WASHINGTON — At the COVID-shrunken Thanksgiving table with many of us Thursday is the ever-present historic tension about how best to reconcile the genocide of Indigenous nations and the enslavement of Black folk, with the largess that whites accumulated and enjoy from the double genocide of two peoples.
Genocidal conditions have been with Blacks and Indigenous people now officially for 400 years, as this country this month celebrated the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. (Was is not the comedian George Carlin who said something about American double-standards?)
The difference now, as this society approaches this holiday trying to ignore the recently-televised reality of thousands in America needing to go to food pantries, is that the 2020 Presidential campaign made the once-ridiculed idea of reparations serious and visible, and part of mainstream discussion for the first time. Thanks to newcomers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and a myriad of Democratic presidential candidates, the issue has unequivocally moved from the Black Power shadows into polite, white liberal conversation. And not to be overlooked are the valuable roles being played by the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and other non-Black-led groups.
But visibility does not always equal serious attention. So what do we do with the surprising mainstreaming of reparations? A lot!
What Callie House, Queen Mother Moore, Dr. Imari A. Obadele, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), and others have put on our historic table have now been picked up by several cities and states. First, we must herald the efforts of these jurisdictions and make sure they don’t succumb to nefarious propaganda that takes them off track from their forward momentum.
Second, we need to make sure we know about and continue our public support for those who are suing Tulsa, Oklahoma for reparations. The centennial of the state-sanctioned Oklahoma massacre of Blacks is May 31-June 1, and should be viewed as an historical marker to openly discuss such an attempted genocide.
Third, we can support all well-intentioned organizations that are pushing for the passage of reparations bills HR40 and S1083, particularly N’COBRA (of which I am proud to be a 1987 founding member), and the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), where I am honored to serve as an inaugural Commissioner.
Fourth, the theme for Black History Month in 2021 is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” We must seize that theme and show how reparations would heal the fractures of the Black family and force America into the discussions it needs to continue to have on identity and diversity. (And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to quote this Martin Luther King on his national birthday observance in January, as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris prepare to lead:)
But five has to be on the AKA-ed Black-Hand side. Kamala Harris can begin to resolve the historical tension by re-stating her enthusiastic support for a reparations commission bill, publicly as Vice President, when the new administration is sworn in. Doing so would signal a willingness to embrace escalating demands from the Black community, the way Barack Obama declined to heed the Black and Caribbean activist pleas to pardon Marcus Garvey. And Biden needs to be poised to use his executive pen to bring into fruition the intent of HR40 and S1083 by issuing an executive order establishing the long-due commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.
As my fellow activist Don Rojas has pointed out, “Biden and Harris have a moral responsibility to, first and foremost, deliver tangible benefits to those who voted them into office. Biden’s over-emphasis on healing and re-conciliation is wrong-headed. Gratitude begins with those who brought you to the dance. Time and energy cannot be wasted in attempting to reconcile fundamental contradictions with white supremacy.”
As I meditate today on the history and condition of the Indigenous peoples to this land and of the thousands of African bones laying at the bottom of the Atlantic from the Maafa (Middle Passage), reparatory justice is the real meal I want.
Nkechi Taifa is the author of a new memoir, Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice.