Reparations: A Black existential crisis and supremacy for liberal whites

Reparations: A Black existential crisis and supremacy for liberal whites
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The reparations legislation known as H.R. 40, which has the support of President BidenJoe BidenFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Saudis picked up drugs in Cairo used to kill Khashoggi: report Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting MORE and the endorsement of Vice President Harris, is an anachronistic document.

Reparations for Blacks has been achieved since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the establishment of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs and the initiatives launched by his “War on Poverty.” These programs specifically targeted Black Americans and the recipients of tax dollars from the middle- and higher-income classes. Millions of government checks, representing tens of billions of dollars, were printed, mailed and cashed. As Stanford University economist Martin Anderson stated: “The most ambitious attempt to redistribute income ever undertaken in the United States had begun.”

The 1960s welfare programs in America were supplemented by a series of formal affirmative action programs that were themselves, I believe, a form of reparations: attempts to include Blacks in corporate and university institutions where they had been traditionally barred from entering.


Reparations rhetoric is a means of socializing Black Americans into believing that white Americans owe them something, anything other than respect for their individual rights. They are being taught to treat equity, the belief in equality of results, as an inalienable human right. But equity is an untenable idea. It rests on the idea that all persons — outside the sphere of political and legal equality — are truly equal. It unquestioningly assumes that all persons are actually born or behave equally or acquire talents, skills, capabilities of equal proportion in intelligence, strength, discipline, perseverance, frugality, temperance, tenacity, exercise of cognitive capabilities, moral choices and myriad characteristics that determine outcomes. Equity rests on the idea that equal rewards ought to proceed from unequal performance.

The demand for reparations is a response to a crisis of meaning in the lives of many Black Americans living in an age of post-oppression. All their lives, their existence was forged in painfully oppressive conditions, and yet, few claimed to be real victims — largely, one could argue, because such talk had no moral traction in a world that did not take the moral suffering of Black people seriously. But that changed with the civil rights movement and the passages of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Martin Luther King Jr. did something restorative and healing to a nation’s conscience. He played a significant role in not just embarrassing those who had not treated Black suffering seriously, but also in refraining from morally damning those who were guilty of mistreating Blacks. He equalized the two juxtaposing faces of humanity — those of Blacks and whites — reduced the moral proximal distance between them and equalized them. Their fractured humanity was made into a universal moral homogenous image: All human beings are deserving of equal treatment before the law; all are to be respected for their moral worth and shared humanity. King projected the image of a benevolent universe. He sought neither revenge nor power nor dominion over whites. He sought moral parity and respect for all disenfranchised persons.

And still that was not enough for some Black Americans. Their existential angst began to set in, cushioning a pathological ethos that would seek to denigrate the dream that America was predicated on — not economic equality, but political equality.

A haunting question threatened the psyches of many Black Americans after the civil rights era: What do I do with my life when the “deliverance quest” for which I was searching finally has been delivered by the republic of the United States?


Once the state recognized Black Americans as part of the sovereign mass, they did not disappear into racial anonymity. Welfare reparations made many of them into something really special. They became certified moral icons stamped with a victim status, one that had the imprimatur of permanent innocence. To retain that status, some sacrificed their dignity. They became economic supplicants of the state.

The cult of economic dependency has lasted for more than 56 years. It has drained many in the Black community of their creative agency, eviscerated them of their dignity and sent the life-denying message that one’s fate and destiny lie outside of one’s own hands; that one is not responsible for oneself, and that white Americans are responsible for one’s salvation. It sent the message that misfortune represents a legitimate mortgage on the purse strings of others.

For many Black Americans who participated in Great Society programs, supplication became a performance game: Incompetence, weakness and helplessness were showcased as ineradicable features of their identities.

The entire agenda behind reparations, I believe, is to showcase one’s dependence on others to procure help or sympathy. In doing so, Black Americans place themselves as objects of mercy for public contemplation and obliterate any chances of achieving parity with their fellow white citizens. Addiction to aid can become a mode of survival. Some people need a financial bailout, the object of whom becomes their moral redeemer.

And the moral redeemer in this case is the all too embarrassed and guilty white liberal who feels a strange surge of power in his or her capacity to correct what is believed to be a cosmic injustice. Eager for redemption and atonement, this white emancipatory power shapes itself as supreme. Its supremacy is addictive, seductive, unchallenged — and very white.

Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. His areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics. He is the author of several books, including a forthcoming book “What Do White Americans Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression.” Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.