ESSAY #14 – 10.22.20 POSTED 6.8.21

How We Get There, Part I, 6th In the Series

To get where we want to go—to a place of racial equity—we will have to spend some money, even though we can’t expect everyone to get on board with this idea. However, if we can create a vehicle that allows us to agree on the same set of facts that brought us to this day, we might improve our chances of getting where we want to go together.

How We Get There

Part I Sixth in a Series of Essays on Race, Repair-ations, Reconciliation: Resetting the Relationship

Depending on the complexity of a trip, the “how we get there” part will vary greatly. In 1970, if you were dropped on a dirt road with 15-foot-tall corn fields on either side, and you didn’t know where you were, the planning of the trip was pretty simple. You walked until you could find some way of determining your location, and then you searched for a phone to call someone to come get you.

Our journey to racial equity is more complex than that. We need to engage about 180 million people in a conversation about where we are going together, and to be successful, we really need to get everyone’s attention. It might be simpler to strategically move about 2.5 million black people from Mississippi, Alabama, the Northeast, and California to South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. But it will probably be healthier and cause less of an upheaval if the nation has the conversation.

If we are going to be successful, we need to create a vehicle that can make the long haul and carry the necessary freight. Part of designing that vehicle is having a pragmatic understanding of the conditions of the trip, and one of the conditions is that we are never going to reach 100% agreement on where we are going and how to get there. But we must build a critical mass of the population that will align on what we wish to achieve.

Critical mass

If you poll the people of this nation, you might be surprised to find that only about 62–65% support the ideas of social security and Medicare, even though these programs are efficiently run and have created economic stability for much of the country’s working class, in their retirement years. Similarly, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, about 60% of the population was negative about it, and today, close to 60% are either positive or have no opinion. One of the problems, in the early years, was that it was very complex, so just about everyone could find something to hate. As people have begun to understand and receive personal benefits from the plan, its popularity has risen across the board. Still, there are those who, for numerous reasons, still want it to disappear. The point is, it is approaching that critical mass that ensures its ongoing support (and there will always be those who moan and complain, though they have no idea how to improve it—they just want it to go away).

The conversation we need to have has to engage about 62% of the population in a way that they can see the complexity of where we are and the promise of where we are going. When we have that level of agreement, or can see it evolving, we will have the critical mass that is sustainable over time and minimizes drag. If we have agreement on how to get there from 90% of black folk, then we are going to have to have it from about 50% of everyone else. That means we need to make it as easy as possible for the 30% of the population in the middle of the political spectrum to grasp the impact of history on the black community, and to understand what it will take to bring about a society that secures equitable opportunity.

An investment in our future

I may as well say it right now, because it is always going to be an issue: we are going to have to spend some money. There are a lot of people who just hate that idea, and who assume that any money collectively spent is going to somehow be wasted at their expense. It is an emotional response, buried deep in their beliefs, and no matter how many reasons are put before them, no matter how rational and reasonable the case that is made, they will still say no. It simply isn’t in their make-up to accept the idea that money spent by the We, through the government as intermediary, is a reasonable proposition. It does not, however, keep them from collecting social security, choosing Medicare over private health insurance, or attending a public university. They also have not railed against railroads, air travel, or big agriculture, all of which are subsidized by the federal government.

That’s okay. That’s just how it is. But it is important that the way in which we get where we are going recognizes that money will be spent—or invested, as I like to say, because there will be a return—and no matter what, a hefty chunk of the public is going to oppose it. I also want to suggest that the money spent may come from a wide variety of sources outside of the government system.

Along with that recognition is the realization that we don’t need to make it any harder than it needs to be for people to accept the spending of money. Some of you might think that, being a typical Old White Guy, I might be challenged in spelling (many of us are, even in the days of autocorrect) because I used the word “repair-ations” in the title of this essay series. Well, if that was your thinking, it was inaccurate. I don’t think “repair-ations” is actually a word. I made it up to make this point: We need to repair the relationship between black people and white people in this country, and it is going to cost money. It may be 12 dollars, it may be 12 billion dollars, or it may be 120 billion dollars. I have no idea. But money is the grease of our society—we can’t do anything without spending money.

If we have an open, engaging, candid conversation over time, it may cost a lot less than we might imagine. However, that conversation has to be an invitation, for those who are skeptical, to engage of their own free will, in a way that allows them to open their minds and observe their own level of willingness to listen. They need to be able to observe what is behind their refusal to examine the validity of their beliefs, because that refusal keeps them from listening.

The “R” word

I did my own little informal survey recently, asking people I know what they thought the word “reparations” meant and how they felt about it in regard to racial relations. Most weren’t sure what it meant, but they would still quickly state that they opposed giving out money to people. No one I asked, black or white, was open to that idea, and most assumed that any national conversation about reparations was supposed to result in giving out money.

I don’t know what is behind the use of the word. I don’t think the common assumption is what is truly intended, but I have come to the opinion that, if the word “reparations” came to make a speech, people would bring rotting vegetables and balled up chunks of cow manure to pelt it as it spoke. I am not trying to determine the result of the conversation. From my perspective, it is completely open if it serves the ideal of equity for all. However, sometimes it is better to abandon a word if the reconstruction of its meaning detracts from the cause. If there is already a widely assumed, negative meaning for the word, it doesn’t really matter what the original intention was, accurate or not. This vehicle needs to move with as little drag as possible, but the headwinds are going to be heavy.

Many people will say, “We can’t do anything about history. We can only deal with where we are.” Okay, there is a lot of truth to that. However, to really understand where we are, we have to understand how we got where we are. And this includes understanding the fear and angst that we are all trying to avoid around both our real and our perceived issues. Having access to the real history may allow us to release some of our perceived issues—the ones that we believe are there, but aren’t—and allow us to focus on our real issues.

The real history

Here is a common phenomenon in our present society: we have more information (about almost everything) available to us than ever before, but we don’t seem to have the interest, nor the discernment, to sift through and collect the objective facts. It is difficult to go on the internet, especially given how the major players have set it up for their own commercial interests, and find a reliable, trustworthy source for understanding, oh, let’s say, the history of racial relations in the US from 1619 to 2021.

Let’s face it—very few of us Old White Guys, and maybe even fewer of our progeny, have much understanding of the history of black people in this country, or the nature of their relationship with the majority population, or with the government. Americans just aren’t that good with history. When it comes to the development of our nation, we either have a romanticized version, a critical one, or in most cases, no version at all. If we have a broad understanding, it isn’t deep, and if we have a deep understanding, it isn’t broad. Oh, the information is out there, but very few people have an interest in finding it, and very few could do it well.

But we have this thing called the internet, and it is possible that everything useful and accurate on this subject could be made available on one website, chronologically and by topic, to every American who wanted to know what the facts are. Access to this site, this vehicle for truth and accuracy that I mentioned earlier, would be easy, and anyone could read, download, copy, etc. However, postings would have to be controlled by a board of scholars, historians, sociologists, and economists, who would insist on scholastic integrity.

The vehicle

If done with the end user in mind, any piece of our history of the Black experience, and the parallel experience of other minorities, could be found by even the most addle-minded computer user. It is incredibly important to address and understand the issues that brought us to where we are today. It’s not just the mid-passage and 245 years of slavery that are important, but even more so, the Jim Crow era in its waning years. It needs to answer questions like, “What were the programs and laws that were written during the Great Depression, and after WWII, that were designed to help the American people, but specifically excluded black people?” Or, “How and why did black people migrate to the big cities, and why haven’t they been able to get out, the way many white families have?”

The structure of our existence did not start the day we were born. It began many years before, in the struggles and successes of those who came before us. There is an apparent continuity between the lives of those who preceded us and those of present day. It isn’t absolute, and no specific individual is necessarily limited by their family history, but on the scale of society, we can certainly see how it has played.

Let everyone who is interested write, ask questions, and opine on this website. There will be those with a counter set of facts, and there will be missives from the “what-about-ers,” but we can develop a shared set of facts. We can publicly, respectfully, and accurately answer all serious questions and requests, even those from the cranks. Let’s make this the “go-to” place for public schools, universities, and curious individuals. Let it be respected, universally, for its integrity and how it relates to the public. And let this become the first vehicle for how we get there.

Just give it some thought.