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It’s Time To Talk About Reparations

Henry Louis GatesHenry Louis Gates

Let’s talk about reparations. Why not? Everyone else is.

According to the Wall Street Journal, public interest in the subject is on the rise. For one thing, all the Democratic presidential candidates have expressed support for some plan to make amends for the history of disenfranchisement experienced by African Americans that began after the Civil War.

And now, Americans are googling for information about the subject like never before.

Recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly endorsed H.R. 40, a bill to establish a federal commission to study how slavery and Jim Crow continues to impact society today. The bill has been largely ignored since a version was first introduced in 1989, but now it’s back in play. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, also a presidential hopeful, plans to introduce a Senate version of H.R. 40, but he’s already facing headwinds. “I think it’s too remote in time, I think it’s too divisive and I don’t think it’s good for the country, quite frankly,” says Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham [R- S.C.]

But perhaps a good study is just what we need right now.

This week, Henry Louis Gates and PBS released a four-hour documentary series on America’s post-Civil War Reconstruction period, a brief time of optimism when black people found meaningful roles in public and commercial life, and when poor white and black people were joined in common cause.

What should have been the glorious second founding of our country became an era marked by a backlash so violent and profound, that it sent society careening down the racist track that would ultimately make a reparations study necessary.

But, we were so close. So close.

The documentary begins with the 2015 mass-murder of nine black worshippers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. by Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist. Roof believed terrible things about black people, as one survivor explains. “He just said, ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women. You’re taking over our country.’” But as writer Jelani Cobb explains, this event was not a singular horror. “Unless you wanted to understand how this could happen…that meant that you had to get into the history.”

You can watch the extended trailer here. The entire series will be available online until May 7.

Most people who were educated in the U.S. know virtually nothing about the Reconstruction period and now that I’m halfway through the series, I realize how profoundly tragic that is. It seems to me that no meaningful debate about reparations – and what is keeping people of color from experiencing equity in education, health care, housing, credit markets, and in the workforce – can happen without getting into the history.

Hit me back if any of your groups (ERGs, church, book groups, super-secret clubs) plan on watching it. If you’d have me, I’d love to join/Skype into your post-viewing discussion. History is better when shared, after all.


On Point

The first trailer for the documentary about the Emanuel massacre has been releasedExecutive produced by Steph Curry, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, and Mariska Hargitay, Emanuel tells the story of the people who survived and the community that endures. The film was made in partnership with the city of Charleston and takes stories of survivors and family members of the murdered and weaves in the history of race and racism in the city and beyond. “The documentary highlights how a horrible tragedy can bring a community together and spreads an important message about the power of forgiveness,” Curry told Deadline. “Stories like this are the reason we created Unanimous and entered the entertainment space. I hope the film inspires others like it does me.” In a related note, director Brian Ivie has tackled important stories involving faith before and seems like a person to watch.Deadline

A local deputy’s son has been arrested for the fires at historically black churches in Louisiana
Deputy Roy Matthews turned his son, Holden Matthews, into authorities yesterday. Holden Matthews was charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building. While his motive is still unclear, the fires devastated the St. Landry Parish community. “Significant updates” will be issued in a press conference today, say authorities. While Matthews, who is white, was known to have an interest in heavy metal music, but he didn’t have a belligerent or racist online presence. More on Holden Matthews here.
CBS News

Volunteers are facing jail time for rescuing migrants at sea
It is a heartbreaking story that helps illuminate the complexity of the migrant problem. Miguel Roldán was working on a rescue boat in the Mediterranean when they set out in search of a vessel that had been reported sinking. Because the migrant boat was in Libyan waters, they were initially denied permission to rescue them. Roldán, who was part of an international team of trained volunteers, began rescue efforts before permission came. “We could only save half of them, many people drowned,” he said. Eventually, their boat was seized by Italian authorities who accused them of “facilitating illegal immigration.” The boat, the luventa, is a former fishing vessel which has been retrofitted by a German NGO to proactively search for migrant vessels in danger of sinking in treacherous waters. Roldán and his crewmates are facing up to 20 years in jail.
El Pais

The Sackler family’s role in the opioid epidemic is forcing philanthropies to re-think their donor pools
For most people, the Sackler name was famous for the buildings it was etched on at the Metropolitan Museum, on Yale University’s campus, and the like. But now that the family is under fire for their role in “a cackling, evil conspiracy to make poor white people drug addicts,” as Cornell University professor Louis Hyman puts it, the organizations who take their money are feeling some heat. Major museums like the Guggenheim have bowed to public protests and agreed to stop taking money from them. But can money be dirty? “In giving the gift of money to a reputable and ‘clean’ organization, like a museum, they are hoping to both ‘launder’ the money and also ‘launder’ themselves,” ethics professor Peter Jaworski tells Vice. Accepting the gift may clean the donor, but it dirties the institution.

On Background

The black hole news is amazing
While this is not about race, it is about inclusion, particularly the inclusion of a young computer scientist who played an essential role in piecing together images that helped make up the first-ever photo of a black hole. Katie Bouman is not going to have to wait until she is the star of a Hidden Figures type movie. Instead, the 29-year-old computer scientist’s name began trending on Twitter yesterday, lauded for her work creating the algorithm that made the image possible. Bouman began her quest three years ago while she was a grad student at MIT. The black hole photo is a compilation of images coming from a network of eight linked telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), all rendered by her algorithm. Her charming TED talk, complete with disco ball analogies and Rolling Stone lyrics, explained how it was all going to work. She is awesome.

Seven ways to calm a traumatized brain
K-6 classroom teacher Dr. Lori Desautels offers this thoughtful guide to helping children who have experienced trauma deal with their always flooded brains so they can focus. “A traumatized brain can be tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached, and these states are often accompanied by feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear,” she says. Kids who have been traumatized are often in a constant state of agitation, unable to form healthy attachments or make progress in school. They need help feeling safe inside their own bodies, she says. The techniques are simple and work for everyone. Deep breathing, movement, and dancing are all helpful, but my favorite is a rhythmic clapping or drumming exercise that gets the entire class moving in the same rhythm. “The collective sound brings a sense of community to the classroom,” says Desautels.

Ads for runaway slaves offer an extraordinary glimpse into the complexity of history
Would President Andrew Jackson have freed the slaves and prevented the Civil War? It’s a question that has come up more than once in the modern era. Even President Trump, who’s a Jackson fan, has weighed in. While we will never know the answer (actually, we totally know), we do know that Jackson sounded pretty peeved when he placed an ad for a runaway slave in the Tennessee Gazette in October 1804. A “Mulatto Man Slave, about thirty years old, six feet and an inch high, stout made and active, talks sensible, stoops in his walk,” he wrote, noting that he “will pass for a free man…” The reward was $50 plus expenses, with a cruel twist: “ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred.” This ad is one of thousands preserved by the history department at Cornell University. Jackson owned about 150 enslaved people when he died in 1845.
Washington Post



Andrew Jackson was an executioner, a slaver, an ethnic cleanser, and an economic illiterate. He deserves no place on our currency, and nothing but contempt from modern America.
—Dylan Matthews