I have been writing, speaking, and teaching about the manifestations and impact of white privilege since I finished my doctoral work on the subject in 2004, and one of the more difficult subjects to address with white audiences is the question of reparations. While white people tend to frame the subject as a discussion about how much money is going to be taken away from them, there is another way to think about it. Getting white people to give up wealth is a bit of a non-starter, no matter how persuasive the argument might be for its justification.
Recent polls show that 68 percent of black Americans think the government should provide monetary reparations to descendants of slaves. That this most recent call for reparations, from a global governing body, has largely gone ignored in the same week that Congress gave sweeping support to the JASTA bill suggests to black citizens that the United States government is comfortable pursuing justice for others’ terrorism but less interested in taking responsibility for its own.
Let us not endeavor to pursue justice on the cheap.
A white scholar touring churches across the nation is trying to convince Christians that racial reconciliation is not enough — it’s time to start talking about reparations for descendants of slaves.
And among mostly white, mainline Protestants this controversial — some would say unrealistic — notion is getting a hearing.
What divides the races in America, says Drake University ethicist Jennifer Harvey, is not the failure to embrace differences but the failure of white Americans to repent and repair the sins of the past.
#BLACKLIVESMATTER is being touted as our uniquely contemporary civil rights movement. Yet it bears striking resemblance to the black power movement of decades past.
Who can represent #BlackLivesMatter, be involved, or be its leaders? It’s clear that black people can. Can others? And what sorts of black folks? Ben Carson? Cornel West? Two of the three co-founders are queer black women. And what about the role of the faith community, of clergy? The movement’s incredible racial justice work notwithstanding, it puts on display the identity politics that continue to complicate the body politic in contemporary American life.
Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation (Eerdmans) is one of the most significant recent books addressing identity and politics, focusing on the intersections of race, anti-racism, and religion. In its pages, Harvey, an American Baptist minister and associate professor of religion at Drake University, deconstructs reconciliation as a paradigm and offers a constructive practical vision of reparations. Harvey’s work in trying to make sense of her own embodied white identity—through her studies at Union Theological Seminary and service in a host of ministry settings addressing racial justice—provides background that allows her to explore multiple racial justice issues, making her book relevant for an intercultural audience.
Harvey’s thesis is clear: Reconciliation as a paradigm has failed to address racial injustice in the U.S., and the church needs to shift to a reparations paradigm to better address our racial situation. In a reconciliation paradigm, racial separation denotes racism, making diversity and togetherness the primary criteria for determining racial righteousness in the church. Issues related to structural justice are significant within visions of reconciliation, but they take a back seat to the ultimate concern of inclusion.
Americans have a hard time knowing how to respond to the sins of our colonial past. Except for a few extremists, most people know on a gut level that the extermination of the Native Americans was a bad thing. Not that most would ever verbalize it, or offer reparations, or ask for forgiveness, or admit to current neocolonial actions, or give up stereotyped assumptions -- they just know it was wrong and don't know how to respond. The Western American way doesn't allow the past to be mourned or apologies to be made. Instead we make alien invasion movies.
In this season in which we find ourselves there is an anticipatory feeling in the air. A waiting, a longing, and yearning. This is a time filled with preparations and signs and symbols. Everything leads to this promised future. With our turkey stuffed bellies, we awaken from a tryptophan-induced coma of carbohydrates to the coming of what feels like the end time -- for there will be sales and rumors of sales. So stay awake my brothers and sisters because the doorbusting shopacalypse is upon us. Yet my heart was glad when they said to me, let us go at 5 a. m to the house of the Lord and Taylor. For on that holy mountain, people will stream from east and west, north and south, and all nations will come. They will turn plastic cards into shiny promises of love in the form of bigger plastic and cloth and metal and wire. They will go down from this mountain to wrap their bits of plastic and cloth and metal and wire. They will wrap it all in paper, to wait for that day. The day of mythical, sentimentalized domesticity when the hopes and dreams of love and family and acceptance and perfect, perfect reciprocity will come to pass. And the children shall believe that they shall be always good and never bad for Santa will come like a thief in the night. No one knows the hour so you better be good for goodness sake.