Reparations for our dark past: slavery

Last night, Chris and I went to 59 E 59 Theater for their Summer Shorts, Series B plays, which are a compilation of short plays that this theater does several series of each summer. Of the three short plays that we watched, the last one entitled Appomattox, was the one that still lingered in my mind after we left. The story line is simple: two friends, one black and one white, get together for a picnic lunch and some catch, and they immediately get into a conversation about life and history that touches upon the idea of reparations for slavery at a university and whether this is a good idea or not. And then they break it down: what is the cost that is being paid by student, and what is the price, if there is one, that could ever fully compensate and make up for the 300+ years of slavery and mistreatment of black people in America?

The black friend responds to his white friend and says there really is no cost that makes sense, but if there were a cost, it should be something that “hurts.” It shouldn’t be an easy payment or something we wouldn’t think about because it would be automatically deducted from our paycheck without us ever seeing it. It should inflict pain on those who are paying it to acknowledge the pain of slavery and its lingering after effects into today.

It’s a relevant topic with many pertinent questions to today, especially as we hear members of Congress debate this very point. Does it make sense to pay descendants of slaves many generations down the line? What cost would be considered appropriate, if any? How would the distribution of these funds be handled, and who exactly would be paying for these?

I don’t think any cost would be “enough.” What would be enough? If we could remove all the harmful racial stereotypes, the police brutality of unarmed black men and women, if we could completely and fully desegregate schools and neighborhoods around this country; if we could abolish gerrymandering and and allow people their true voting rights regardless of their skin color or where they live; if we could eliminate all the systemic racism that this country seems to accept blindly every single day as “normal.”

I don’t have faith that this will happen in my lifetime, or even the next, though.

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