Sunday, January 01, 2006


Eric L. Wattree, Sr.

I was recently in Leimert Park and heard a brother speaking on the need for reparations for the African American people.  The brother was quite articulate in stating his position, and made several salient points.  But while much of what the brother said was undeniable, the fact is, the chances of Black people getting reparations in America today, or anytime in the foreseeable future, hovers around zero.  That isn’t to say that Black people should give up on this issue—since we have a responsibility to push for our piece of the American pie, regardless to how miniscule that pie has become. But we shouldn’t allow issues such as this to become a distraction from more pressing issues in the Black community—and there are many.

We’ve got to keep in mind that there are only three issues in the American body politic—money, race, and class.  Some would add power to that list, but since the American people have allowed themselves to become so under-educated and politically unsophisticated, money now trumps power—since, with enough money, you can manipulated the mindset of the under-educated, and thereby, obtain power. Consequently, the balance of power has been turned on its head in America today—conservatives have taken their vast resources of revenue provided by big business and used it to buy up most of the radio, newspaper and television networks across this country.  So now, the only thing the American people hear, is what the conservatives want them to hear—and reparations for African Americans won’t be among those things.

Further, as a direct result of the conservatives’ control of the media, most people don’t realize that one of the primary motivating factors in the Neo-Con push to go to war in Iraq was the opportunity to put the United States so deeply in debt that it precludes our ability to fund entitlement programs.  Destroying the “New Deal” has been one of their primary reasons for being every since it went into effect during the Great Depression. But since they’ve been unsuccessful in destroying it legislatively, they’ve decided to make it impossible to implement.

If the conservatives had their way (and they seem to be well on their way to getting it) there’d be no laws against child labor, sweat shops, or corporations firing any employee who had the gall to think they had a right to join a union.  There’d be no such thing as Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Disability, or Medicare.  Conservatives consider such programs a form of socialism—and they’ve been fighting to get them abolished every since “that commie”, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, put them in place in his “New Deal” to help the common man, during the Great Depression.  

So, reparations for the African American people is an issue that is forty years past its prime.  It’s an issue that should have been addressed during the 1960s, when Democrats could utilize the power vested in them by a politically sophisticated electorate to get it passed.  But now, this country is run by tight-fisted fiscal, and mean-spirited social conservatives who have built their entire power base on a foundation of undermining the needs of Blacks, and all other people who happen to be in the under-class. So since our condition is primarily a result of a lack of education, our primary response should be the single-minded pursuit of education in the Black community—and we should allow few, or no distractions, in that regard.

We’ve got to focus on modifying our cultural mindset. While reparations would be nice, we’ve got to make our primary goal education, and helping our young people to recognize their innate potential—their birthright.  Evidence of how dire that need is can be heard in casual conversation in the community.  We’ve all heard our brothers and sisters remark, “Listen to that chump talkin’ all proper—he must think he’s White or somethin’.”  That statement speaks volumes.  What it says is, too many of us assume that the White man owns knowledge.  It also indicates that too many of us think that being black dictates a moral obligation to be ignorant, and the pursuit of knowledge is the White man’s domain. So while we might want to pursue other goals on the side, our primary responsibility is to turn that perception around.

It is no accident that during slavery it was against the law to educate a Black man. History clearly shows that White folks knew exactly what they were doing, because as Black people, we’ve repeatedly demonstrated that we become the best at whatever we set our minds to.  White folks have known for at least a couple of centuries now that to educate a Black man is to create a monster—like Johnnie Cochran, for example.  O.J. Simpson is one of the most hated men in America--but it's not because he is alleged to have killed a White woman, it's because he brought Johnnie Cochran to the world’s stage. Racists see O.J. as responsible for allowing Johnnie Cochran to destroy the White Man's comfort zone.  Prior to the Simpson trial, the racists in White America use to imply that, due to Affirmative Action, Black professionals were professionals in title only, and weren’t quite as competent as their White counterparts. But then, in walks Johnnie Cochran to represent O.J., and he immediately proceeded to play the judicial system like a fiddle.  Now those same racists say, the only reason O.J. got off was because he could afford “exceptional representation.”  That’s a far cry from their claim of Black incompetence.

The very same thing happened in music, sports, and even the military and government, when Colin Powell came upon the world stage (Let us not forget that George Bush was a second choice among White folks—even the Republicans wanted Colin Powell to run for President). So the sad fact is, historically, White people have had a better understanding of our potential than we’ve had of our own. That’s got to change--and the only way it is, is not to allow ourselves to become distracted by side issues.

We’ve got to recognize that as African Americans, we’re neither fully African, nor fully American—we are a hybrid of both cultures.  Like it or not, we are a brand new culture, and in the infancy of our development.  That makes us what they call “a gathering threat.” Because if Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Johnnie Cochran, and Colin Powell comes from a culture in its infancy, just imagine what we’re going to be when we come into our own. Thus, our history lies before us, and it is up to us to lay the foundation for a people who, I think, are destined for greatness—reparations or not.


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