Reflections On Recent Controversy And The Case For #PureReparations | Actify Press

This is longer than a 140-character Tweet, but I respectfully ask that all who participated in exchanges over a statement I made on Twitter on February 4, 2021 concerning #PureReparations, that aroused a firestorm of responses, please read this from start to finish.

Background

This is longer than a 140-character Tweet, but I respectfully ask that all who participated in exchanges over a statement I made on Twitter on February 4, 2021, concerning #PureReparations, that aroused a firestorm of responses, please read this from start to finish. Some of the responses to my statement were serious, thoughtful, and critical, but others were so hostile. I am convinced many of them were written by people who only had, at best, second- or third-hand knowledge of the content of my message.

Let me be clear, I remain steadfast that African American reparations in the United States should be designated specifically for black Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States. It is a position that I have maintained for upwards of 20 years, first articulated with the eligibility criteria I presented in an article published with Dania Frank in 2003 in the American Economic Review. 

The criteria expressed at the time were twofold: 1. An American citizen would have to demonstrate they have at least one ancestor enslaved in the United States. 2. An American citizen would have to demonstrate that for at least ten years before the adoption of a reparations program they self-classified as black, negro, or African American. The first criterion is a lineage standard; the second is an identity standard. Both standards must be met to merit receipt of reparations payments.

Lineage Criteria

In our recent book, From Here to Equality (FHTE)Kirsten Mullen and I modify the identity standard to lengthen the time to at least twelve years (two Senatorial terms) and to include the adoption of a study commission for reparations as one of two events that would trigger the time count on self-classification.

The core objective always has been to include all persons, and their descendants, who have been subjected to the cumulative, intergenerational effects of slavery, legal segregation and white terrorist violence, and post-Civil Rights Era mass incarceration, police executions of unarmed blacks, and ongoing discrimination in the justice claim. This is the community whose ancestors were denied the promised 40 acres as restitution for the years of bondage and as a material springboard for entry into full citizenship in the United States.

Kirsten and I argue further, in FHTE, the best economic indicator of the combined effects of these atrocities is the racial wealth gap.  We propose that elimination of the gap yields the baseline value for a reparations plan—demanding a federal government expenditure of $10 to $12 trillion.  It is a key aspect of our project to generate a research-based standard for determining the size of the bill that is due. We do not identify an upper bound for the bill.

We also insist that priority be given to mobilization of the funds in the form of direct payments to eligible recipients, whether cash transfers, trust accounts, other types of endowments, or some combination thereof.

Necessary Exclusions

The two eligibility criteria necessarily exclude many Americans. The lineage standard will exclude all blacks in the United States who migrated to the United States and became citizens after the end of the Civil War. Their descendants also will not be eligible, in the absence of a parent’s or grandparent’s intermarriage with black Americans having ancestry anchored in US slaveryCounting among blacks excluded would be the relatively small group that migrated to the United States during the Jim Crow years (estimated to be, according to a Smithsonian study, to the right of the decimal point). Also excluded is a much larger group of black immigrants (now approaching ten percent of the nation’s black population) who arrived after 1964, especially coming in large numbers from the 1980s onward.

The identity standard excludes all persons who self-identified as non-black, inclusive of all white Americans, at a point where there was no apparent financial benefit from classifying oneself as black.

Meeting the lineage standard necessitates serious genealogical research. As a result, in FHTE, Kirsten Mullen and I recommend the federal government establish an agency with genealogists with expertise in African American ancestry to provide free services to all persons seeking to establish their reparations claim. Despite that recommendation, we continue to get substantial push back from those who say many black Americans with ancestors enslaved in the US will hit a wall in getting past the 1870 Census to identify their particular ancestors who were held in bondage before 1865. Therefore, I have been giving more thought to modifications in the criterion that would make it easier for all black American descendants of U.S. slavery to be assured of inclusion.

Balloon Reasoning

One possibility that seemed reasonable is the one I advanced that stirred the pot to a boil—include black immigrants who came during the Jim Crow years on the eligibility list. Let me emphasize, I advanced this to prompt discussion. I even referred to this in a later post as a “trial balloon,” which left me open to the somewhat humorous charges that the balloon popped or, quite the opposite, the balloon was made of lead.

Here is the thinking that I pursued: Allowing pre-1950s black immigrants onto the reparations roll eases genealogical proof required of black American descendants of U.S. slavery to establish their lineage claim. You necessarily have a tradeoff between letting a small number of otherwise excluded black folk in the door versus keeping the strong genealogical standard that will demand going past the 1870 “wall.”  Under the former case, with the relaxed lineage standard, a person would have to demonstrate, say, that they have at least two black ancestors who were citizens of the USA before 1950 or 1960.

Then, eligibility would be much easier to establish for all black American descendants of U.S. slavery at the “price” of including a small number of black immigrants who arrived during legal segregation. Let a few in who do not meet the original lineage standard to ensure that all make it in who meet the original lineage standard.

No Mission Creep

I reject the “slippery slope” argument that has it that making this exception opens the gates for every other group to piggyback onto the reparations’ claim. Conditions can be drawn so precisely that no additional groups will become eligible.

Nevertheless, I do take seriously, the following critical response to my “trial balloon”: The limitation of African American reparations to black American descendants of US slavery is a matter of principle that should not be compromised. America’s history of racial injustice has targeted this community so consistently and with such ferocity that we should brook no modification in the criteria, even it remains more difficult for each individual to establish eligibility for the merited compensation.

In fact, I take it so seriously, in a later message, I indicate that I would not advance as an option the proposal any longer, and I will stand committed solely to the original criterion. Unlike what is suggested in a number of messages on Twitter, I never proposed that recent black immigrants should be eligible for reparations from the U.S. government. Nor do I anticipate reneging on that position. . . ”

Additional Considerations

Source: Reflections On Recent Controversy And The Case For #PureReparations | Actify Press

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham :: “Ashes to Ashes: Addressing Racial Injustice in America” :: Dr. Shirley J. Jackson, MD, Artist, Author and Filmographer :: February 6, 2021 :: 10 pm EST

“Ashes to Ashes: Addressing Racial Injustice in America”

Saturday, February 6, 2021 ∞ 10 pm EST ∞ LIVE

Tune In LIVE Here: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalk

Listen & Call In Line: 347-838-9852

About this Episode of OUR COMMON GROUND

In a time of racial reckoning, a new film looks at a very personal attempt to address racial injustices in this country.

 “Ashes to Ashes” are the final words in typical African American funeral services. Many of those who were murdered by the Klan to maintain the reign of white supremacy never received their  “Ashes to Ashes”.

Ashes to Ashes, the film,  is an endearing portrait of Winfred Rembert, an avid Star Wars fan and master leather-work artist who survived an attempted lynching in 1967. This moving short documentary showcases the incredible friendship he has forged with Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker, as she creates and establishes an interactive art exhibit to memorialize the more than 4,000 African Americans who were lynched during the Jim Crow era. Taking all of her experiences from her love of medicine, art and people, Dr. Shirley J. Whitaker, MD, created the Ashes to Ashes program that will provide for a real memorial (funeral) service for the over 2 million lost during the Middle Passages.

FROM 1882-1968, 4,743 LYNCHINGS OCCURRED IN THE UNITED STATES. OF THESE PEOPLE THAT WERE LYNCHED 3,446 WERE BLACK (72%). THE MAJORITY OCCURING IN THE SOUTH (79%). This too is Black History.

The goal of the project by Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker is to acknowledge and mourn the African Americans who were racially terrorized during the Jim Crow era after the Civil War and until this very day. Some endured lynching and other forms of brutalization and therefore, they never received a proper burial. The ceremony was a celebration of thousands of African Americans. As we must. #BlackHistoryMonth2021

Dr. Whitaker will join us this week. Mr. Rembert is unable to join us tonight.   We will host him soon.

Watch the film here:

http://ashes2ashes4ever.com/video/Award-Winning-Rees-Films-Shirley-Whitaker-Winfred-Rembert-Ashes-to-Ashes-US-Lynchings-and-a-Story-of-Survival-Al-Jazeera-Witness.mp4

About Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker

Dr. Whitaker is the seventh child of Eddie and Charlie Mae Jackson from Waycross, Georgia. Dr. Whitaker attended Clark Atlanta University completing a BS degree with honors in Biology. She attended Yale University School of Medicine-Department of Public Health and obtained her medical degree form Emory University School of Medicine, the only female African American in her class. A kidney specialist by trade, an artist trained under Leonard Baskin, and a healer by passion, her Ashes to Ashes project was developed to provide hope for a better American future, one in which races of varying color and heritage can understand the importance of each other’s American history, empathize with each other’s sacrifices and tragedies, realize the legacy of impacts from suffered injustices and accept that healing is a process as much a cure, and recognize and lay to rest the 4,000 victims of vigilante justice perpetrated against a predominantly black population for simply desiring the most basic of American rights of obtaining an education, ownership of land, fair competition in commerce, the uniquely American right of voting for our governing institutions and for an equal stake in the American experience. She is currently working on the second phase of A2A: The Noose: Tread of Hate and Resilience. This will center on American history through the lens of lynching and will include an International Speak My Name Day to speak the names of the lynched.

 About Winfred Rembert

Mr. Rembert grew up in rural Georgia, in a farm laborer’s house and later in the small town of Cuthbert. Raised by his great-aunt, Rembert worked with her in the cotton fields during much of his childhood, and received little formal education. As a teenager he got involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Jailed for fleeing for his life in a stolen car, nearly lynched and then cut down to serve as an example to others, Rembert was sentenced to 27 years in the Georgia Penal System. Despite the cruel prison circumstances, Rembert learned to read and write and managed to meet and write letters to his would-be wife Patsy as well as to congressmen, with the hope of gaining early release. He also learned the craft of hand-tooling leather from a fellow-prisoner. After seven years, most of which was spent on chain gangs, Rembert was released from prison, but it wasn’t until 1997, at the age of 51, that he began to work more seriously with leather as his artistic medium, creating tooled and dyed canvases that tell the stories of his life. His paintings have been exhibited at galleries across the country—including the Yale University Art Gallery, the Adelson Galleries New York, and the Hudson River Museum—and have been profiled in The New York Times and elsewhere. Rembert is the recipient of a 2017 USA Fellowship, and in 2015 was an honoree of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. Rembert’s full-color memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2021.

 

“I’ll Be Listening for You”

Janice

Join us for the OUR COMMON GROUND BHM Special

“A History of Black Political Movements in America”

Four-Week Lecture Series

Presenter, Dr. James L. Taylor, Ph.D.

Each Session: Thursdays 8- 10 pm EST :::

February 4, 11, 18, 25, 2021

“The History of Black Political Movements in America” ::: Four-Week Lecture Series ::: An OUR COMMON GROUND BHM Special :::

An OUR COMMON GROUND Black History Month 2021

Special

“A History of Black Political Movements”

A Four-Week Lecture Series

Presenter, Dr. James L. Taylor, Ph.D.

Each Session: Thursdays 8- 10 pm EST ::: February 4, 11, 18, 25, 2021

LIVE & InterActive: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalk

The Black Power movement grew out of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT that had steadily gained momentum through the 1950s and 1960s. It was not a formal movement, however, the Black Power movement marked a turning point in Black-white relations in the United States and also in how Black people saw themselves. Both movements were hailed as significant struggles of Blacks to achieve full equality. They were complex events that took place at a time when society and culture were being transformed throughout the United States, and its legacy reflects that complexity. But what of the legacy political movements that occurred right after the Emancipation of slavery? We need to know and understand the networks that compose the many Black struggles and movement that brought us to our current political struggles.

This course of study will review the history of the many Black struggle movements and events that brought us to the election of Barack Obama resistance that brings us to the white supremacy insurrection and riots on January 6, 2021. We hope that you will join us.

Series SCHEDULE

February 4, 2021

   Session 1: Overview of significant historical Black political movements and events.

  • Black Politics and the Reconstruction Era

  • Black Politics of the Jim Crow Era

  • Black Politics creating the Civil Rights Era

  • Black Political development during the Black Power Era

      Reading Recommendations

      Timeline References

February 11, 2021

   Session 2: Review of Syllabus Examine why certain sources are most helpful to us to understand the continuum and projection of history forming new                               generations of struggle. How history informs strategic directions of each of the major movements.

February 18, 2021

   Session 3: Black political diversities and ideologies. Examining class, economics, religion, spirituality, art, gender, sexuality, and how they have factored in                         Black movement history.

February 25, 2021

    Session 4: Practical Strategies for 21st Century Black and Peoples’ movements.

 

About Dr. James L. Taylor, Ph.D.

Chair, Department of Politics, former President of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS), an important organization of African American, African, and Afro Caribbean political scientist community in the United States, 2009-2011. 

Professor James Lance Taylor is from Glen Cove, Long Island. He is the author of the book “Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama”, which earned 2012 “Outstanding Academic Title” – Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. (Ranked top 2 percent of 25,000 books submitted and top 8 percent of 7,300 actually accepted for review by the American Library Association). Rated “Best of the Best.” The hardback version sold out in the U.S. and the paperback version was published in 2014.

He is a former President of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS), an important organization of African American, African, and Afro Caribbean political scientists in the United States, 2009-2011. Taylor also served as Chair of the Department of Politics at the University of San Francisco from 2012-2015, and Faculty Coordinator of the African American Studies Program for 2015-2017. He served as the Chair for the “Committee on the Status of Blacks” in Political Science for the American Political Science Association (APSA), 2016-2017.

Professor Taylor is currently writing and researching a book with the working title, Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and California Black Politics. He expects the book to be completed with a 2018-2019 publication range. The book is a study of the Peoples Temple movement and African American political history in the state of California.

His teaching and research scholarly interests are in religion and politics in the United States, race and ethnic politics, African American political history, social movements, political ideology, law and public policy, Black political leadership, and the U.S. Presidency. He lives with his family in Oakland, California.

 

A Broadcast Product of OUR COMMON GROUND Media

FHTE Reparationist Quick Guided (Volume 1 Issue 2)_.pdf – Google Drive

FHTE Reparationist Quick Guide
January 2021 – Volume 1 Issue 2

About Us
The FHTE (From Here to Equality) Reparationist Quick Guide Response was
initially established in October of 2020, as the ADOS Reparationist Quick Guide©, and is designed to be a civic engagement resource for anyone. It allows supporters to take an ownership share in our online social justice advocacy. Authorship is being encouraged from every sector and community of citizens concerned with the restorative justice of black American Descendants of Slavery (i.e., ADOS) and the closing of the black-white racial
wealth gap. The book From here to equality: Reparations for black Americans in the twentieth century (Darity & Mullen, 2020) will serve as our base source for the volumes’ invited authors. Each issue will contain four topics and five quick points from four featured authors who offer their responses to commonly held positions in opposition to reparations or frequently asked questions (FAQ) about African American reparations.

The inherited disadvantages of slavery and the inability to transfer wealth to ADOS descendants have been a significant contributor to the bottom class positionality of this ethnic group. This series is published to encourage study and dialogue. It is an instrument for personal empowerment. The guide creates a space for the civic engagement participation of Reparationist in national coalition-building, including petitioning for significant revision (or
replacement) of the bill H.R. 40 (S.1083) currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress.

 

Source: FHTE Reparationist Quick Guided (Volume 1 Issue 2)_.pdf – Google Drive

“The Hill to Climb” ℘ Amanda Gorman, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate ℘ Jan. 20, 2021

When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.  We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

And the norms and notions of what just is.  Isn’t always just-ice. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

We the successors of a country and a time.

Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one And yes we are far from polished far from pristine but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect

We are striving to forge a union with purpose.  To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. 

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us.  We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.  We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.  Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew.  That even as we hurt, we hoped. 

That even as we tired, we tried.  That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.  Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.  Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree. 

And no one shall make them afraid If we’re to live up to our own time.

Then victory won’t lie in the blade But in all the bridges we’ve made.  That is the promise to glade.  The hill we climb.  If only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.  Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.  And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated.  In this truth in this faith we trust.  For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception. 

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter.  To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be.  A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with. Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked south.

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful.

When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.

– Amanda Gorman, U. S. Youth Poet Laureate

Life After Lynching in “Ashes to Ashes” | The New Yorker

Life After Lynching in “Ashes to Ashes”

In “Ashes to Ashes,” the artist Winfred Rembert and the activist and physician Shirley Jackson Whitaker reckon with the living legacy of racist violence in America.

Sometimes the artist Winfred Rembert can’t sleep at night. His wife, Patsy, says that it has to do with his work. “Whenever he do one of those pictures, he gets sick,” she explains. “He has to double up on that medicine in order to get some rest.” Rembert first draws his scenes, full of faces and patterns, on paper, then carves the images onto a sheet of tanned leather by hand, texturing the surface with tools that look almost surgical, before filling in the etchings with vivid dyes. His paintings depict scenes of Black life in the Jim Crow South, and making them means dredging up painful memories from his youth, when he worked in cotton fields and on a prison-labor chain gang. Some artworks are healing or serve as sources of hope, Rembert says, in the documentary “Ashes to Ashes”—but not his.

When he was nineteen years old, living in Georgia and participating in the civil-rights movement, Rembert, now seventy-five, was lynched by a mob of white men. They shoved him into the trunk of a car, stripped him, hung him upside down, stabbed him, and made it clear that they intended to castrate him. The attack was brutal and dehumanizing—“There I am, bleeding like a pig, hanging up in a tree, ready to be slaughtered,” Rembert recalls. The attackers were moments from hanging him. They stopped, Rembert says, only because one man said they had “better things” to do. Rembert survived, but the scars have stayed with him.

“Ashes to Ashes” follows Rembert’s discussions with the physician Shirley Jackson Whitaker, a friend who also grew up in Georgia, about trauma and about how wounds of the spirit are connected to physical health. In the film, Whitaker is on a mission, organizing a homegoing ceremony to honor the thousands of Black people who have been killed by lynching in the United States, whose families often did not get even the solace of a burial. “Sometimes they would lynch people—they’d put them in the water with weights, so the family would never see them again,” she says. “Sometimes they would take the bodies and cut them up and sell the pieces. Sometimes they would take the body after they lynch it and burn it up. So the families would not have anything.” Those examples, she points out, are just the instances that were reported. Whitaker organized a funeral service, held in May of 2017 in Springfield, Massachusetts, to honor and remember the unburied. The ceremony included a reading of names, with members of a local theatre group performing monologues drawn from Whitaker’s historical research.

Whitaker has a physician’s reverence for history. She says that, when patients come to see her, they may need to have difficult conversations about what has happened in that patient’s life. Those conversations can’t be ignored or elided, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. “Sometimes, patients come and they tell you horror stories. But I can’t discard it, because I need it in order to help that patient live,” she says. Without that information, she says, the patient will never get toward a cure. It’s a striking parallel to the words she delivered at the homegoing ceremony: “Some bad things happened in this country, where Americans tortured other Americans. . . . So we’re looking back in history,” she says, to a church full of mourners. “This patient”—and, here, the patient is something more collective than an individual in her exam room—“can only live and get stronger if we’re willing to look back.”

Taylor Rees, who directed the film, told me that working with Rembert and Whitaker has expanded her thinking about what it means to heal from racial and political violence. “That healing process might never look like a complete recovery from an injury, but it’s the courage to face an injury,” she told me. “Looking at that thing that has caused harm is sometimes the hardest part.” The attack that Rembert describes is so vicious, his attackers so lacking in human decency, that the temptation is, if not to look away, then to dissociate, to ascribe the actions to a distant place and time. But neither Rembert nor the brutality he lived through are relics of history. “The person who endured this is alive. This isn’t generations ago,” Rees said. The truth of that statement could hardly be clearer. We spoke just days after a mob had breached the Capitol building, many of its members wearing white-supremacist insignias and at least one waving a Confederate flag. On the National Mall, some of the group erected a scaffold and noose.

Source: Life After Lynching in “Ashes to Ashes” | The New Yorker

What should we do with plantations? – The Boston Globe

Black Lives Matter signs have popped up nearly everywhere. In June this slogan, or judiciously crafted approximations of it, began flooding my email inbox in the form of company statements that fell into a gray area between corporate responsibility, virtue signaling, and free advertising. During a 4th of July road trip to Vermont after I turned onto the wrong highway and found myself lost in New Hampshire, I saw the slogan painted in massive letters on the front of an aging barn. I thought then that a barn in a white, rural area took the prize for the most unexpected placement of a rallying cry for the fight against anti-Black racism, police brutality, and the lack of funding for social services. But the strangest place I have yet encountered the political mantra is the home page of a lavish Southern plantation house museum.

Berkeley Plantation, a National Historic Landmark that bills itself as “Virginia’s Most Historic Plantation,” is situated along the James River in Virginia, a colony and then state that enchained thousands of African Americans to produce lucrative tobacco crops before feeding, in the early 19th century, a massive forced migration of nearly one million Black people into the formerly Indigenous cotton lands of the Old Southwest. Berkeley Plantation’s home page features the romanticized lexicon and imagery that tourists anticipate and scholars of plantation tourism have long catalogued and criticized: genteel white owners, ornate architecture, splendid gardens, fine antiques, and decorous housewares. At Berkeley, the wealthy former residents who are extolled include Virginia Governor Benjamin Harrison and two of his descendants who became president, William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison. The idealized domestic setting is enlivened, the home page text promises, by “enthusiastic guides in period costume.” Visitors here, the website suggests, will step into an Old South fantasy that obscures how slavery in its myriad grotesque realities shaped the site economically, socially, politically, and culturally. But in this moment of public foment, the Berkeley Plantation website now fronts a bold banner across the top of the screen proclaiming: “Berkeley Plantation believes that Black Lives Matter.”

I was stunned to see this claim appearing above photographs of grounds once maintained by enslaved people and formal parlors with slaveholder portraits hanging on walls. It struck me as the most supreme irony, and even as a cruel joke, that an estate built on the chewed-up and spat-out lives of Black people was now purporting to cherish Black existence. Given that we live in a time when not saying something of this sort exposes businesses and cultural institutions to the scrutiny of public opinion, this plantation was disingenuous at best and opportunistic at worst, I thought.

Then I clicked on the banner and discovered a direct statement indicating the harm done to Black and Native people on those grounds. The statement opens with an affirmation, “We believe that Black Americans, Indigenous People and their descendants deserve justice,” and continues with an admission of responsibility as well as an aspirational action plan. “We recognize that enslaved people were present at Berkeley plantation,” the statement reads. “We are working with researchers and historians to uncover all aspects of this site’s past and there is much work and responsibility ahead to make this site a place for healing and awareness.” I was persuaded that Berkeley Plantation’s current operators care about this past and its legacy.

Nevertheless, they are stewarding a racist landmark among an entire class of public memorials — plantation homes and landscapes — with a grandeur and impact equal to or greater than the Confederate statues currently being toppled or secreted away in our summer of national reckoning with anti-democratic symbols. As Patricia J. Williams stated in a September 2019 piece in The Nation on plantation weddings: These iconic homes and landscapes are “monuments to slavery.” The relevant question is not whether any site staff believes in their hearts that Black life is valuable — but rather, what caretakers of plantation sites and visitors to these historic places will do differently as a result of this belief.

Visitors took a close look at a slave cabin at Whitney Plantation.
Visitors took a close look at a slave cabin at Whitney Plantation.DOUG WARREN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

NUMEROUS STUDIES OF plantation tourism, such as Jennifer Eichstedt and Stephen Small’s classic 2002 sociological study, “Representations of Slavery,” have found that plantation sites (especially those that are privately owned) tend toward Eurocentric portrayals of the past that participate in a process of “symbolic annihilation” in which Black presence is ignored or marginalized. Geographers E. Arnold Modlin, Derek Alderman, and Glenn Gentry argued in the journal Tourist Studies that even when plantation museums incorporate African Americans into tour narratives, they often do so in a distant manner that reduces Black experience to a cold recitation of population numbers, ages, and work tasks, rather than elevating Black residents to the level of white owners through stories that induce empathetic responses in visitors. The National Science Foundation has funded a team of geographers and historians headed by David Butler to conduct the most systematic study to date of a famous cluster of cotton estates known as the River Road Plantations spanning the Mississippi-Louisiana border. The team members are finding, as detailed in the Journal of Heritage Tourism, that even at sites that have made an effort to interpret enslaved people’s presence, features of the built environment, such as the location and size of the front-facing “big house” in comparison to “slave quarters” in the rear of a property, emphasize elite white experiences to the detriment of others.

Tourists who enter these landscapes often carry romanticized notions of the Old South that find affirmation in the spatial arrangement of the plantation that aggrandizes white mastery. I have found in my own research on ghost tourism in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia, recounted in my book “Tales from the Haunted South,” that a handful of privately run plantation sites and walking tours market Black suffering in the form of horrific tales of sexual abuse and murder trivialized as ghost stories. It is heartbreaking and noteworthy, as well, that plantations can be heritage sites for white supremacists. Dylann Roof, who killed nine people participating in Bible study at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015, visited South Carolina plantation sites in the months leading up to his racially motivated attack.

Whitney Plantation tour guide Mikhala Iversen answered questions from visitors.
Whitney Plantation tour guide Mikhala Iversen answered questions from visitors.DOUG WARREN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Plantation tourism has changed slowly but substantially over the last decade, particularly with the 2014 opening of the innovative, privately owned Whitney Plantation in Louisiana that consciously centers African and African American experiences and with the 2015 opening of the McLeod Plantation in South Carolina, which is operated by Charleston County and interprets Black experiences before and after the Civil War. These sites are models for how the plantation museum experience has been reimagined, and yet, they have remained in the minority of Southern estate museums. The gradual shift at Whitney and McLeod has provoked resistance from white visitors who have expressed resentment at tours that address racial subjugation. Most plantation sites dependent on tourism dollars and public funding have tended not to risk the discomfort of their majority white visitors by highlighting Black experience and the trauma of slavery. In this fraught context, the Berkeley Plantation statement that openly engages contemporary racial politics seems rather courageous.

As public debate continues about commemorations to the Confederacy in the built environment, we should ask what is to be done with the hundreds of monuments to a pre-Civil War culture of racialized power that proliferate across the Southern landscape — and indeed, the Northern terrain — in the form of the plantation and country estate. How do we turn these homages to slavery into stages for meaningful dialogue? Not, I would suggest, by pretending they do not exist or taking aim with the wrecking ball.

The latter approach seems to have been adopted this July in South Carolina on the former Oaks Plantation of 18th-century ricing patriarch Arthur Middleton, where, according to The Post and Courier, a late 19th-century plantation revival home built on the original grounds was recently demolished by the corporate owner under the cover of night. Instead, we should push ourselves as visitors and stewards of these sites to reinvent them as spaces of facilitated conversation at the nexus of multiple social histories, as places of homecoming and meaning-making for descendants of the enslaved, and as sites where managers and tour guides of color have equal employment and advancement opportunities as well as shared authority to research and incorporate fresh interpretations. This vision might include any number of concrete actions. Among them could be a reversal of how visitors enter and experience physical places. Rather than entering a mansion first, tourists might be welcomed into the comparatively humble quarters to learn about the unfree population who built the wealth of others but also sustained their own lives and families.

Jim Smith and Paula Barry of Conway, Mass., examined names of Louisiana slaves recorded on the 18 monument walls in the Allées Gwendolyn Midlo Hall at Whitney Plantation.
Jim Smith and Paula Barry of Conway, Mass., examined names of Louisiana slaves recorded on the 18 monument walls in the Allées Gwendolyn Midlo Hall at Whitney Plantation.DOUG WARREN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Visitors might be invited to walk fields and survey outbuildings where many enslaved people spent the bulk of their time, to traverse any remaining wooded areas where enslaved people secretly met to practice their faith or temporarily escape corporal punishment, to tarry in work yards and kitchens where unfree workers practiced the range of skills necessary for supplying the white household. This approach would reveal not only the human strivings of Black and Indigenous people, but also the intricate, intimate, and violent relations that entwined the worlds of enslaved and enslaver.

With greater attention to plantation grounds, tour guides might even bring visitors into active, productive engagement. Volunteers could tend reproduction gardens of the type some enslaved people kept and, as the historian Peter Wood has often urged, “plant gourds!” The fruits of such gardens might be donated for the benefit of local community food security, connecting physical sites and histories of slavery (including the scourge of hunger that was often part of that trauma) to present-day social issues. Sites might attract diverse visitors with planned conversations, book clubs, poetry readings, and overnight stays — along the lines of Joseph McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project — that openly link past histories with current racial, economic, and political challenges. While such approaches may disabuse tourists of romantic notions about life in the United States prior to the formal end of racial slavery, they yield other and deeper satisfactions: earnest historical investigation, hands-on learning, social connection, and civic contribution. This dramatic summer of mass protest may represent an unprecedented opening for plantation sites to find receptive audiences for this tough work of collaborative reinvention, and indeed, some are already doing so.

FOR EXAMPLE, PUBLIC visits to the Royall House and Slave Quarters, an 18th century estate in Medford, Mass. (home to Governor John Winthrop as well as Isaac Royall, whose fortune built on slave labor and commercial trade helped to establish Harvard Law School), begin in the quarters. Board Co-President Penny Outlaw continually interweaves the activities of Blacks with those of white residents even as the tour moves into and through the main house. Recently, the house museum hosted a poetry reading with Malcolm Tariq, prize-winning author of “Heed the Hollow,” and featured an Instagram Live event with activist and performer Alok Vaid-Menon. Kyera Singleton, the first African American woman to lead the site as executive director, planned these virtual events. Singleton told me about her museum’s special charge in these times: “I cannot stress enough that the Royall House and Slave Quarters is a museum that seeks not only to get the history of slavery right, but also to function as a site of memory. It is a place that memorializes the lives of enslaved people. We do that quite simply by centering their lives, their experiences with violence, and their resistance. I believe one of our strengths is the ability to help people reckon with our current political moment by being honest about slavery and the legacies of enslavement today.”

The Broadway actor Robert Hartwell also had reinvention in mind when he purchased an antebellum house in Great Barrington, Mass., originally built for the Russell family that owned a local cotton manufacture. Hartwell said on Instagram: “I wish I could’ve told my ancestors when they were breaking their backs in 1820 to build this house that 200 years later a free gay Black man was going to own it and fill it with love and find a way to say their name.” Given that Massachusetts began taking steps to abolish slavery in the 1780s in response to Revolutionary-era ideals and legal suits brought by enslaved people, Hartwell’s home was probably not built by unfree workers. Nevertheless, New England mills routinely procured cotton grown and harvested by enslaved people in the South. Northern entrepreneurs shipped textiles woven from that cotton across the Atlantic Ocean to European markets and back down South to cheaply clothe the very people whose stolen labor had produced the lucrative raw material. Hartwell’s personal association of his house with that entangled history reminds us just how close the cultural memory of slavery is for many African Americans.

Black Lives Matter protests, however imperfect, have ignited widespread recognition that symbols we have long accepted as features of local landscapes wear down our potential to weave a new national fabric even as they archive physical evidence of our troubled racial history. Retiring, reimagining, and repurposing misplaced symbols that glorify racial oppression have the potential to open psychic and civic space for the descendants of enslaved people to finally call this nation home.

Tiya Miles is a professor of history at Harvard and the author of five books. Her latest, “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake,” is forthcoming from Random House in 2021.

America doesn’t want unity. It wants absolution without restitution ::: Renee Graham :: The Boston Globe

America doesn’t want unity. It wants absolution without restitution

Renee Graham, Boston Globe

Throughout his campaign, and especially during his first speech as president-elect, Joe Biden stressed the need for unity. “Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses,” he said. “It is time for our better angels to prevail.”

Abraham Lincoln first summoned “the better angels of our nature” in his inaugural speech in 1861. A month later, the Civil War began; we’ve been waiting ever since for these rumored apparitions of our nation’s inherent goodness to prevail.

America has never wanted unity. It prefers absolution over restitution.

When this nation’s leaders speak of unity, that often means, “We need to move on,” even though unchecked trauma leaching from one generation to another prohibits any such thing. For many of us, especially Black and brown people, unity is a five-letter word for “Shut up and get over it.” That is how this nation regards calls for repair of systemic disenfranchisement.

Before accord, there must be an accounting — otherwise, it’s like leaving a tick’s head embedded beneath the skin. The problem is less visible, but the host body remains sick and unsound.

In his speech, Biden seemed to speak very specifically about the horrors imposed these past four years. (And they aren’t over.) Of course, what we witnessed during the Trump years was an amplification of the racism and other hatreds that plagued this country long before a failed businessman became a failed president.

“Every day we hear about how society is splitting apart — a polarized Congress, a fragmented media market, a persistent schism among Americans over social issues. But really, how bad are the divisions?” Bob Cohn (now president of The Economist), wrote in The Atlantic. His conclusion: “Pretty bad.”

That was seven years ago. Trump did not create the divisions; he exploited the hell out of them.

About 10 million more people voted for Trump in the 2020 election than in 2016. Again, most of them are white. This I believe: They want to be feared, not understood, and their only definition of unity is aligning against anyone who doesn’t think like them. They’re willing to tear this nation apart with baseless, anti-democracy conspiracies to slake one man’s flimsy ego and their own relevance in an increasingly multiracial, multicultural nation.

Fox News is even chiding Democrats for lobbing “angry rhetoric at those who have worked with and for, and even those who simply support, Trump.” For the president’s propaganda network, achieving unity is a burden to be borne only by those who oppose the president. I don’t hear many Trump supporters reckoning with why they still support the worst president in modern American history.

And that’s par for this country. During a 2017 Harvard conference on universities and slavery, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I don’t know how you conduct research that says your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and you just say, at best, ‘Sorry,’ and walk away.

For its entire existence, America has mostly walked away. From nearly 250 years of Black people in bondage to the genocidal “Trail of Tears” that forced thousands of Indigenous people from their lands in the 1800s; from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre during which white people killed hundreds and destroyed that Oklahoma city’s “Black Wall Street” to every barbarity the current administration concocted to punish those who sought only a better life, this nation continually opts for historical amnesia over atonement.

As the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted, “We can’t skip justice and get to peace.” Nor can we get there without equality.

Scars of this catastrophic presidency will lie alongside festering wounds long untended. There’s no shortcut to unity, a challenge in a nation that would rather be comfortable than truthful. This unfinished democracy will never be whole until all of its practitioners abandon the collective silence that cloaks their complicity. To move toward unity, white supremacy must first be demolished. America has shown no serious inclination to do that, and more than 72 million Trump voters serve as damning proof.

For the sake of this country, I wish Biden every success. I hope he understands that unity is not self-achieving. The most arduous labor must be done by those who have inflicted or benefited from the pain of so many others. Until then, do not ask me to forgive all this nation is too eager to forget.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.

Source: America doesn’t want unity. It wants absolution without restitution – The Boston Globe