By John L. Horton
For some time now, I have been struggling with the question of “reparations…owed to African Americans?” Finally, I have decided to put pen to paper and express myself. It has not been an easy task as I find myself still conflicted and somewhat torn asunder over my feelings and opinions. But, here goes for better or worse.
First, I asked myself, should reparations be paid to African Americans? I think, probably so. Then, I ask, realistically will reparations ever be paid to African Americans? And, I think, probably not.
Those who favor reparations point out that descendants of enslaved African Americans are owed monies/credit for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and for all the residual effects of slavery. They contend that African Americans continue to lag behind the rest of American society because of the debilitating consequences and ongoing ramifications of this “peculiar institution.”
These proponents argue that present-day gaps in education, income, health care, family stability, economic empowerment, life expectancy and criminal involvement are directly and indirectly linked to the “legacy of slavery.” And, they want the rest of Americans, particularly European and Corporate America, to pay up. It is further asserted that these entities have benefited and profited from the unpaid labor and suffering of enslaved African Americans.
On the other hand, opponents of reparations believe that reparations enshrine victimhood and dishonor the contributions and legacy of our ancestors. These opponents argue that reparations are falsely based upon the premise that all African Americans suffer from the social and economic consequences of slavery and discrimination.
Moreover, these opponents of reparations say this is one more attempt by some leaders/demagogues to turn African Americans into “victims,” and it sends a damaging and debilitating message to African Americans and others.
Basically, this is the background and rhetoric that have caused me great consternation in regards to reparations and what’s owed today’s African Americans. To repeat my earlier statement, “Are African Americans owed any kind of reparations, probably so.” However, being realistic, “Are African Americans ever going to be given any kind of reparations? Probably not.”
Now, to put forth the major premise of this writing. I feel strongly that African Americans (leaders and followers) have an outstanding opportunity to move beyond the issue of reparations by doing things for themselves, and with the help of others (government, business, philanthropy, etc.).
Basically, African Americans need to mount a “reparations-empowerment movement” on three fronts, simultaneously: (1) improving education excellence, especially for black children and young adults; (2) promoting business and entrepreneurial strategies to launch thousands of new economic opportunities; and (3) fostering lifestyle changes that enhance family stability and group advancement.
First, there is education excellence. This will allow African Americans to achieve our (rightful) potential and destiny in this highly competitive society. The labors and fruits of education will allow African Americans to dream and achieve the so-called impossible. Literally, “education will set you free.” Like it or not, you will earn what you learn…or fail to learn. That be true!
In short, education is the path and the key for an individual and a people. It is still true that “success occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” While education might not guarantee you first place in life, it does allow you to enter the competition for first place. Enough said.
To ensure that education and its benefits and rewards are eagerly sought after, we must be(come) better parents, teachers, counselors, facilitators, tutors and mentors, especially for our children. Along those lines, we need to initiate more in-home/intra-community efforts to significantly reduce truancy, dropouts, suspensions, expulsions, underachievement, and the like.
We must understand that the family, regardless of its composition, is the original and best departments of health, education, welfare…and salvation. Believe it! Practice it! Moreover, our children need to come to school in a “teachable condition.” This can be accomplished by parents ensuring their children/students perform three fundamental tasks: (1) attend school on a regular basis; (2) properly behave themselves; and (3) complete class work and homework to the best of their ability. In sum, children (and parents) need to understand an inadequate education will bring them shattered dreams, broken promises and hopeless futures. They do have a choice!
Second, there is business and entrepreneurial promotion. As African Americans, we should never forget the “golden rule of economics”: he who has the gold gets to make the rules. That be true, too!
Economic might almost always ensures the collateral social and political might(s). Business and entrepreneurial enhancement will enable African Americans to show others why they “need” us, rather than what they “owe” us. There is a profound difference. In essence, we must show others that we have so much to contribute, entrepreneurially and economically, that it would be unwise to ignore us.
In that regard, we need to be(come) more concerned about quality education, pay equity, economic literacy, job training, and entrepreneurial development. Further, African Americans need to focus more on saving, investing, venture capital, ownership and producing. Need I mention, again, the “golden rule of economics” applies here more than ever.
Along those lines, we need to organize civic, social, business, religious, government and private entities into task forces to deal with such issues as entrepreneurial development and economic stability, especially at the grass roots level. Most importantly, we must gather the necessary internal/external resources (leadership, strategies, monies, volunteers, etc.) to “make it happen” for those most adversely affected and who need help the most. This time around, empowerment must “trickle down to the masses.”
Third, there is family stability and group advancement. To attain these necessary goals, we must take a “good look at what we can do for ourselves.” And I say, probably, there is a great deal more that we can do for ourselves. Like it or not, “self-help begins at home.” To change substantively and permanently, the dire circumstances and debilitating realities which exist in (too) many of our communities, we are going to have to come to grips with what truly ails them, as much as anything else.
There is an old African proverb that goes, “I cannot control the hurt inflicted by others upon myself, but I can control the hurt inflicted by myself upon myself.” So true that is. Therefore, we must educate our people, especially our disadvantaged and downtrodden, about those ills and negatives that have been working against us. Often, many of these “ailments and afflictions” have in-house solutions and remedies. Along those lines, two insightful African proverbs come to mind: (1) “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.” And, (2) “He who conceals his illness cannot expect to be cured.”
For example, we need to do everything within our power to rid ourselves of these debilitating familial and societal deficiencies: fatherless homes, unwed births, youth school dropout, academic underachievement, fratricide, criminal activity, substance abuse, unemployment, economic dependency, and the like. Moreover, we need to develop a “village concept” for dealing with substantive issues that directly affect at-risk youth, dysfunctional families and impoverished communities. Specifically, more of us need to “give back more” and “be there” for our children and villages. In this case, our actionsbespeak a million words.
In summary, I return to my original question of “Beyond reparations – where do we go from here?” I believe the debate over reparations can be satisfactorily resolved to the benefit and good of all parties. I believe that most Americans want to do the right thing…though they might have to be cajoled and coaxed into “doing what’s right.” Sometimes, “Right is not easily define…or properly gone about….”
Hopefully we can learn from the “reparations debate” and become a better people as a result of it. Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if the reparations debate allowed us to acquire some of the answers for our existing human dilemmas of economic poverty, political inequity, social injustice, and the like?
On innumerable occasions it has been stated, “Man’s own worst enemy is man.” Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if we could use this reparations dialogue to do the right kinds of things that benefit all of us in terms of humanity, dignity and integrity. In the final analysis, wouldn’t it be just wonderful to say, “Man’s own best friend is man.” Hopefully, this is where we can go from here…beyond reparations.