Thank you, Donald Trump.
Wait! Don’t go yet, dear reader. Hear me out.
I’m grateful Trump became President. Thanks to his blatant prejudice, raging narcissism and wanton disregard for human decency, he has successfully flushed out the insidious, bubbling septic sludge of systemic racism to a level that even white society can’t cover up with a patch of sod and a pretty pot of begonias. So, grab your gloves, rubber boots and shovel. We’re gonna dig in to a stinky little spot right over here…
In 2018, Amendment Four was put on the Florida ballot that, if passed, would restore voting rights to felons who had served their terms. And it passed. I voted for this amendment and was encouraged to see this victory. The amendment went into effect January 8, 2019 but just a few months later Governor DeSantis signed a bill in to law requiring felons to pay all fines and legal fees associated with their sentencing before their voting rights would be restored.
A democratic government is not pay-to-play. Voting is a constitutional right. But what really stood out about the amendment’s overthrow was the knowledge that a majority of convicted felons are people of color. Restoring the voting rights of nearly 1.4 million citizens could certainly be enough to swing the state of Florida in future elections. It doesn’t take a genius to see this was a blatant squashing of black citizens’ civil rights.
Now, watching the heartbreaking videos and emotional protests of the past week has left me with a strange mix of anguish, guilt, sadness and, yes, hope. There will be sweeping reform in the coming months and years, I have no doubt. And while it will be a good start, it will take diligence and persistence to engrain these changes into the system permanently. As quickly as laws can be amended for good, they can be easily overturned when we’re not looking.
That’s partly how racism became embedded in our culture. Much of this standard of injustice stems from the broken promise of forty acres that every freed slave was to receive from the government. This was what a small group of African-American leaders and ministers, a mix of free men and former slaves, requested as restitutions for their people; not as a handout, but as a means to create their own wealth and build a prosperous community.
Incredibly, the wheels of this movement were set in motion and quickly passed. Lincoln approved the redistribution of a swath of nearly 400,000 acres from South Carolina to Florida for the settlement of freed slaves. But less than a year later the order was overturned by Southern sympathizer and Presidential successor Andrew Johnson. The land was confiscated from freed blacks and handed over to former white owners. And discussion of reparations all but ceased in white society.
Unpaid reparations is white society’s debt to black society. Many will argue, “It wasn’t my fault so why should I have to pay?” Generations of black Americans have suffered unspeakable oppression from a government constructed by and for white society. The debt of this injustice is white society’s inheritance. I am white and I am American. It doesn’t matter where my family came from, who my ancestors were, what my political biases are — my country was built on the foundation of slavery and oppression and thus it is my history. One cannot revel in the light of freedom and national pride and at the same time reject the shadows of this country’s inhumanity. It is my responsibility to pursue the equalization of justice and the compensation of debt.
So where do we start?
Reparations paid as a simple cash-out to descendants of slaves would be an unacceptable and grossly inappropriate apology for the damages done. Instead, we must look at how to eliminate the current social and financial imbalances. Slavery built the foundation of America’s wealth and every generation has had to bear injustice that directly contributes to white prosperity. Perhaps we should start reparations with a simple national tax exemption for black citizens for, let’s say, the next four hundred years? That money would enrich individuals and families and go right back to the communities they live in.
Too many are locked up in prisons for inflated, paltry offenses. As an example, pot possession and/or distribution should be grounds for immediate release and expungement of criminal records. Now that more states are legalizing pot it is absurd to keep those locked up for a crime that is becoming legal and shamefully profitable for white people.
Generous federal grants (not loans) should be allocated for black-owned businesses and education. Funding black communities through facilities such as public schools and parks, recreational centers, and museums will offer opportunities for growth and alleviate crime and poverty. Life enrichment through cultural education, art, sports, community events, and paid internships will translate to real-life work experience.
And where will this funding come from? Money currently spent on militarizing police is a good place to start. That’s just a small step on a long road ahead. There are many other ideas and proposals that should be implemented but this redistribution of funds could provide an immediate, beneficial change in the communities that have suffered so much loss.
In the meantime, check in on your black friends and colleagues. Support black-owned businesses. Get involved with civil rights organizations. Donate. Black Lives Matter is not a campaign bandwagon to hop on for social media optics. Those of us who have benefitted from white privilege need to engage in fundamental solutions and apply the pressure on our elected officials until a change is implemented. It’s an election year. Let’s jump-start this movement by voting in candidates who listen and holding accountable those who seek to overturn majority votes for their own interest.
And in case you were wondering about the governor’s “pay-to-play” bill? In May, Judge Robert Hinkle ruled the bill unconstitutional. Hell yeah. DeSantis and the Republican party will most likely appeal but the world has changed dramatically in a few short days. I wager there’ll be a lot more resistance now than they remember.
To all black lives: you not only matter, you are invaluable. I see you. I love you.