Reparations: The Value of White Privilege
Highly Suspicious Christian Soldiers
Neighborhood Watch in Havana
Binges and Wars Over Wall Street

Dear Reader,

There are junctures in time that delineate human progress - or, sometimes, regression. For the moment, most Americans and others in the "West" think of September 11 as such a juncture, a date that, before or after which, epochs can be defined. This may or not prove to be true. Certainly, the perpetrators have a different interpretation of the significance of the attack than do those who suffered the brunt of it. Both parties will probably agree, however, on the historical weight of the numbers 9-11, at least until something even more time-wrenching comes along.

In the world as seen through African American eyes, definitions and delineations can also blur. What time period do we actually refer to when we speak of "The Sixties"? Was the 1963 March on Washington the starting point of the "era," and when did it "end"? Did the modern "Civil Rights Movement" begin with the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, or should the impetus of the Brown Supreme Court decision, a year earlier, be regarded as the seminal event? Why not Truman's order desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces, in 1947 or, better, A. Phillip Randolph's 1942 threat of a March on Washington unless President Roosevelt banned job discrimination in the war industry.

These are not idle exercises; everybody understands that you have to know where you've been in order to get where you want to go. Serious political thinkers strive to find their place in time, to figure out the significance of what they are seeing and doing, the long term meaning of events as they unfold. Once you believe you have a handle on the way time and events are flowing, you then reach for the impossible - the power to predict! - in order to achieve something that is possible: the ability to shape events in your own people's and cause's favor.

Points of departure

The Reparations movement marks a maturation and turning point in African American political thinking. In that sense, the August 17 "Millions for Reparations March," in Washington, may one day be seen as an historical juncture. In the future, participants in the long saga of the Reparations movement will argue over whether this summer's rally was the point of departure, or that "The Call" that went out from participants in the Durban, South Africa conference of 200l represented the signal event, or that Congressman John Conyers' 1989 introduction of a Reparations Study bill marked the movement's arrival - and on into the mists of previous decades.

What looms as a giant fact is that Black America is assuming "ownership" of the idea of Reparations in some form for the crimes of slavery, Jim Crow and whatever we will someday call the assaults that are occurring right now. By "ownership," I mean the kind of people-wide embrace that masses of African Americans finally extended to the word-concept-identity "Black" back in the days we now call The Sixties. We "owned" Black, and Black owned us. Rivers of ideas, energies, sacrifices, hopes and glorious failures flowed from that embrace.

The Reparations claim has become general, encompassing strong bodies of thought in all sectors of African American society. We need not worry about when it happened; the transformation has occurred. Unionists and businesspeople, scholars and street thugs, all share the common claim and complaint: we are owed by this society.

Now we have something righteous to argue about: in what form and by what means will we seek payback? That is an argument broad and deep enough to envelop and engage an entire people, and to sweep a nation down roads it does not want to go.

It is through this common claim that we can begin to address basic questions, such as the ones raised by Daniel Gainer in an e-Mail to this publication:

How long would reparations last? How much do people receive? Where does the money come from?

Notice that I said we could begin to answer such questions. Having arrived at popular agreement on the existence of The Debt (the title of Randall Robinson's indispensable book), it becomes incumbent upon the various constituencies of the Reparations movement to devise formulas and rationales for The Payback. This is where the really interesting stuff starts.

The symmetry of gain and loss

Some of our most illustrious lawyers say, not surprisingly, Sue the bastards! We at The Black Commentator wholeheartedly agree. Sue them all, public and private! The fruits of past, unpaid Black labor fatten others in every sector of present day society. In self-satisfied oblivion, the undeserving children of thieves live out our ancestors' stolen dreams. By all means, sue.

However, we the clients must demand a thorough and adequate tally of The Debt before any settlements are made in our name. During what will be a long and exhaustive process of "discovery" - to use the lawyers' term - an energized people will, we hope, look into the sources of every deep pocket in the land and around the globe. In the life and time of this noisy, often incoherent, joyful and sometimes dangerous Reparations movement, Black America will find itself propelled by its own momentum to examine the basic structure and workings of the society in ways that were only superficially ventured back in The Sixties.

What is the proper bill for Reparations? It is better to begin with the question, What is the value of white privilege and the resulting accumulation of wealth and status?

The Black Commentator raised that question in a May 8 essay, "The True Value of Some Land and an Animal," a what-might-have-been tale about a hypothetical Black family headed by an ex-slave named "Paul" during the 35 years following Emancipation. We explored the lost promise of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens' 1867 "Forty Acres and a Mule" legislation. In the process, white privilege was revealed as both the evidence and the spoils of the crime:

It is this privilege, which both public and private America conveyed to millions of white immigrants during "Paul's" era, that allowed non-English-speakers with foreign habits and sensibilities to push his generation aside. Without his land and mule, Paul never had a chance.

40 acres and a mule, combined with the coherence of a large population rooted in a common experience and speaking the same language, would have given African Americans a leg up as the nation was taking on modern form. The multiplying effects of Stevens' bill would have likely resulted in a relative Black advantage despite the proximity of the slave experience. The new and diverse crop of Europeans would have found it much harder to compete with free Black men and women. It is likely that many of their descendants would still be playing catch-up.

What these Europeans gained is what "Paul" and his lineage lost....

The U.S. gross domestic product was ten trillion, two hundred billion dollars in 2001. A portion of that amount is based solely on historical white privilege, the inherited gift that keeps on giving.

Compute the percentages and values as you choose. Use any model you like. The results will astound you; any fraction of $10 trillion is a lot of money, flowing year after year, reproducing more privilege. Misery isn't the only thing that gets passed down through generations.

One percent of $10 trillion is $100 billion, yearly.... The debt America owes to Blacks is huge, but so are its pockets.

Do we want a one percent Reparations tax? Only people in motion can make such demands. Who would administer the funds? Leadership and responsibility are demonstrated in struggle. (We can all name some folks who should definitely not be allowed near any money.) How long would reparations last? That depends on how long the movement can be sustained, and what uses the money is put to.

The crime-in-progress

Grievances rooted in a shared past can unify the children of oppression, but that is no substitute for programs of action suited to evolving, contemporary battlefields. The beauty of the call for Reparations is that it connects the crimes of the past to the outrages of the present.

In the past 50 years, the very landscape of America has been reshaped through a monstrous crime, a public-private conspiracy against Black America, the impact of which is easily visible from outer space. In August, we will publish an essay on the invention of Suburbia and its relevance to the Reparations movement, titled, "Who Pays for a World Turned Upside Down?"

The grand scope of the - literal - American reconstruction after World War Two was designed to meet a howling white demand: affordable housing and racial segregation. To achieve this, the national landscape would have to be reconfigured. The suburbs were born, and the core cities were brought near to death.

Now, how many billions in compensation is that crime worth? Don't bother with your calculator - the criminal enterprise is ongoing.

Suspicious minds

There is a disorienting disconnect between the fearsome technology of the U.S. military and the archaic crudeness of its Commander-in-Chief. George Bush threatens laser-death vengeance in every corner of a wired world, then slouches around like some good ol' boy racist provocateur back here on the ranch. His TIPS program is too racially brazen for even the sheep farmers in Congress to sanction. "Y'all see any 'spicious characters actin' funny and such, y'all call somebody, hear?"

Code words ain't code when they're that blatant.

It would truly require a national mobilization to involve one out of every 24 Americans in the Justice Department's proposed Terrorism Information and Prevention System. Attorney General John Ashcroft's millions of volunteers would need proper indoctrination as to what is, and what is not, suspicious. For example, Bible-thumping in the middle of the night is normal. Ashcroft does that all the time.

All white Christians are normal, including those who belong to the World Church of the Creator. That's the affiliation of the female half of a Boston couple, charged with planning to bomb, assassinate and otherwise provoke a race war that "would lead to an all-white Aryan nation," according to prosecutors. The church has a website, in which it piously proclaims to the victims of the World Trade Center attack, "Our condolences are extended to the families of those killed and to those injured who are of our White Race."

Good, Christian folk. Nothing suspicious about them.

The male Aryan belongs to the White Order of Thule, which must not be suspicious, since we've never seen the organization listed on any Homeland Security Terror Alert. We assume there is no Black Order of Thule - because that would be highly suspicious.

The Christian couple's neighbor, 22 year-old Harvard student Kathy McGaffigan, told reporters that she knew her friends were planning to build a bomb, but didn't want to pry.

"I was intimidated," she said. "Leo just got out of jail, and Erica was moving here on a whim. I didn't want to interrupt anything."

America. It's all about learning to fit in and get along.

Watching out for the neighborhood

A newspaper columnist who believes himself to be an open-minded, liberal kind of guy stole a sneer at the TIPS idea by comparing it to pervasive spying in the Countries Formerly Known As Communist, and to the very much alive and socialist republic, Cuba.

Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, are encouraged to operate in every Cuban neighborhood. I met with groups of CDR activists in both Havana and Santiago-de-Cuba, during a 1985 visit to the island, and was impressed with their... ordinariness.

With nests of terrorists living with impunity just across the water in Miami, constantly threatening to resume the bombings and sabotage of their homeland that were weekly events throughout the Sixties and Seventies, you'd think the CDR people would have been full of diatribes against the U.S. Instead, these middle aged busy-bodies, most of them women with grandchildren, talked constantly about sneaky youngsters who they suspected of being marijuana smokers, various good-for-nothings who didn't get up and go to work like they should, and men who like young girls.

Since I am nobody's dupe, I confronted the do-gooders: You're really a Neighborhood Watch, aren't you, I challenged. Deflated and defeated, they confessed: Yes, we watch the neighborhood. That's what we do. All the time.

Sisterly solidarity

The Women's wing of the Pan African Liberation Organization is pulling together "women's organizations and individuals that oppose the U.S. Blockade against Cuba." Their press release states, "PAWC believes that the women and children of Cuba are most affected by the illegal Blockade established by the U.S. in 1962."

The sisters are building toward an international display of solidarity on July 26 of next year, with "protests, press conferences and rallies to take place at U.S. Embassies all over the world."

The way things are going, it will be difficult to get near a U.S. embassy anywhere on the globe in 2003. Enemies, once mostly imagined, are certain to proliferate exponentially in the face of America's world-wide deployment of forces. Bush is like a mean drunk in a bar; before the night is out, everybody wants to kick his ass. Unfortunately, his butt is attached to our own.

Binging other people's lives away

The real crisis - the one that shakes up the corporations that run the newspapers - is the crisis of confidence that threatens to cripple crony capitalism. Little George Bush is pure crony, his only function within the system. Since he has never run a company, Bush has never had to learn the meaning of malfeasance, which is why he pronounces it "malf-ance." And, since he has grown rich after already being born rich without doing anything to earn even one dollar, the current economic trouble seems to Bush like the after-effects of a party:

America must get rid of the hangover that we now have as a result of the binge, the economic binge we just went through. We were in a land of endless profit. There was no tomorrow when it came to the stock markets and corporate profits. And now we're suffering a hangover for that binge.

Pundits who look like they never heard of Oscar Brown, Jr's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto" were moved to write, "What you mean we, White Man?" providing us with a little comic relief. But some of the people around Dubya not only work hard stealing millions, they will kill millions to keep it. Bush crew insider Lawrence Kudlow's plan for an invasion of Iraq is nearly identical to one that "leaked" out of the Pentagon, in mid-July. Kudlow explains what the war is really for:

The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points. We will know that our businesses will stay open, that our families will be safe, and that our future will be unlimited. The world will be righted in this life-and-death struggle to preserve our values and our civilization. But to do all this, we must act.

This man reflects the thinking of Bush's inner circle. He's not a bit funny.


Glen Ford, Co-Publisher

Lawrence Kudlow: Taking Back the Market - By Force, National Review

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Other commentaries in this issue:

Hilliard Calls for New Institutions to Protect Black Interests: Defeated Congressman expresses deep distrust of Ivy League - A Black Commentator interview

Peace and Justice Forces Rally to McKinney: By Frances M. Beal, Guest Commentator

e-Mailbox: Troublesome author wants space... J.C. Watts claims his face helps Black people... Vouchers cure "uncivilized" behavior, enhance brain... Moderate Republicans blame for woes


Commentaries in Issue Number 7 - July 11, 2002

Voucher Tricksters:The Hard Right Enters Through the Schoolhouse Door

Randall Kennedy: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Fool... How the NAACP Handled the N-word...J.C. Watts, Gone in a Flash

Race and National Security:
"Tar Baby Outrage" Update

Commentaries in Issue Number 6 - June 27, 2002

The N-word as Therapy for Racists: Randall Kennedy's Idiotic Assault on Black People's Honor

A Monument to George Washington's Slaves: Picking favorites among Black heroes and What a real man said on the 4th of July

Goin' South:
To save itself, organized labor must capture Dixie

CIA Trumps FBI: Forget about a War on Drugs

National Security News Alert: President is Warned Race Bias “Threatens National Security”- Special Edition - Issue Number 5 - June 13, 2002

Commentaries in issue 4 - June 7, 2002:

Tar Baby Outrage!: Racism and Corruption at the Redstone Arsenal

Condoleezza's Complaint & Paratroopers in the Basement: Connie's image and the Venezuelan coup

Did the Green Party Betray Black America: by Dr. Jonathan David Farley, Guest Commentator

A Law That Gives Racists Something to Fear:by Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Matthew Fogg, Guest Commentator

Commentaries in previous issues :

Condoleezza & Geraldo, a Fine Pair: The Role Models' Burden

Hard Right Cash Defeated in Black City - This Time
Ultra-Conservative Favorite Cory Booker Loses in Newark, New Jersey

Newark: The First Domino? - The Hard Right Tests its National Black Strategy

Fruit of the Poisoned Tree: The Hard Right's Plan to Capture Newark NJ

A Letter from Harvard: "How to spot a "Black Trojan Horse." Dr. Martin Kilson, Guest Commentator

Reparations Part One: The True Value of Some Land and an Animal

The Living Wage Movement: A New Beginning - Bread, Power and Civil Rights in 19 Languages

Rep. Cynthia McKinney's Statement on the Events of September 11: The need for an investigation of the events surrounding September11 is as obvious as is the need for an investigation of the Enron debacle.

Make The Amendment: How to Get the U.S. Government Out of the International Drug Trade

Psychologically Unfit: The U.S. Can't Handle the Death Penalty

Linquistic Profiling: By Patrice D. Johnson, guest commentator