J. Pharoah Doss: California reparations…remission or restitution?
Over the last decade, Americans have debated the necessity of a racial reckoning. This impulse led to puzzling attempts to make amends for the past.
When spiritual guru Marianne Williamson launched her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, it was revealed that she led an audience in an apologetic prayer from White Americans to African Americans during a 2018 speaking tour. Williamson had the Whites plead for forgiveness for slavery, lynching, White supremacist laws, voting rights denial, and all of America’s atrocities against Black people.
It’s possible Williamson came up with this on her own, but she was most likely influenced by the Black progressive intelligentsia. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson declared in his 2017 book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America: Whiteness is an advantage and a privilege because White people have made it so, not because the universe demands it. Whiteness is killing us, and it is killing White people too.
That section of Dyson’s sermon was called Repenting of Whiteness.
After the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the nationwide riots that followed, California’s Governor created a task force to study and offer recommendations on slavery reparations. The governor said our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism, which permeates throughout our democratic and economic institutions. We won’t turn away from this moment to make right the disadvantages that Black Californians and people of color still face.
Because California entered the Union as a free state in 1850, historians found this reparations task force puzzling. Even if de facto slavery existed between 1850 and 1865 (when slavery was abolished), the state never sanctioned the institution.
Therefore, the state of California paying reparations makes no sense. It can only be rationalized as the Governor seeking remission for America’s original sin of slavery. The problem is that the theological doctrine of original sin shouldn’t be applied to slavery.
According to early Western Christians, all humans are born with the guilt of the first man and woman who defied God’s commandment; thus, they are all sinful from conception. As a result, human nature is evil, and the only path to salvation is to believe that Christ sacrificed his life for the remission of sin.
Early Eastern Christians, on the other hand, never adopted Western Christianity’s doctrine of original sin and never advocated for the concept of inherited guilt. Human nature is not evil, and everyone is responsible for their own sins. Eastern theologians claimed that Western theologians created original sin by mixing many passages and creating a doctrine that was never clearly addressed in the scriptures.
Therefore, the western doctrine of original sin is flawed.
When California’s governor mentioned “our painful history,” he implied that the free state had inherited the guilt of a nation that had sanctioned chattel slavery. According to this theological interpretation, the minute California joined the United States of America, it was born into the original sin of slavery, and the nation remains evil. In truth, each slave-holding state bears responsibility for its own history; those that joined the Union free of slavery do not bear the burden, and the nation is not perpetually evil.
The biggest problem with making slavery analogous to original sin is that the latter has a way to redemption, while the former does not and never will.
Following the conviction of the police officer who murdered George Floyd, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to make George Floyd into a redeemer who could save the nation’s soul. Pelosi said, “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice. For being there to call out to your mom—I can’t breathe. Because of you, and because of thousands—millions —of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice.”
Pelosi’s sentiment didn’t go over well because George Floyd didn’t volunteer to be murdered.
In the same vein as Pelosi, California’s governor volunteered reparations to absolve the nation of its inherited guilt. Then Amos C. Brown, a member of the reparations task force and the NAACP, stated that this state has committed a crime against Black people and that it is time for them to pay.
If the governor didn’t subscribe to a flawed theological doctrine, he would not have attempted to purchase remission for America’s original sin. Now, he’s stuck with recommendations to pay restitution for a crime the state didn’t commit.