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RE: Resolution on Reparations at GC 2003



I admit that when I first heard about 'reparations' they seemed about the
most unrealistic, half-baked proposal I had ever heard of.  'That's not
going to happen!' I thought, 'any more than we are going to leave the USA
and give it back to the Native Americans from whom we stole it.'

When I looked instead at the obvious legacy of slavery all through the
fabric of this country and realized our intractable the problems are so
long as each new generation begins with a disadvantage, I became
fascinated by what we might do by investing in the future to change that.

I do not see 'reparations' as a black issue, but an American issue.  
Until we guarantee access to a good education, many, many will stay behind
where slavery first disadvantaged them.

Ernest and I had a close Indian friend when we lived in Hong Kong.  He had
gone to one of the best colleges in Britain.  He had a pleasing
personality.  HE and Ernest worked for the same company.  What disturbed
us was his terrible inferiority complex.  He was handsome.  HE was well
mannered.  He had a splendid education.  We did not understand it until he
explained that he was an 'untouchable.' But how did you have these
opportunities? we asked.  His father had been killed in the army and the
government had mandated the finest education one could qualify for the
male children of all soldiers killed in action, even if they were Dalits,
untouchables.

India did not fall apart by making that commitment.  He did not pretend
even to reverse its horrible prejudice and discrimination against Dalits,
but it did open a door which many were able to enter in their continuing
struggle for a good life.

America has not gone bankrupt by supporting reparations for Jews in the
Holocaust or for Native Americans, or for Japanese incarcerated just for
being Japanese in WW2.  Jews and Japanese have not developed a 'welfare
mentality' upon receipt of these benefits, nor will black Americans, if
they are distributed not a hand-outs, but as incentives to seize
educational opportunities.

How we would sell such an idea would be crucial.  If we try to put one
group of people on a guilt trip about what their ancestors did to the
ancestors of another group of people, we will indeed encourage the worst
type of animosity, that will make new wounds rather than heal old ones. If
instead we offer to all Americans the opportunity to be in solidarity with
one another, we will begin to create the America that exists now only in
our rhetoric, but not in our reality.

I find that looking at systems of unfair privilege frees me from narrowly
focusing on individual guilt.  My guilt is a gift of no value to others
and of little value to myself.  My sense of fair play and my commitment to
just systems is a gift to myself from which others might derive a friend.

We already re-adjust privilege in many other instances.  I do not get to
check out more books at the library just because I pay more taxes than the
next person.  I don't have a share of the swimming proportional to my
share of the taxes that fund it.  I don't have to stay in a smaller
section of the highway than the rich guy.....  We recognize that it is in
the best interests of all that everyone have access to books, swimming
pools, the highways....without regard to one's share in paying for them.

How much more so should we do the same regarding the right of everyone to
the best education for which the person may qualify!

L.




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