Reparations as Bailout
No, I'm not black. But I do have a few suggestions on how to remedy the complicated history of reparations.
Call it a belated bailout of the Freedmen's Savings Bank, but now may be the perfect time, perhaps the only time, that African Americans, descendants of the slaves who toiled to build the United States of America, might be in a position to achieve the elusive goal of reparations.
Don't call it reparations. Call it a belated bailout of the Freedman's Savings Bank, chartered by Congress in 1865 as a financial haven for freed slaves, and failed in 1874 after its white board lost all the money after a spree of wild speculation.
It was like black people's version of Bernie Madoff (but the bank was thought to be as safe as the government could make it and it was for a time). Thousands of African Americans lost millions of dollars—millions that had been earned through pure sweat and toil—when the bank failed. That combination of real assets lost and hundreds of thousands of people involved (to whom most African Americans today could claim an ancestor) provides a legitimate cover for, or different way of looking at, reparations. It's not a giveaway; it's a bailout, you know, just like the kind white people get today.
And OK, I am white. But as some of my best friends are black, I hope to at least get a meal or two out of any future reparations package.
All jokes aside, now is the perfect time, perhaps the only time, that African Americans, descendants of the slaves who toiled to build the United States of America, might be in a position to achieve the elusive goal of reparations. The nation has dashed to the rescue of the undeserving, most notably in the sickening $150 billion bailout of the unhedged fund known as AIG which was awkwardly grafted on to an old insurance company called AIG. The automakers were bailed out by the White House, despite some Southern senators who have a complex about unions. (Why are good old boys so anti-union anyway? Does it have to do with the South's peculiar labor history?)
Barack Obama's election certainly makes reparations more likely than they were under, say, Woodrow Wilson, but nobody thinks Obama has the political will to fight the fight, nor should anyone expect him to play with such political dynamite. Some enterprising Southern or Southern-ish GOP senator (paging Mitch McConnell, who'll never win another term anyway) needs to see the big picture, glimpse his place in history, foresee how African-American reparation spending will help his state/region and proceed to call in every favor and twist every arm until every congressman signs. It's not like Obama won't sign it. My calculations show it would cost a mere $900 billion—chump change to the folks at AIG. Now that we're on the verge of deflation, it's time to rev up the printing press anyway.
A belated Freedman's Savings Bank bailout package would effectively kill two birds with one stone. It would finally acknowledge and attempt to compensate African Americans for a portion of their fair share in creating this nation while simultaneously stimulating the economy.
Dave Chappelle, as funny as he is, did a disservice to the idea of reparations with his skit on them, which many average white people are likely to reference if the issue is brought up. Sure, maybe some black people will buy trucks full of cigarettes and act extra ignorant. But, I think it's safe to say that most African Americans will not rush the money to Switzerland, Bermuda or the Caymans. Most of the money will not disappear in insufficiently hedged or unhedged "hedge" funds.
No, instead the money will pay off mortgages, hopefully recapitalizing banks and stabilizing them. The money will go to buying new appliances. It will also go to higher education. Can you imagine how many people will return to school to finish degrees or get new ones? People will suddenly have the breathing room to do so. Crimes of a desperate nature will decrease. The money will go to churches and finance new church building projects. Some money will line the pockets of some worthy pastors and some unworthy pastors, but that's fine, because both groups will spend. Blighted neighborhoods will spruce up. Dreams deferred will become more possible. Much of the money will actually be spent in red states, thus placating the GOP.
Sounds like a rising tide!
Paul Devlin is a graduate student and writer in Long Island, N.Y.