I am fortunate to claim economist Sandy Darity as a friend and mentor. I asked him once, after a barn burner of an academic lecture on reparations, why in God’s name would he go all in on something that doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever happening. “That’s what they once said about abolishing slavery,” he said.
I shut up.
And, I got to thinking.
For about six years now, I’ve been thinking about what it means to go all in on the improbable.
Ta-Nehisi Coates reintroduced the subject of reparations to public debate recently. I’m no Coates or Darity but I’ve been around just long enough to know how these debates are often truncated and misconstrued by the well-meaning and nefarious alike. I saw it happening in the responses. I jotted off a thing about how education is the exact wrong prescription for cumulative denial and violent extraction of capital from black lives. The Washington Post ran that thing. I stand by it.
I stand by it knowing that tomorrow I will read the latest scholarship and policy on education and access and inequality and I will do my damn job. I will see us moving the same ball and I will do my job. I will even, most days, enjoy my job. I will read supposedly sober critiques from disciplined conservatives that pull every slight of hand to look serious while avoiding taking any real stance. I will ignore the emails, social media taunts and thinly-veiled threats.
I will do it knowing that no one is about to go all in on reparations legislation this week or even this lifetime.
This is how these things work. Until they don’t.
Sometimes, all of the Times that have mattered actually, a conversation will meet a moment will meet a movement. And, our collective social evolution relies on the zealots who took a stand from time to time.
I’m not saying I’ll be one of them. But I am saying I won’t stand in their way.
Can we say that for our allies? The ones who are fine with reparations in theory but cannot go so far as to deal with its practical application for living victims of apartheid. They, the ones who are happy to talk about slavery given the comfort of space, time, and probability statistics but go silent when reminded that there are living victims of Jim Crow or new victims being made in places like New Orleans as we speak? Can we say the same for friends of equality who cannot imagine justice for people “like you” in an alternate reality even when the stakes are so very low? I mean, if its so ridiculous, so improbable this idea of reparations why can so few allies and friends and progressives and liberals be bothered to even venture utopian futures where black folks have something akin to justice?
It is not unlike creative geniuses who, with the power of CGI and a billion dollars, can imagine green extraterrestrials and shimmering vampires but not black people.
Anyway, I wrote a thing about reparations. I know it won’t matter but that is why I wrote it.
In the meantime, I’m headed to New England to bump up against some bright brains as I work on the here and now of inequality regimes, social media, digital geographies and credentials. It’s my job. I like it.
You can catch me at the Berkman Center in July and mostly here on the blog as I hand a book over to my publisher, usher some pubs through brutal revise and resubmits, and dream of allies and friends.