My recent post about the possibility of America using Germany’s example of talking honestly about the Holocaust to move the deeply dysfunctional race conversation forward prompted me to write a letter along those lines to the editors of The Palm Beach Post. In the final paragraph, I mention reparations:
Let’s restore the physical vestiges of the slave trade to guarantee the memory of what happened there. Let’s make Juneteenth, the largely Black holiday commemorating emancipation, a national holiday. Let’s talk about what happened during Jim Crow and after — the “white conversation” as AP reporter Deepti Hajela wrote in your March 28 edition. Let’s make amends with reparations, a process the city of Evanston, Illinois has begun.Jane Kelly Amerson López, Opinion column, The Palm Beach Post, April 7, 2021
A week later, a Palm Beach Post reader whose great-great-grandparents were in a Polish ghetto wrote this stunning reaction.
The concept of paying “reparations” for slavery is absolutely absurd. No white person today has any connection at all to that hideous practice. And no Black person alive today has been affected by the events of more than 150 years ago. So why in the world should money be paid from whites to Blacks?Frederick A. Lehrer, Letter to the Editors, April 13, 2021
Today, a Black reader jumps on that final line.
As a Black man, I am not in favor of reparations. But, if they were paid, it would be the government which pays. I guess the writer assumes that only whites work and pay taxes in this country.Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021
He then goes on to address the even more troubling assumption that Blacks have not been affected by slavery.
What the writer fails to mention are the systems that were put into place to exclude Blacks from almost every segment of American life — voting rights, the Dred Scott decision, redlining and limited access to capital, Levittowns and the GI Bill, just to name a few.Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021
I had to go back to school on the reference to Levittown and the GI Bill, which gave my father and thousands of other WWII soldiers a boost through college education. The History Channel’s Erin Blakemore writes that although the GI bill did not specifically exclude Blacks, it was administered by states whose discriminatory practices disenfranchised Black veterans. The Levittown Long Island suburb did not allow Blacks in 1944, thus preventing those veterans from accessing the GI Bill-guaranteed mortgage.
Mr. Lewis then hits the bullseye.
However, what is needed is a deep discussion on how we got here. Many feel the plight of minorities in this country is upon the minority. They don’t want to understand or talk about the idea that the United States has not lived up to her promises for everyone.Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021
How do we have that very difficult conversation? Look for a future post where I’ll be sharing a couple of approaches that are being tried around the country.