In the 1960s, venerated author Joan Didion wrote of America "that the center wasn't holding." This ideology still holds true over a half-century later, as the mood of our blighted nation continues to hover just slightly above a clumsily contained chaos, as blacks are forced to watch the continued, and at times systematic, hunting and slaughter of their people. To wit: the murders of nine parishioners at South Carolina's historically significant Emanuel AME church. Adding further insult to an already egregious and appalling crime is that while the city mourned such acts of hate and terrorism, it did so under a Confederate flag. In a noble America, displaying such a symbol would be an act of treason. And confusingly enough, it took mere days before the country's dialogue shifted from the loss of nine black innocents to the oft-discussed issue of gun control and, finally, whether or not the flag is appropriate in a seemingly post-racial America. Discourse regarding its removal merely offers African Americans a modicum of penance, a diversion from the true issue at hand: America has seen only minimal growth beyond her wicked past. If "we the people" are ready to shift focus to what can be done above and beyond trifle gestures and repetitive debate, the conversation must include the long overdue issuance of slave reparations.
My guess is that most, if not all, blacks would prefer to see the flag lining a cat's litter box, and not in a museum like President Obama foolishly suggested. No one would dare expect Jews to tolerate the conceited displayed of the swastika, but blacks are expected in a few states to live in the shadows of flag that celebrated and promoted our enslavement under any means necessary. Surely, in the wake of both the church shootings and what seems like the methodical and continued state sanctioned murder of blacks by unrepentant, rogue police officers the debate shouldn't center around a relic flag only the lowest among us pledges allegiance to. In honor of those who senselessly lost their lives, addressing how to permanently repair race relations should be our country's most pressing priority.
Celebrated African American writer Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, "There are years that ask questions and years that answer. America is ailing and it's become morally imperative that the issue of slave reparations be addressed now, centuries after she allowed for an unprecedented genocide so calculating and dehumanizing that it has crippled every generation since. A civilized, remorseful, and mannered government would offer some form of remuneration for unspeakable crimes left unchecked, offenses so horrific mothers would rather drown their babies along the trans-Atlantic route than see them toil as slaves in an unforgiving America. And while there isn't a metric system large enough to measure the toll slavery cost, this should not dissuade a democratic body from attempting to correct her wrongs, to finally add a commemorative footnote to a nation's disgraceful history.
Also speaking of a 1960s America, Malcolm X famously argued:
If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, that's not progress, If you pull it out all the way out, that's not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They [America] haven't begun to pull the knife out... they wont even admit the knife is there.
One might ask if it's even possible for a nation to put a value on centuries of barbaric brutality, humiliation and the derogation of being classified as farm equipment, no more deserving of American liberties than cows and goats.
For centuries, black men and women were denied their humanity and dignity regardless of recent comments made by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who appears to have woefully ignorant historical perceptions. Such horrors deserve more than a bricks and mortar monument in our nation's capitol. Today, the question remains: What's a crushed spirit worth? How does one tally the number of blacks whose final resting place is the ocean floor? And shall sanctions be multiplied if one lost soul then begat a generation and more of the same? What would it cost to restore one's humanity, to offer redress for robbing one of their lineages? And conversely, what can be said of a nation that offers nothing? Or worse, a nation that asks you to simply forget.
Not only does the silence and inaction demean African Americans, turning a blind eye to losses far grander than stolen Picassos, but it also weakens the nation as a whole for we are never greater than our most vulnerable and disenfranchised, never able to fully live up to our principled ideals if we chose to have no memory of our past, which is one born of myths and based in lies. Lehman Brothers, Aetna, JP Morgan Chase and Brooks Brothers are just a few major corporations that benefited from slavery. From using slaves as collateral for loans, to creating clothing for slaves, these companies should, in partnership with a special government committee, work toward drafting a formal form of contrition and compensation, whether it's tax breaks, gratis healthcare, or government-backed loans/grants for collegiate education and potential small business owners. I do not assume to hold all the answers, but I have sundry questions.
And while some contend slavery was born solely out of economic necessity, perhaps financial atonement would serve as a reminder that if you profit from others subjugation, your descendants may very well have to pay for the evils of their father. Granted, you cannot pay the dead, nor levy fines on the progenies of slaveholders, even if they continue to benefit from their families past deeds. But America, and other nations, could curtail wasteful government spending and redistribute those funds for those who have been put at an unfair advantage simply because their hair is kinky and their nose's wide.
Historically, seeking material benefits has been a futile effort. But if Britain paid reparations to slaveholders in the early 19th century, and not the slaves, why can't America follow her lead? And if Israel and West Germany agreed on a financial settlement in 1952 over cruelties committed during the Holocaust, why can't blacks worldwide seek the same? Was their victimization greater than ours? Is a six-year genocide worthier of expiations than those that lasted hundreds of years, first during the colonization of Africa, and followed by hundreds of years of human trafficking in its most frightening form?
The duty of every American is to make sure America is living up to its highest ideals otherwise we will be a nation known as much for our democracy as its tendency to rob minorities of it, the same minorities upon whose scarred backs this country was built. This discussion is crucial and for the sake of our nations conscious, it cannot become the responsibility of another generation. Granted, the removal of the Confederate flag from certain merchants and in front of some state houses is a beginning, it's too small an acquiescence to shift the dialogue some Americans simply want to do away it.