Truthout - June 27, 2019

Yes we should be seeking recompense, however, "Beyond compensation, we must pursue the abolition of racial capitalism and white supremacy."

Recently, the discourse around reparations, a movement well over a century old, has intensified. As the 2020 election approaches, (mostly white) candidates are weighing in on an issue they have no personal relation to, but all the opinions one could ever hope for. And even those who are not white speak carefully from their positions of state authority. Yet reparations for slavery shouldn’t actually be up for debate, because there’s nothing to debate; the U.S. owes Black people. As a matter of fact, the entire Western world does. These empires have built themselves up and maintained their power through the enslavement, colonization and exploitation of not only the African continent, but African people as well. Still, how we talk about reparations does matter, and we have to be careful when speaking about them with regard to the United States. One of the last things that we should want is a movement that gives legitimacy to the state.

When the subject of reparations comes up, the term “conversation” is tossed around and repeated ad nauseum. It’s often there to neutralize what’s evergreen: white fears of Black demands. This is one of the ways progress dies; matters of oppression and power are reduced to mere disagreements that need to be talked over. Unfortunately, mere discussion is not the solution, and neither is simply hearing “the stories” of oppressed people, although both of those practices can be a beginning. Without further action, this emphasis on “conversation” can contribute to oppression — not take away from it.

Moreover, throughout mainstream conversations about reparations, much of the language disturbingly relies on concepts like worthiness, innocence and goodness. The word “deserve” is doled out through countless commentaries in a way true compensation for slavery never has been. This dangerous rationale of who deserves and who doesn’t is based in white supremacist logic that cages, kills and brutalizes Black people based on our proximity to what a white society deems worthy. These categories associated with being deserving and others like them are almost always injected with anti-Blackness. There’s a difference between what’s deserved and what’s owed, or even more, what’s liberating.

This is one of the ways progress dies; matters of oppression and power are reduced to mere disagreements that need to be talked over.

You can see these tendencies in some demands for reparations that rely on nationalisms and state affirmations. There are those who are embracing the U.S. flag as an identifier and right-wing style jingoism as a tool for marking the distinctness of Black people in the U.S. descended from enslaved Africans.

Blackness does not rely on borders and it’s not confined by them, but we can see the affirmation of these boundaries in some calls for compensation. That is to say, the very discussions about who is and who isn’t able to lay claim to reparations become infected with the white supremacist rhetoric of who’s “deserving.” Blackness is divvied up based on state affirmations and allegiances. Black people in the U.S. who have been granted a special disposability because we’re treated as residents, not citizens, should not prop up the idea of citizenship when it’s certainly never been within our grasp*.* That’s not to say we shouldn’t demand our rights, but we certainly shouldn’t reinforce exclusionary absurdities that have been forced upon us. ...
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