
That is an example of how white privilege has remained alive from
the time America stole the land for the first Homestead Act to
today's proposal for a new one.
Z. Jackson's e-mail address is [email protected].
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.