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Est. April 5, 2002
June 27, 2019 - Issue 795

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Reparations: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Testifies in Washington DC

"For too many white Americans of whatever political
affiliation, there’s a wish to see blacks disappear
rather than racism. Just ignore black people and maybe
the problem of racism, of white supremacy, of that ugly
history we’d rather not confront will disappear."

As historian Ed Baptist has written, enslavement ‘shaped

every crucial aspect of the economy and politics’ of America,

so that by 1836 more than $600 million, almost half of the

economic activity in the United States, derived directly

or indirectly from the cotton produced by the million-odd slaves.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Testimony before Congress on Reparations

I watched Ta-Nehisi Coates’ testimony before the US Congress on June 19, 2019. Juneteenth. The subject of the hearing was Reparations.

As an older black woman, I was proud to witness another generation of black Americans speak with conviction and courage while articulating the African American experience in the US of A, beginning with our enslavement, through to the era of legalized segregation to the mass incarceration of generations of black Americans for non-violent offenses.

Coates spoke of the “plunder” of black lives, lives that didn’t matter either to colonizers in the Old World nor colonizers in the New World.

I was proud to watch a younger black American speak truth to power; yet, as I’ve said again and again, I’m in my mid-sixties, and I never thought we’d be here when, in Chicago, I looked forward in the year 1969, the year I joined the struggle. This nation still requires another generation of blacks to provide a history lesson on the violence inflicted on African Americans as a result of Africa, the birthplace of humanity, becoming a land in which to rob it of resources and human laborers. This nation still requires a history lesson on the backlash against black gains during Reconstruction and the subsequent era of Jim Crow and the continuation of torture, rape, and the added “sport” of lynching.

In the 1970s, thanks to President Nixon, and the 1980s, thanks to President Reagan, and once against, the 1990s, thanks to President Bill Clinton, crime became synonymous with black lives that just simply didn’t matter. Subject to police brutality, to workplace and housing discrimination, to inadequate education in rundown and underfunded schools, white America, whether liberal or conservative, believes there’s nothing more than can be done to make up for those years, way back when—the current generations of whites alive weren’t even around.

As part of his testimony, Coates addressed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s articulation for white Americans who can’t fathom why blacks are even thinking about Reparations. McConnell, speaking with the authority of an American steeped in the narrative of white supremacy and its justification for the outright dismissal of anything black America puts forth regarding white responsibility for enslavement, announced to the world that Reparations, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle, was out of the question. How absurd a thought! Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle, to think America, Americans, fellow white citizens, would even consider such a notion as Reparations. Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.

Reparations—never! Who is alive from bygone days of slavery?

However absurd the notion of Reparations to McConnell, generations of white Americans alive today benefit from those years in which blacks toiled in the sun, in cotton and tobacco fields. Along with generations before them, not to mention, generations to come, America become the superpower it is today because of the very profitable enterprise of enslavement. Free labor means something!

It is impossible,” Coates tells the world, “to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery?”

Don’t we know this by now?

Can’t white Americans recall, as does Coates and millions of black Americans, the “relentless campaign of terror” inflicted on African Americans, “a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell” and the lifetimes of millions of white Americans? It’s not just hundreds of years of enslavement, of torture, of rape, of cruelty and brutality, but also the destruction of black communities, black lives well into the future. Into the now of our lives in the United States.

Enslavement becomes free labor coerced from incarcerated blacks. Lynching is the shooting of blacks by law enforcement, fearful of their lives.

It is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from enslavement, but the logic of enslavement, of white supremacy, respects no such borders and the guard of bondage was lustful and begat many heirs. Coup d’états and convict leasing. Vagrancy laws and debt peonage. Redlining and racist G.I. bills. Poll taxes and state-sponsored terrorism. We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox. But he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama and a regime premised on electoral theft. Majority Leader McConnell cited civil-rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them. He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion. Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they’d love a word with the majority leader.”

In terms of the economy, money, profits—a legacy of privilege and power for white America—and subjugation of black America obliged the occupiers and the white immigrants to come. Holding a people back if theft, and there’s no innocence in this operation.

White American sees itself as victims of black people’s annoying reminders of those old days—the bad parts—best left hidden behind the golden locks of little Shirley Temple.

Perhaps the problem is you and your propensity for charging racism here and racism there!

We are greeted every time either with confounded looks or anger. Either way, white America exonerates itself from the massive campaigns of violence perpetrated against blacks and Indigenous Americans.

Which brings us to Joe Biden, so clueless as to believe he isn’t a racist. Hell no! Not a racist bone in his body, even if he befriended segregationist Sen. James Eastland who didn’t call him “boy” but “son.” Yeah, son. Of course! And Anita Hills’ testimony was funny, wasn’t it?

This on the day of Coates’ testimony.

Don’t call me a racist!

How many times have we heard those words?

For too many white Americans of whatever political affiliation, there’s a wish to see blacks disappear rather than racism. Just ignore black people and maybe the problem of racism, of white supremacy, of that ugly history we’d rather not confront will disappear.

And what doesn’t disappear so easily is ignored. So how many whites talked to me about the black family confronted by fearful police officers? How many mentioned any black murdered by law enforcement? But it’s always a shame to hear about crime—black crime—in Chicago!

Be good! Be a good n_____g!

We live in different worlds. I think about someone like Kalief Browder, surrounded by white America’s crime narrative, contemplating suicide while in solitary confinement. Not even convicted. A backpack he said he didn’t steal. Three years in total. Locked up. Thinking about suicide.

And he takes his life after his release.

Just the other day, Trump, according to the RNC, raises $24.8 million in less than 24 hours.

And Coates is testifying to the black experience in America but is white America listening?

Nonetheless, I watched Ta-Nehisi Coates’ testimony. I think black America did too. Particularly the younger generations looking to be a part of a new era, divorced from the unfree. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.
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