A reparations explanation for angry white people

Special-Field-Order-No15-40-Acres-and-a-Mule, A reparations explanation for angry white people, Culture Currents Featured News & Views
Special Field Order No15 (40 Acres and a Mule) / © Leah Harmony.

by Leah Harmony 

There are two kinds of ignorance. One is the absence of knowledge and the other is the choice to ignore something. Opposition to slavery reparations is born of both – in equal measure. This article aims to provide a remedy to the first.

Whether or not it succeeds, moving into a new age, in a world that has grown tired of hate, let this be added to the stockpile for those who will next inherit the revolution. Shout out to Huey P. Newton. All power to the people.

“The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution.” – Huey Newton

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The Panthers in Oakland / Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries.

Where the wild whites are

Anyone who thinks American racism is resolved has never read any comment section following an online mention of reparations. There you’ll find a plethora of the infamous American hate; Angry white people who despise the idea of reparations with a conviction so fierce, they’d rather die on a pristine hill of righteousness, blindly defending America the Beautiful than even try to understand the reason such a remedy is warranted. 

At the mere mention of the word “reparations,” their vision runs red and they begin ranting about their tax dollars, slave trading Africans and bootstraps. This is in spite of there being no logical reason to believe America will attempt to right her wrongs. It’s Black people who have inherited this sacred fight from their ancestors. It’s Black people who believe reparations should happen, and it’s Black people who mostly believe they won’t happen. We fight for it because we believe it’s the right thing to do, even while it’s understood we’re playing a rigged game.

The United States is run by a government devoid of the inclination to atone. Even as they dangle the reparations carrot once again, there’s been no serious effort made since the meeting Gen. Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had with 20 leaders of the Black community in Savannah, Georgia, four days prior to issuing the infamous Special Field Order No. 15. The meeting is still unprecedented in American history as it was the last time a spokesperson for the US government delivered as promised, albeit short lived.

These days the most offered is the hot sauce in Hillary’s purse, but only during an election cycle. There’s also hip-hop recognition month, a Juneteenth holiday and whispers of an Emmett Till statue. Black folks understand retroactive morality alone doesn’t feed capitalism, and like all high stakes games, the attention is on bigger cards and the house must win. This is why you won’t find a single Black person just lying in wait for that elusive check in the mail.

“I’m not gonna sit up here and say that I’m only gonna do something to benefit Black people,

noooo.” – Kamala Harris, 2020

White people problems

People who never owned slaves don’t owe people who never were slaves/Slavery was a long time ago, why should I be punished?/Stop playing the victim/What about Oprah and Obama? Do they get reparations too? My immigrant family had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; Black people are just lazy and looking for handouts/If anyone deserves reparations, it’s Native Americans/What about the Japanese, the Chinese, Jewish people/White people were slaves too; where’s our reparations? All groups on earth were enslaved or oppressed at some point in history; why do you get special treatment?/Get it from the Africans who sold you into slavery/We already paid reparations with affirmative action, welfare, with white soldiers dying to free the slaves/How do we even figure out who will get reparations? Plus giving money to Blacks won’t solve their problems; they’ll just blow it all/Reparations are divisive. Racism is over/Our economy will crash/This will start a race war/Race based compensation is RACIST/BLAH BLAH


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Reparations for dummies

First you must understand what reparations are. Reparations, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means: the action of making amends for a wrong done; amends; compensation. In law, it means that when a country has committed a crime, such as the invasion of another country or the genocide of a people, it must make amends to the victims, including the descendants of the original victims who still suffer from the consequences of the crime.

The United Nations concludes reparation must be adequate, effective, prompt and should be

proportional to the gravity of the violations and the harm suffered, outlining the four pillars as:

• Restitution, which should restore the victim to their original situation before the

violation occurred, e.g., restoration of liberty, reinstatement of employment, return of

property, return to one’s place of residence.

• Compensation, which should be provided for any economically assessable damage, loss

of earnings, loss of property, loss of economic opportunities, moral damages.

• Rehabilitation, which should include medical and psychological care, legal and social


• Satisfaction, which should include the cessation of continuing violations, truth-seeking,

search for the disappeared person or their remains, recovery, reburial of remains, public

apologies, judicial and administrative sanctions, memorials and commemorations.

America is a country that typically has no problem with these terms and with paying reparations. We even paid Jewish survivors of a war we also fought in to free them. We paid Japanese internment camp victims. We pay and have paid Native Americans billions annually on top of what was already paid in millions of acres of land and also for land stolen.

We paid reparations to slave holders for loss of property after they were made to release their slaves during emancipation. We pay US territories, such as the Marshall Islands, for harms caused. We pay farmers affected by trade, people who lost bank accounts, banks that lost money, veterans, descendants of veterans, gay people who were denied survivor’s benefits before marriage was legal, people who built nuclear bombs, people who live where they were tested, people exposed to poisons, coal miners, disaster losses, trade agreements offsets, student loan forgiveness, pandemic relief, and recently even reparative justice to other US territories for climate change. Reparations for illegal immigrants separated at our border are being proposed, and this list is far from exhaustive.

Reparations seem only to be a problem when it comes to making things balanced with Black Americans. Black Americans who, beyond slavery, fought from the front lines in every single war and died for this country, then were denied the GI bill, left in American ghettos, while grandparents rotted in polluted cancer clusters to fight manufactured street wars that have been ignored. Black Americans have been attacked by the US government, physically, through drugs and alcohol and through subpar food, liquor, sugar and medicines in the neighborhoods they were redlined to, burial grounds destroyed. 

Black Americans have been denied mortgages, had properties stolen, properties devalued, been held back from ownership wealth through racial covenants, given unbalanced prison sentences based on unfair laws – many due to documented planted evidence – had a blind eye turned to the guns flooding Black neighborhoods, drugs pouring in, resources removed, thousands and thousands of Black murders have gone unaddressed, perpetrators left at large. Black music has been weaponized, Black sexuality has been weaponized, then ridiculed. Those impossible three strikes laws took 100,000 primarily Black bodies to prison.

Black Americans are the only group that has been bombed in their homes by its citizens and also the US government, both instances for the audacity of self liberation. Our accomplishments have been buried or reaccredited, they’ve incentivized fatherlessness, practiced compulsory sterilization, been strategically targeted for birth “control” and abortions, been medically poisoned, profiled and exploited. 

Black people have been lynched by the thousands, then denied anti-lynching legal protection until 2022, when the bill was expanded to include “all marginalized groups,” body parts distributed as keepsakes, precious babies fed to alligators. Many true histories have been erased permanently, burned, and falsified. Black children have been lied to, underrepresented, then made fun of when finally included, 200 Black towns have been flooded out of existence, when forced to move had to navigate 10,000 sundown towns that spanned across the USA, a full government body destroyed and taken over, and every single person who stepped up to be a leader has been killed in cold blood by invisible guns as unsolved murders, or incarcerated forever. 

Again, this is not exhaustive. Yet, Black Americans are the only group no one sees worthy of repair? Perhaps recognize there’s a distinction between playing at victimhood and actually being a victim.

Not so long ago

The next thing you should understand is that slavery reparations are not just for slavery, despite the confusing name. The reason for the proposal’s title is the same reason the claims exist in the first place: Racism. A recent example would be when the Biden administration promised $4 billion in federal aid to Black farmers to offset decades of proven racial discrimination. Instead of allowing this long awaited repair, white farmers have sued, arguing that it’s unconstitutional to give aid based on race. This is in spite of it being 99% White farmers who claimed $46 billion in comparable farm aid allocated by the previous administration. The lawsuits have left Black farmers with deeper debt and no end in sight.

The task forces putting together proposals for reparations did not want to drag things out further by fighting a losing battle with angry White people. Reports will be based on lineage, not race. The word “slavery” cannot change, even though it causes angry White people to become more angry. While it’s correct that no one alive today owned slaves or was a slave, and slavery ended 158 years ago, that argument offers an extremely shallow perspective and an underhanded insult simultaneously. 

This entire century-long battle is because Black people are affected by the historical institution of slavery psychologically, domestically and societally. How could it be that “Black” people are living its legacy but White people aren’t? By reducing it to slave status in the present, which is your preference for reasons one can only assume, you’re removing the experience of Black people too. Perhaps ask yourself why you’d do that.

Slavery prefaced racism but is not the embodiment of the claim. Reparations are about damage caused by racism. When Black Americans were no longer considered property, they were no longer protected, and so it got worse before it got better. Reparations are for damage caused by widespread unfair practices, sabotage and murder, since slavery ended, including behaviors built into the system that have blocked “Black” people from any or all components needed to live life with the rights granted inherently by being born in America. 

This includes, but is not limited, to health and nutrition, financial access and education, land and homeownership, ancestral knowledge, inheritance, complete family units, safety, historical truths and freedom, and the understanding of what this has cost “Black” people, if applicable, for compensation consideration. Ironically, those who have suppressed our history only serve to renew it from the moment it’s discovered. It was a long time ago and it was today.

This has nothing to do with you

Thirteen US presidents owned slaves, including the first, and thus began the building of America. The bottom line is that this has nothing to do with you or any other so-called “white person.” This is a claim American descendants of the American institution of chattel slavery have pending with the United States government. This begins and ends with them. 

Directly following emancipation, it was representatives of the US government that created and upheld new laws, codes and conditions that not only left our ancestors unprotected but in danger of being locked in a cell, murdered, robbed, poisoned, belittled and demonized, promising generational devaluation, securing one group of people a vastly different future than other groups. 

These politicians, with their leadership aspirations, took office and promised, generation after generation, to uphold the rule of law for all American people, swearing on their bibles to offer equal opportunity and equal protections under the law, and it was that same US government that made a tremendous effort to fail at their job beautifully. You’re an American citizen, but that also means you’re governed by consent and therefore represented by elected officials. 

The polls are where your input ends – whether you feel the claim is false or if fair doesn’t matter at all. You are part of a bigger society. As members of the society, you share in its benefits and you also share the burdens. You inherit the debts as well as the gains. 

No one turns red in the face over America’s $33 trillion debt already in existence. No outrage for the $113+ billion to Ukraine this year. Quietly we spent $150 billion-plus on illegal immigration. That’s how America works. You can’t opt out of the losses and only collect on the gains you’ve personalized. You’re not the only one who pays taxes. Everyone does as per federal and state laws, with literally no say-so as to how those dollars are spent, whether you stand with Ukraine or couldn’t care less. Whether you think the US Air Force needed a $700 million B-21 Raider Bomber or don’t know what a bomber is. 

Foreign policy and corresponding aid are great examples. If reparations are made, and if they are monetary, you also have no say so about how the funds are spent. If you’re worried about the economy crashing, you should be so lucky if it’s blown right back into the precious economy, but not a single step of the journey has a thing to do with you.

While you rant from behind your keyboard, you may be interested to know there was a Princeton University study conducted over a 20-year time frame that posed the following question: Does the government represent the people? What they found was that public opinion counts for less than 1% of legislation passed. That means your incredibly emotional responses don’t affect law or policy. Perhaps you should ask why politicians and media keep strategically baiting you into outrage that quite literally has nothing to do with you. Perhaps you should focus on the implications of that. That said, your support is appreciated, but obviously not necessary.

“We have, as far as possible, closed every avenue by which the light may enter the slave’s mind. If we could extinguish the capacity to see the light, our work will be complete. They would then be on the level of the beast of the fields and we then should be safe.” Henry Berry made these remarks during an 1832 speech before the Virginia House of Delegates on the abolition of slavery.

The miseducation of angry white people

You’re extremely under-educated. This is on purpose, which makes it no fault of your own. In the age of information, this is only faultless to a certain point however.  The fear is of Black Americans becoming financially equal, so it’s worth noting that a part of reparations would include releasing knowledge that’s been hidden since the writing of American curriculum, geography, literature, medicine, psychology and so on. This would include acknowledgements of societal and generational trauma, the kind that in popular belief systems affects everyone in the world except Black Americans. 

Instead of being disgruntled, perhaps you’ll come to understand why repair is warranted once you learn who Black people are, where they come from, and what has always been brought to the table by them. Perhaps you’ll even find something not to hate. Although in a country more willing to give up gender than race, Black Americans won’t depend on such a phenomenon. As it stands, Black Americans are left here to defend that which should have no opposition, opposition based largely on perception and on the social behaviors of a damaged group of people. 

Yes. There have been monsters created. You’re not a lone witness. It’s hated from within and without. Yet there’s some understanding in Black communities. There exists consideration as to what group trauma looks like. These behaviors you despise didn’t happen overnight. Do you even realize you’re doing the same thing that’s always been done, which is going out of your lane to actively stop the progress of Black people? You’re burning the town. You’re covering it with water. Times have changed. These are not people who will fade into history’s back rooms. 

There’s nothing more to lose for many. You who want to scream and shout when it all starts spilling over into streets you haven’t yet gentrified may find yourselves casualties of a civil war the government doesn’t deem worthy of aiding. That should feel more scary than what’s being requested to repair an extremely unbalanced civilization.


You have enough information to come to your own informed opinion now, which makes any ignorance going forward your own choice. Humanity doesn’t progress well in darkness. In the light, you may come to realize that those you’d never want to meet in a dark alley tonight have within them the beauty to emerge tomorrow with the strength to carry this stale country into a new age, one where humanity paves the way.

Leah Harmony was a student in the San Francisco Bay View’s Community Journalism Class, which is funded by the California State Library.

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