I’ve been thinking a lot about reparation. I have not yet come to any conclusions, and will no doubt be pondering and thinking on this more and more.

First, reparation is ‘paying back’ descendents of slaves in America. And other places, but I’m talking America here. But my problem with paying back, and this is why it’s in single quotes, is that paying back isn’t a matter of money. Or it is, but that’s not all. It’s far more complex than that. But how do you pay back for suffering? For torture? For the splitting up of families? For rape? For being treated like an animal? For being treated like vermin? How can money ever be enough?

Second, what can be done beyond money for reparation? Real equality, real equal opportunity, real end of racism–these are the beginning. But how to accomplish that when racism is so very rampant in our culture and seems to be not only getting worse, but growing more acceptable in some areas? It isn’t bothering to hide anymore. That’s good to an extent–you can put out the fires you can see. But bad in that it’s not afraid to hide. It’s feeling strong and defiant.

Third, and this is a bit tangential, but not really. A lot of people who were not technically slaves suffered similarly. I’m thinking about the Chinese who built the railroads, for instance. And we’ve not at all done right by Native Americans.

How do you fix the crimes of the past in the present? I don’t know. I am reading and listening and trying to wrap my brain around the complexity and all the ways that this country has benefited from slavery and how pervasive those benefits were and are. I think it’s easy to blame the south, to say it all happened there so let them deal with it. But it didn’t all happen there. Not really. Not the widespread Jim Crow laws. Not the pervasive racism that hurts black people in a thousand different ways, from poverty to education to the legal and prison system, to being able to wander through a store without being followed on account of being black.

What I do know is that I want things to change. I want to confront any racism I find hidden in myself that I haven’t yet seen and that is hegemonically and ideologically ingrained. I want to find it and eradicate it. I want me and my family and everyone I know to actively oppose it. To refuse to tolerate it. I want America to be better than it is. I want us to be tolerant, generous, loving, welcoming, helpful, and supportive. Right now I feel as if my country is an abusive, violent, controlling drunk with a sense of grandiosity and entitlement and little compassion or tolerance. I realize that’s not everybody, but the head of the snake certainly is at this point, and it’s taking us to dark places.

Resistance cannot be futile.


About Diana Pharaoh Francis

A recovering academic, Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. She's owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. Check out samples of just about everything on her website:


Reparation — 2 Comments

  1. This is not going to happen in one day or one year. It took us over 200 years to get here, and it’s going to take a long time to dig out. Look at other countries with major trauma — South Africa, or Germany. It’s going to be an ongoing process for decades.

  2. One of the things I think about a lot is the fact that not only were no reparations paid to the formerly enslaved at a time when such payments might have made a huge difference, but many federal laws and federal failures to enforce constitutional rights kept their descendants in limited circumstances as well. The fact that the federal government did not enforce voting rights soon after the Civil War, that in the early 20th Century when African Americans were getting decent federal jobs those jobs were taken away by a white supremacist president, that the Social Security and other safety net programs of the New Deal rarely helped Black people, and that federal housing laws and policies not just allowed but enforced segregation up into the 1970s all add into this discussion.

    And of course the sins aren’t limited to slavery. One thing a lot of Native Americans argue for is the honoring of treaties, which would do some amazing things for some people, though not for those who never had them. Here in Oakland we open most meetings by observing that we’re living on stolen land belonging to Indigenous Californians. That can become rote, but it can also make you think. The current law gives me the right to buy real estate, but somewhere back there someone who had no right to it took it and the law ignored the theft and let them keep it and profit from it. Our system is built on this theft, just as much of what made the US wealthy is built on slavery.

    We have to keep talking about this and we have to try out solutions.