reparations. Finally. – Rochester BeaconRochester Beacon | Pro Club Bd

For 400 years, government-sanctioned white supremacy has been maintained at the risk and (literal) expense of black Americans. A reckoning is long overdue. But we only have today, so now is the time to start making amends. While apologies and financial reparations in any form do not erase generational pain and inequalities, they do serve as an acknowledgment of responsibility and a springboard for healing.

Howard Beckman

This summer, Rochester celebrated the Center for Teen Empowerment’s documentary, Clarissa Uprooted: Youth and Elders Uncover the Story of Black Rochester, and its accompanying exhibition at the RIT Art Space. The film and exhibition sheds light on the once thriving business and music district. Alongside other stories from across the country, Clarissa Street is another American example of white supremacy, dissecting what a black community has lovingly and laboriously cobbled together. This time, racism took the form of an eminent domain that compensated homeowners for the government’s “fair value” assessment and an urban renewal that falsely promised alternative or even better housing.

Ellen M Leopold

Reparations could be discussed from the Clarissa Street reference point or, tragically, from almost any point in our country’s history. However, we must obviously begin with America’s original sin: the capture and enslavement of African people, and then their descendants, who languished in our fields, toiled our lands, and created prosperity for the white economies of the South and North. Once “emancipated,” these “liberated” men and women found their fair share of protections and gains being stolen in a similar fashion. After 250 years: no “40 acres and a mule”, not even an apology.

After limited human rights gains for black Americans during Reconstruction, there was retaliation as white America rained down terror plagues: lynching, KKK, Jim Crow, burning homes and cities, eugenics, and racist policing practices that continue to this day. While a valid argument is made that all of white America did not participate, those who opposed did not or could not stop the violence and theft.

as 20th Marching on for centuries, Black soldiers fought war after war only to return “home” where they were denied access to social programs such as the GI Act, the provision of education and jobs. In the meantime, they have again faced violence and the destruction or confiscation of property or assets. Most egregiously, as described in Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, decades of Federal Housing Authority-sanctioned redlining and communal racial treaties effectively denied these veterans and other Black Americans the accumulation of homeowning wealth. This ongoing racial disenfranchisement happened at the same time as the post-WWII white working class built their families’ nest egg through newly minted 5-10 percent down payments on 30-year low-interest mortgages. The white family’s mortgage “piggy bank” was used for emergencies, to send children to college, and eventually to pass fortunes from one generation to the next.

My white, working-class parents bought a 1,259-square-foot home in Newton, Massachusetts, for $16,500 in 1954 and used the mortgage principal to send two sons to college and trade schools. My mother sold the family home in 1979 for $275,000 and bought an annuity that supported her retirement for 38 years. Ellen’s white family came to Detroit from Canada in the early 1950s, and although they have been lifelong anti-racist activists, they benefited from the privilege of color when they bought their first and subsequent homes – homes that also sent children to college . Contrast our family stories with those of black Americans who had no home in a valued community or the ability to fund college or retirement.

Reparations could not be accepted in 20th-century politicsth Century alone because they have led to the massive wealth gap today: Black Americans earn 60 percent of whites, but own only 10 percent of the wealth. And wealth breeds wealth. Many white suburban families have amassed resources to nurture their offspring—SAT courses, college counselors, and unpaid internships that muddle college applications. Confront these stories again with the end of Affirmative Action by a white supremacist system that rebranded an initiative to combat racism and inequality as “reverse racism.”

No government agency has ever apologized for the harm done to black Americans who have clearly and repeatedly been persecuted in state-sanctioned ways – leaving them the narrowest path to the American Dream.

Recently, the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans produced an interim report calling for a range of actions, including long-overdue reparations that reflect our racist history and the role they play in today’s neighborhoods, schools, police… , colleges, healthcare, corporate, government and of course wealth gap. The final report is due by July 1, 2023.

The interim report’s recommendations include three that address the racial wealth gap:

■ Implementation of a detailed reparations program for African Americans;

■ Developing and implementing other policies, programs and activities to close the racial wealth gap in California; and

■ Provide funding and technical assistance to Black-led and Black community-founded land trusts to help build wealth and affordable housing.

The costs of enslavement to the black community are well documented and require our attention, not to create guilt in our white community, but to address the greatest “wrongs” and demonstrate that our country has national credibility. Many white Americans wonder what can – or should – be done in response to past injustices. As a start we suggest the following:

1. Federal and local governments must apologize to the descendants of the enslaved population;

2. Rochester and other communities should start a truth and reconciliation program to give a voice to the harm done to our black citizens;

3. The US Senate should pass S. 40, a bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., that would establish a Congressional commission to study reparations proposals. As Booker said last year when an accompanying bill was sent to the House:

“Our nation has yet to fully recognize and grapple with the painful legacy of slavery, white supremacy, and systemic racism that tainted the founding of this country and lingers to this day in deep racial divides and inequalities. It is critical that we correct the mistakes of our nation’s most discriminatory policies that have halted the upward mobility of African American communities for generations, and we cannot really move forward without first fully documenting the extent of past damage.”

The cost of racism to our nation and our local community couldn’t be clearer than after the racist killings of 10 black people in neighboring Buffalo. It is the responsibility of our white communities to confront the nastiness of racism and to respond directly and intentionally to racist comments, behavior and posts on social media. It is also our responsibility as white citizens to confront white supremacy wherever and whenever we see it — and that begins with quieting the opposition and openly speaking out for redress. Finally.

Howard Beckman MD is Professor of Clinical Medicine in the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Ellen M. Leopold, MEd, is a Social and Emotional Learning Counselor.

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