There were a number of very stimulating posts about reparations in our community this week. They caused me to think about my own family's history in America and whether there is meaningful ˜connectivity' between the Peculiar Institution and the present. I happen to support the concept of reparations, but certainly don't have all of the answers with respect to the many many difficult elements of its execution. More than anything, I appreciate a thoughtful and healthy dialogue about the topic. That's about the only way that all of us can become smarter about the issue and develop our own fully considered perspectives.
One of the frequent arguments against reparations is that slavery is a part of our country's "ancient" history. The argument suggests that both whites and blacks are so disconnected (by time) from slavery that neither can be reasonably linked to it now; that it would be unfair to all – both those paying and receiving reparations because of our distance from that time. I don't imagine that my family's evolution here is too different from other African Americans. I'll present my history in an effort to illustrate how removed from slavery, and its impact, we actually are.
· My two young sons represent the seventh generation of African Americans that we can track on the maternal side of my family.
· My great grandmother, who became free as a young child on May 13, 1862 (our family's Independence Day!), died in 1959 – less than three years before I was born.
· My grandmother, who died only five or six years ago, was in the first generation of my family to be born into freedom in this country.
· My sister, who is 8 ½ years younger than I, is the first person in my family to be born into an America that recognizes her as a fully participating member of American society. When I was born, America's unique brand of apartheid was the law of the land.
Although this is 2002, the legacy of slavery, when illustrated in my personal context above, doesn't seem quite so long ago after all. Slavery's direct legacy expired only three years before I arrived. My grandmother, who was with us until only a few years ago, was in the first generation born into freedom. My sister is the first to be born into a society that recognizes her as a true citizen. When I was born, I was not.
Certainly if in the first generation that we can recall, our matriarch Lydia, had had the benefit of the basic freedom to earn a living, to educate herself, and perhaps to even buy a home – that benefit would have "trickled down" through the generations in some way to my sons. Who knows what advantage that might have given them for their future? It is this lost value that reparations is designed to address.
Slavery was a part of the past, but the American economy is stronger and more powerful now because of the tremendous head start that it got from slave labor. Reparations has been established throughout the world as an appropriate means to redress past wrongs. I've heard no argument that persuades me that it is not appropriate here. While it might be convenient for some to attempt to argue the connectivity point, that particular argument's legitimacy on this issue (at least for my family) is bankrupt.
Onward and Upward!