White privilege and the Obama era
White privilege is one of the cornerstones of the legal dimension of the reparations movement. It is a fascinating question to ponder the fate of White privilege in the Obama era. Clearly, the new president has indicated consistently that, while willing to listen to any reasonable argument, he is oriented towards extracting the best lessons from the past, then moving forward. He is not, however, interested in wallowing in the past. So, insisting on making Whites feel guilty for their past misdeeds and misappropriations which basically produced their current White privilege standing in the USA, is not an issue he will willingly tackle. Come to think of it, thus far in his beginning tenure he has been wholly unwilling to investigate, prosecute and punish the transgressors who worked in the recent past of the Bush administration. That is totally in character based on what he has previously said and done. Critics of White privilege then, particularly based on the historical establishment of that social-political benefit, will be in for tough sledding, as will those who advocate reparations now!
This will be the case in spite of the DeWolf-Browne family’s “mea culpa” and the documentary the family has made owning up to some of the deeds perpetrated by their early kinfolk to profit handsomely from slavery and slave labor. This will be the case in spite of the 2007-08 apologies for slavery and Jim Crowism by at least five southern states, and by four major churches, including the Catholic Church (through the Pope). This will be the case in spite of the growth internationally of a widespread reparations movement, including a major apartheid court case in New York, two gigantic cases against the French government by Martinique and Guadeloupe, and the publication of a detailed report by a 2008 Illinois Slave Commission on what that state owes to African descendants. This will be the case even though the U.S. government both owned and leased slaves to build the presidential White House and the Capital Building we all saw in bold relief on January 20, and slaves assisted a newly formed America to establish its strong presence in the world. U.S. Congressman John Conyers’ H.R. 40 bill even began its national hearings in late 2007, but none of that will be enough. White privilege is alive and well and the reparations movement, itself still substantial and very important, will not and probably cannot reduce it anytime soon.
During the following months of economic terrorism inside and outside this country, reparations arguments will not see much daylight. That is a shame, but it is reality. Meanwhile, everybody who can see Mrs. Browne’s film on her slaveowning family certainly needs to do so. For that we strongly encourage you to attend the upcoming Pan African Film Festival advertised elsewhere in this newspaper.
Her film re-introduces another major component of any reparations effort anywhere on the planet, and that is the issue of land. Land and Black folk are tied inextricably. In fact, according to a spokesman for the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association out of Alabama, between 1898 and 1913 there was an increase in land ownership in America. Black farmers legally held over three million acres in 1875, eight million in 1890 and 12 million in 1900. The peak year of Black farm land ownership in America was 1910 when Blacks owned between 16 and 19 million acres, with 175,000 farms fully owned, 43,000 partially owned, and 670,000 being sharecropped.
Today, that peak figure has dropped to below eight million acres and it continues to slide, as the majority of Black farmers have been driven off the land and into wage earning jobs. The younger generation seems to have no abiding interest in the issue unless it is about a house and mortgage, not a farm. As we have become more and more landless, we have simultaneously become more and more marginalized.
Describing exactly where our Black communities are in present-day America, we tend to emphasize our poor education facilities, our rising unemployment, our police profiling and prison warehousing, our drug problems, the dysfunctional Black family, and sometimes, more positively, our political achievements. However, what we too often leave out of the equation is the health or illness of our relationship to the land. It has always been from that source that we have gathered strength, renewed ourselves, and multiplied our culture in diverse ways. Land is where our spirit and soul dwell.
In California, there is still a great argument to be made about the Underground Railroad here, about large-scale slavery in the state (although the state constitution made slavery illegal), and about companies still doing business in California which profited handsomely from slavery and the domestic slave trade. White privilege in California is part of that argument, as is how to re-acquaint black Californians to the land issue.
Given the significance of coalition politics in this state, there is even a big likelihood that Blacks and Latinos will combine forces in the near future. Chicanos within the Latino population have a very credible and deserving reparations case to make.
In essence, even in the Obama era, there is much work to be done to raise the Black population back up to the level it deserves and has earned in this society. To make it back to higher ground, land has to figure in the equation and we must not forget that.
A luta Continua (The struggle continues).
- David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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When President Barack Obama continuously mentioned Abraham Lincoln during his campaign, using the Lincoln Memorial as a backdrop for part of the inaugural ceremonies, it became very difficult to figure out why. The only rationale that seemed conceivable was, they are both homeboys from Illinois, and the Lincoln Memorial was an ideal location for the inaugural concert.
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Jews of all denominations and traditions will gather for a ritual meal called a Seder, which means order.
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“Roots,” which originally aired in 1977 on the ABC Network, literally captured the heart and imagination of America and the world. Never before had anything focusing on the subject of slavery ever graced the airwaves with such power and authority as this mini-series.