Reparations: Who is Owed, What is Owed, And by Whom is it Owed?

Many of our strangely anointed leaders rant that they know what is good for us, that they know what we all need.

Moreover, they imply that until all black Americans — each and every one of us — are economically solvent, America has not lived up to its creed.

Some of our leaders (and their desperate followers) claim that America has a debt to pay to its descendants of slaves. That the potentiality for success for each and every black person has somehow been compromised by a history of unequal treatment. They further imply that we are therefore owed reparations to give us equal footing on the ladder to success. This is utter nonsense.

There will always be some persons who are successful and some who are unsuccessful in a competitive economic environment. And, as such, there will always be some persons — black, white, otherwise — who don’t “make it” economically. To hold the nation a psychological and moral hostage for the inability or unwillingness of some to achieve is indefensible.

It is a given that some proportion of our nation will be impoverished.

IT’S TRUE!

ACCEPT IT!

We need also to accept that some black people will not make it — now or ever.

THAT’S ALSO TRUE!

THAT ALSO NEEDS TO BE ACCEPTED!

Rather than wrestling with the unattainable goal of empowerment and success for all, what needs to be determined, in my opinion, is a reasonable and equitable impoverishment rate across all groups. Is it 2 percent, 5 percent, 15 percent? What is that rate? Doesn’t arriving at that cornerstone make much more sense than continuing to battle toward an unknown and unestablished economic goal? Otherwise, when do we stop battling? The answer to this question is much more important than what appears on the surface. Its significance for black consciousness and identity represents a very major paradigm shift toward the positive.

Perhaps we need to press economists for the figure. To arrive at such a figure would be almost therapeutic for us and for the entire nation. Instead of a battle toward the nebulous target of economic equality, we would have a determinable target.

The acceptance of such a numerical and cognitive precept would free us from an interminable and ill-defined battle for “Equality.”

We could break ranks and live our lives individually; unencumbered by the unwieldy swords and armor of a black struggle that presents as unending. Our struggles would be our own. We could no longer hold “them” and their descendants eternally responsible for our well-being. We would have to relinquish our tenacious hold of Past injustices and wrongs and concentrate on the Present and the Future. Moreover, we would be responsible individually for our own livelihoods, our own happiness, and our own successes and failures.

At this juncture in American history, the monumental task of turning to overcome ourselves is upon us. Both as individuals and as a community. So much of who we are has emanated from our epic struggles of social justice. Moreover, our over-identification with struggles before present times serves to keep us psychologically tied and wedded to the hallowed Past.

For those black persons who remain steeped in the past, Reparations likely seems a panacea. But one thing that history should have taught us by now is this: Throwing money at a problem doesn’t necessarily represent a cure. When one considers the average person, what needs to be enriched are souls–not pockets.

That is what makes facing ourselves so very difficult. It can be very threatening to one’s psyche to look around at the progress of black Advancers and consider that the struggle is over — threatening particularly to those who have invested only rhetoric and rationalization toward the future. They must consider that by being remiss they have been left behind. Black Delayers were so busy singing or identifying with “We Shall Overcome” that few of them considered what would happen once we did. That is, once equal opportunities presented themselves.

Many of us have become entitled — thinking that we are owed. However, it is my belief that the only ones owed are those who cleared obstacles for us or sacrificed so that we might advance. And guess who owes them? Not the white man, not the system, or the government, but YOU and ME. We owe them Progress! Despite the ravings of those who insist that we keep our eyes closed to progress made, We Have Overcome! At least, we have overcome them. Now let’s turn to overcoming ourselves.

So, in response to the culturally definitive questions related to Reparations:

Question: WHO IS OWED?

Answer: Our abused forebears. In light of the degradation, murders, rapes, lynchings, indignities, and other abuses suffered, these are the people who are owed. Not today’s descendants, in general, of those enslaved persons. And certainly not those weak persons with hands outstretched who take refuge in many of our communities today. The latter are no more than offshoots from our common strong roots. Although simple blackness of skin was more than enough to enact abuses in the Past, it is not enough today to warrant remuneration to all descendants. Opportunity to succeed (or fail) was denied our common ancestors. But now, through the efforts of subsequent generations of black Advancers, those opportunities (to succeed or fail) have been secured.

Now, you want more??!!

Question: WHAT IS OWED?

Answer: Continued achievement and inclusion in the entire fabric of United States society. To wit, Progress. Our forebears were enslaved and restricted from participation as full citizens. We owe them continued expansion beyond ourselves, beyond our cultures, and beyond our communities.  

Question: BY WHOM IS IT OWED?

Answer: Each and every black American! WE owe the debt. We owe them NOT to relent; We owe them NOT to cower, and We owe them NOT to wait helplessly for the system’s handouts.      

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. 

Until next time: 

BE WELL, AND KEEP STRETCHING!

DO YOU AGREE? CONTACT US OR LEAVE A COMMENT

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Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past, Sweet Release, and the upcoming Pain In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

Emotional Growth Beyond Race

I’d like to present a challenge to the black community, in that we work on our intellectual growth and expand our perceptions of the world beyond the myopic view offered through the lens of race. Otherwise, we are left to say, “Ball!” “Ball!” “Ball!” as in the story with little Johnny.

Anyone who has spent any time at all around little kids will understand Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget’s notions of schema, assimilation, and accommodation. Let me explain. Imagine this scenario: Johnny’s dad comes home with a new toy for his young son. He rolls it up to Johnny and says, “Ball.” The kid looks quizzically at the object and, after a few attempts, blurts out, “Ball!” His parents are overjoyed. Their child–to them an unbridled genius–knows what the new object is. 

They telephone Johnny’s grandparents and make them listen to their grandson saying, “Ball!” “Ball!” “Ball!” The parents are happy, Johnny is pleased that he is pleasing others, and his grandparents are already thinking graduate school. 

The next morning, Johnny’s mom is slicing oranges for juice. Johnny looks over at his mom. With his little chubby baby fingers, Johnny points to the oranges. Guess what he says? That’s right! He says, “Ball!” “Ball!” “Ball!” 

Intellectual Growth Stems from Expanding Our Worldview Beyond Race

Johnny at this young age has developed a scheme for his world. That is, all things round are “Ball.” Everything he encounters that is round and unfamiliar to him is made to fit into his existing knowledge base. Things are assimilated into what he already knows. 

Later he learns that everything round is not a ball. Oranges, moons, suns, and wheels have roundness, but not ball-ness. Johnny learns to accommodate for these other round objects. In essence, he learns to expand his schema and worldview. 

In order for Johnny to expand his world and develop, he must learn to accommodate. Similarly, accommodation (or adaptation) to new ways of existence and perception of the world for black Americans must be mastered to ensure expansion and development. We must learn to expand ourselves beyond race. 

As well, we must work on our intellectual growth and expand our perceptions of the world beyond the myopic view offered through the lens of racial injustice. Otherwise, we are left to say, “Ball!” “Ball!” “Ball!” in response to new and emerging themes of social interaction. Our schema: “Prejudice!” “Racism!” “Discrimination!” serve to keep some of us as limited and psychologically unsophisticated as was Johnny. 

Come on, black people. We can do it. We can accommodate. Little Johnny did!

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. 

Until next time: 

BE WELL, AND KEEP STRETCHING!

DO YOU AGREE? CONTACT US OR LEAVE A COMMENT

Get in Touch

Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past, Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

Haunted by the Ghosts of the Civil Rights Era

“What Does it Mean to be Black?”

Where do I fit in? How am I supposed to be? To whom do I look for answers? Generation after generation, such fundamental questions of being human are faced by adolescents. The answers that they arrive at go far in affecting their eventual self-concept and identity. Tragically, for most black children born in the United States, race has historically commandeered the lion’s share of their answers. Its omnipresence is part of the lifeblood of our nation. To their detriment, black adolescents have had to consider race as an integral part of who they are.

Sadly, in their efforts to address questions of identity, many of today’s young black persons (and I dare say a great number of their elders) find themselves possessed. Their possessor is a ghost—an apparition of things long gone. It is a poltergeist. It steers them rearward, toward the past. There they find direction for their lives; among the remnants and ashes of the Civil Rights era. There, they sift for answers. Rather than pursuing new, fresh ways of being human, they identify with the struggles that predominated that time. Those struggles become their struggles. From that time in history black children hear bold retorts to the questions they ask: “What does it mean to be black?” “How do I interact with people who aren’t black?” “What should I expect from the world?” and “What is my place in the world?” Such questions are answered readily—although incompletely—by the political and social tenor of the 1950s and 1960s.

Orientation of Black Identity

Failing to acknowledge the boundaries of historical context, many black children look backward to Malcolm X, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Elijah Muhammad, Huey Newton, and a host of lesser deities for answers. For a sense of black identity, they orient themselves backward toward the hallowed past. Tragically, that same backward orientation inclines them to identify with yesterday’s racism and oppression, while rejecting today’s increased social and economic opportunities. They become delayers—girded for battle but without a clear enemy. Our children come to equate blackness with struggle. Struggle becomes central to their perception of self. In their minds one is not truly black unless struggling or downtrodden. These children forgo opportunities they perceive as antithetical to their black identity. They resist ideas that would bring them more in line with present context. They reject the reality of increased social and economic opportunity for black persons. Worse, they reject the role models of black persons who, by having embraced the American Dream, are not struggling or downtrodden.

Armed with only a cursory understanding of the past, they “Say It Loud,” without pursuing self-sufficiency and empowerment. They shout, “I Am Somebody!” while settling to be nobodies. In exchange for clearly delineated—although constricted—identities based on the past, such persons delay overtures toward more expansive but undefined futures. In the end, they estrange themselves from a future they see as white—from the very same future that their black predecessors struggled for them to have.

Misguided by the Past

Obviously, these young people are misguided. By and large, their role models— us—are little help in instructing them to look toward the future and away from the past. After all, Malcolm X and the others were our heroes, our role models. They were larger than life in an era that was larger than most. We lived with them and came to love them. We were touched by their magic and enthralled by their messages. And we want their messages—strong messages—to strike resonant chords in our offspring. We want their memories and dreams kept alive. After all, how could any of us bear to tell our children to look away from our heroes, our warriors in shining armor? Most of us cannot. So, although the world has advanced beyond many of the racial issues of yesteryear, we become saddled with young warriors who desire to emulate our fallen, outdated heroes.

The perpetuating messages of hate and past struggles continue to resonate in young people’s music today; in a sense, misleading our youth’s perception to believe we continue to live in a parallel world of civil rights unrest. Have we not, as a society, made any progress at all? Or is it simply more on trend to perpetuate the superfluous messages of anger and destruction in the brainwashing beats of today’s pop music? Many of its messages are of hate: hatred based on race, economic class, and lifestyle—or, more succinctly, hatred of all that is perceived as white. If that is true, we are denying all progress made as a result of our past leaders’ authentic struggles and proclamations of truth and change.

In my travels, I often encounter such young persons. They are usually young pups of twenty or so years of age who are a little too well versed in the “ways of white folks.” They think themselves omniscient. Surliness dominates their faces. Anger permeates their souls. As their rhetoric spews forth, I wonder how these youngsters could know so much of the 1950s and 1960s, a period well before their time. After all, young people are hardly motivated to study history. They’re much too busy trying to be cool and fit in. Yet these young warriors are seemingly quite attuned to this particular era in American history.

Identity Swayed by Color

The worst of these young pups adopt very extreme positions. They become caught up in rhetoric and hate. Taking the role of either arch-victim or arch-revolutionary, these individuals hope to rekindle an ideological fire whose embers are barely recognizable. They incorporate into their identities a hate for anything—suburbia, music, people, success—that they perceive as white. They reject white persons because they are white. According to their ravings— and sometimes lyrics—white people act conspiratorially to subjugate the bulk of black Americans.

Further, these youngsters assert that black people, as a group, will never reach equal footing with the majority of white Americans because it is “a white man’s world.” Some even identify with desperate philosophies of the past, suggesting that we separate ourselves from the white world—that we would do better collectively if left to ourselves, and that our resources, our schools, and our businesses would be best operated and patronized by and for us.

In searching for identity, these youngsters become swayed by the saliency of color. They come to believe that they are kindred philosophically, politically, and spiritually to those who look like them. They come to believe that there exist race-specific attitudes and behaviors. Skin color is so obvious a distinction that these youngsters, like other racists, seek to extend that distinctiveness beyond melanin to all aspects of humanness. Our children too easily accept the notion of color as purveyor of culture. This is particularly the case for children reared by unenlightened parents. These young persons are very much at risk for incorporating into their identities the saliency of color and thereby becoming snared and blinded by the past.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. 

Until next time: 

BE WELL, AND KEEP STRETCHING!

DO YOU AGREE? CONTACT US OR LEAVE A COMMENT

Get in Touch

Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past, Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

Are These Black Men Our Brothers?

Sometimes when I pass black men of worsening social stature on the street there arises a feeling of connection.

— An almost inexplicable affinity to these men.

Inexplicable, because I know intellectually that in many spheres there lies an unbridgeable chasm between me and these men. Nonetheless there still seems to exist a curious emotional connection to these stumblers. This pestering connection is strange indeed since most of my life I have worked assiduously not to be associated with such persons. They hold too steadfast to their life circumstances.

Generally I have been successful in avoiding interaction with such persons, but there still remains for me this vexing delusion that, save a few fortunate turns of fate, I could be hanging out with them. Whether their problems stem from drugs, crime, finances, undereducation or unemployment, this enduring delusional affinity still tugs at my psych. Damn its persistence!

I liken this strange emotional connection to delusion because it defies all manner of reason and observation

It is persistent and impervious to logic and rationality. Unmistakably it is delusion; the case against connection is strong enough to make it laughable. They are drug addicts; I don’t use drugs. They are homeless; I have a home. They hustle; I work. They are intractable louts; I am a sophisticated, urban professional. They exist; I live. Their prospects are bleak; mine are bright. I achieve; they have relented.

But still.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today.

Until next time:

BE WELL AND KEEP STRETCHING!

DO YOU AGREE? CONTACT US OR LEAVE A COMMENT

GET IN TOUCH

Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past, Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.