Reparations Are Way Overdue

by on February 21, 2019 · 20 comments

in Civil Rights, From the Soul

by Ernie McCray

Every now and again
in this nation,
talks of reparations
enter into our conversations
and some folks
are saying
that such
could cost trillions
by some calculations,
implying it would be
too costly.

But a few trillions seem
like a bargain to me,
considering that at one point
in our history
my ancestors
snatched up so much cotton
that the economy of the United States
was the envy
of the international marketplace.
It put smiles on many
a slave owner’s face.

But, if it’s going to be a hardship for Uncle Sam today,
I’d say
my people
are willing to cut him some slack
and let him, perhaps, pay
us in installments

or on some kind of layaway plan,
you know,
like whenever he can.

Just cut the check,
signed by “The Man.”

Sign it for every single
tear that was cried
when children were pulled screaming
from their mamas and their papas
who were dying inside
and husbands were separated
from their wives
(common-law or otherwise)
so that a wicked system
of dehumanizing
could survive,
a system with no regard
for a captured people’s lives…
Sign it for the inhumane whiplashes applied
to mutilated backs
that were already wracked
with agonies
from so much bending
and lifting in fields of sheer misery…

Sign it for the mockery
of our emancipation
into a society
that went all out
to see that
we would never fully realize
justice and liberty –
choosing, instead, to
deny us a table at eateries
or the ability to sit anywhere
we wanted to at the movies
or on the bus
where at stops
we drank from fountains
just for dark skinned people like us,
spigots drizzling water
like they were as tired
of Jim Crow as us,
not to mention
corralling us in inner-cities
with very few services
to meet our daily
and longterm needs,
offering us but a few crappy job opportunities
and schools lacking the kinds of facilities
enjoyed by children in more prosperous
communities in our society…

And the beat goes on
and on and on,
now in the 21st Century,
making nothing more true
than reparations are way overdue.
Way overdue.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas Gayton March 1, 2019 at 1:13 pm

RIGHT ON! The American economy was built on slave labor and REPARATIONS are owed to the ancestors of this inhumane exploitation of African Americans.


Barbara Lewis March 1, 2019 at 3:31 pm

AMEN. This comment is only to validate what you have said here today…..I know we recent descendants of Africa must all chant it with you at some point…but suffice it to say, you nailed it.


Dr. J March 1, 2019 at 6:14 pm

You present some of the thought provoking presentation I have seen. Great job. Thanks.


Joseph Fountain February 18, 2020 at 11:12 am

I support reparations and have a plan to do it. I want to legalize marijuana federally and created a licensing process for growers and retailers. The mass incarceration of non-violant marijuana offenders will be released and they will get jobs in this new industry. A 10% tax on all sales of marijuana will produce between 5 and 6 billion dollars and 90% of this money will go towards reparations programs. If you like this idea, click on my page and share my information.

Joseph Fountain


retired botanist February 18, 2020 at 4:03 pm

Ok, for me there’s a lot going on here. First, Ernie’s piece is gorgeous, as ever. I love his writing, and I agree and endorse that reparations are long overdue. I think Joseph’s concept of reparations from marijuana tax is an interesting idea.
But I would also like to inject in this mix of multi-storied issues, that reparations are also due to the 1st Americans, the Native Americans. We stole their land, their resources, their children, their culture, and their livelihood (for the most part, with perhaps a few stingy exceptions, in the Innuits). Many people think that casinos and res land somehow exonerated the crimes. But they don’t, and the US hasn’t ever acknowledged the crimes. There are 1.3B dollars sitting in a bank that the Lakota, Dakota, Brule and Sioux have refused to touch as a result of the unsigned, illegal takeover of the Black Hills, sacred land in SD. Even today, with Trump’s border wall, Monument Hill, sacred to the NAs and previously protected by regulatory laws, has been dynamited….what does that say about the protection of these former nation’s sovereign rights?!
I have witnessed the poverty first hand at Pine Ridge Reservation, and I have followed the history of NAs for decades now.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is, tragically, a line for reparations. That sounds awful to even say out loud, and far be it from me to quibble over who’s first in line. Maybe I don’t even care who’s first. I just care that the US finally owns up to long overdue acknowledgements of the slaughter, incarceration, enslavement, and segregation of minorities.


Joseph Fountain February 21, 2020 at 10:54 am

I know a lot about the “rez.” I taught for a couple years on the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona and I traveled through out the state. The difference between what the US has done to Native Americans and African Americans is not that different. I think with technology, oddly enough, we could invest in Native Lands to build sustainable housing, jobs, infrastructure and schools. What I noticed is that most of the people I worked with every day did not want to leave the reservation and jobs were scarce. Additionally there is a history of Native people being taken off the land and forced to go to schools to be indoctrinated. This has stopped, but it is ingrained in the life memories of so many people that it is still a trauma that they are living with. I have a couple proposal for Native Americans and the support that the Government needs to give them. The Feds are still stealing their land for mining.


triggerfinger February 21, 2020 at 1:45 pm

Who’s we?

I didn’t steal any land from any native Americans. I didn’t have a spec of land when I was born nor was any given to me.

Are we going back to the 12th century where we punish people based on the sins of their ancestors?

If your white guilt is that strong you’re free to donate to a Native American scholarship fund.


Joseph Fountain February 21, 2020 at 3:04 pm

Just in the past 4 years thousands of acres of land have been taken from Native American tribes by the federal government. Oak Flat in Arizona is one example and then you have DAPL in North Dakota which is ostensibly a land taking.

The Native American wars lasted into the 1920’s.

Granted, you may not have stolen the land, but the nation still has the debt.


triggerfinger February 21, 2020 at 1:41 pm

You can’t fix racist policies of a century ago by creating a new racist policy. This might possibly be the worst thing you can do for race relations in the US. It would create bitter division between those paying in and those receiving.

Also how would you determine who pays and who receives? Should the ancestors of African slave traders pay in or receive? How about someone who emigrated from Sweden 20 years ago? How about ancestors of whites that fought for abolition? How about Latinos who’s relatives experienced segregation but not slavery? How about whites that are on welfare? How about descendants of blacks from the free north? Or from Jamaica? Or with 1/16 African ancestry? You’re gonna be keeping pretty busy sorting that out for 400 million people.

I tell you what though, I’ll pay some reparations if I don’t have to listen to any more racist windbags like Rev Sharpton race-baiting and making excuses and blaming whitey for everyone’s personal struggles. But we all know that won’t happen. I’m white and the son of divorced uneducated parents who didn’t have two nickels to run together. Maybe I should get reparations too from some rich white people.

Immigrants from many Asian countries were treated like garbage when they first came to the US, and yet you don’t see any calls for affirmative action or reparations for them generations later.

People need to take responsibility for their own future and stop blaming the past.


Joseph Fountain February 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm

There are 40 million African Americans in the United States. Not all can trace their heritage back to 1865, but many can. Every African American has experienced racism today. Whether you are a pro-football start getting tackled by the police in Vegas, or you are a lawyer arguing with police. Billions of dollars in fine have happened just in the past couple years proving we are a racist nation. So, everyone of the 40 million need to get a repayment. We need to pay up for the abuse we have committed and continue to commit. Affirmative action is not racist. White American had Affirmative Action for 350 year?


triggerfinger February 21, 2020 at 3:30 pm

Again, who’s “we”? What abuse have I committed? Hold individuals accountable for their actions. Don’t punish or reward people of a certain skin tone based on the actions of others.

Is writing checks going to solve racism? (Or will it spur new racism?)

Your last two sentences are an absolute contradiction. Affirmative action policies are racist by their very definition. Solving racism with more racism.


Frank Gormlie February 21, 2020 at 3:42 pm

triggerfinger – try to take the long view. Your society, your country has benefited from the unpaid labor of millions of slaves (the White House was built by slaves). Until just recently, historically, your fellow Black citizens weren’t even able to vote or drink from the same water fountain as white people. You – and your forebears – have benefited from the system of white supremacy, the system of institutionalized racism, where white people always received better goods, education, housing, jobs, etc. Doesn’t mean you’re a white supremacist.


Joseph Fountain February 21, 2020 at 4:02 pm

Mr. Gormlie,

I just read your bio and that you are a lawyer. I had a crazy idea, to use the RICO laws against the City of Ferguson, the County Courts, the DA’s office based on the DOJ report from Ferguson 2015. In civil form I think it could be easily proven that the “system” targeted communities of color and extorted, committed fraud and enslaved people in the prison industrial complex.

The second idea, is based again on using RICO, but using it against District Attorneys that argue for re-sentencing of incarcerated persons near the end of their sentences, who are also working in prison/jail related jobs that the jail/prison is making a profit from their labor. I have read several stories about people in jail who, near the end of their sentences because of changes in sentencing guidelines, face a re-sentencing. In many of these cases the person was also working for private companies that pay the jail. The act of seeking to re-sentence for a longer term while making a profit from the person incarcerated seems to an overt act to enslave someone.


Frank Gormlie February 21, 2020 at 9:51 pm

Ah, I have retired from being a lawyer.


Joseph Fountain February 22, 2020 at 5:34 am

I like the mental gymnastics of taking a problem and thinking about solutions. I like the mental gymnastics of taking a law that has become a tool of the government to oppress minorities and turning the tables and using it against those that abuse their power.


triggerfinger February 21, 2020 at 4:11 pm

The area I grew up and went to school was low to middle income and more than half the kids were minorities. I did later attend a magnet school in the same neighborhood based on test scores. (Magnet schools are state-funded). Must’ve been because my racist elementary school teachers gave me a better education than my latino classmates.

The sooner this us and them argument dies, the better off everyone will be. This isn’t my society, my country, it’s everyone’s. People need to quit the groupthink and start thinking and acting for themselves. Writing checks is not going to cure anyone of whatever societal baggage they inherited from previous generations. But individual responsibility and self-improvement sure will.


triggerfinger February 21, 2020 at 3:32 pm

I support reparations for every surviving freed slave in the United States. That should be a quick calculation…


Frank Gormlie February 21, 2020 at 3:43 pm

Ah, what a jokester. See previous comment.


sealintheSelkirks February 22, 2020 at 1:27 pm

I live between three Rez up here, eleven miles south is the Spokane, twenty miles over the hills to the east lies the Kalispell, and on the other side of the Columbia twenty miles west is the Colville. I could walk to any in a day.

In 2003 I was named a Spirit Warrior Brother in front of family and tribal members by Red Bear Walker, an Apache shaman-in-training, for the work I was doing with him in NorCal. And I had to be told what the hell that meant because this old OB surfer had no idea how complicated it was, what the cultural expectations were. His mother Melinda Sky Walker sat me down and schooled me. It was an education I never expected. I still only have a partial mental outline of what it meant to be so honored.

Then I moved up here. I moved to a simmering war zone of us vs them. The education continues I guess.

The Rez is a prisoner of war camp that never ends. Forever trapped in poverty and joblessness struggling with a shattered ten thousand year-old culture trying to find itself and surrounded on all sides by the cultural and physical guardians of the ruling group to keep them contained and controlled. There is a monument off the 2-laner state highway ten miles south of this property that commemorates the building of the first white Christian church back in the 1840s…that was built directly on the springs used for thousands of years by the Spokane, to control their water supply. Think anything has changed since the invaders did that, triggerfinger? Think the POWs on the Rezs control ANYTHING up here? There is so much animosity and hate floating around that it sometimes makes my center flicker in pain.

But this is what our species has always done. My mother’s European tribal ancestors were mass murdered by the Roman Catholic army that invaded and slaughtered and ‘converted’ by the sword anyone who disputed their god-given right to rule the world more than a thousand years ago… And those Euro ancestors learned their lesson well and then did the same damned thing when they crossed the ocean to this continent and found people already living here that they could then convert by the sword (well, guns are just the new swords, yes?) and steal everything.

Now those from the Euro-descended ancestors who learned Roman war so well that rule this country are doing exactly the same thing in the Middle East but for oil this time, not just land. Riches just the same. The society we found ourselves born into continues the program of Empire.

Will repatriations make any damn difference? Probably not to be honest, better perhaps to completely change the society we live in to one that actually treats everyone equally well instead of just the wealthy who continue to amass ever-more from those of lesser ‘economic status.’ Think that is going to happen? Unlikely. My concentration camp survivor stepmom bore the mental and emotional scars the entire time I lived with her, and those ‘cash’ repatriations given out very doubtfully made any difference in her mind. The scars won’t go away. Ever.

I don’t have any answers to something that has gone on over the last ten thousand years across the entire face of this planet. But we have to start somewhere, don’t we? Because there is a breaking point of every civilization risen on this planet that collapsed, and it seems we are really damned close to it both physically and culturally. Maybe the wealthy could donate half their wealth to rebuild the ghettos and Rezs and barrios and Appalachian dirt poor whites who were exploited, but then it’s pretty doubtful those that profited by divide & conquer tactics would be willing to do that.

The 60% of the working population of this country that makes under $40,000 a year certainly can’t afford to pay repatriations. That 60% can barely pay the rent and the car insurance and the emergency dental bill in the same month. Bloomberg could, Koch brothers could, Gates could, Adelson and DeVos and Bezos and so many other billionaires could throw in a huge pile of cash to rebuild and education and feed those that they have trampled. But probably not, eh? I mean, they’re the winners in this sick society and they never look down at who they trample…



triggerfinger February 22, 2020 at 2:34 pm

I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s NOT reparations.

Reparations sound like a great way to sow new racial division and encourage a culture of government dependency among recipients.

Nobody here is in disagreement over the atrocities of the past few centuries of this nation.


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