The generations-old debate over reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black people has fascinated me for my whole adult life. I’ve been to town halls, film screenings, and public hearings on the topic. Recently, my fascination took me on a trip to San Diego, where I took a front-row seat to one of history’s most promising and high-profile efforts to secure reparations: a meeting of the California Reparations Task Force. You can watch my video series on that trip here.
This reporting adventure allowed me to engage with organizers and advocates, and delve more deeply into the thorny issues about what a holistic repair would look like for Black Californians. Task Force members are wrestled with critical questions like who gets paid, how much, and what debt, if any, is owed to Black immigrants. Having cultivated a (healthy, IMO) skeptical attitude towards this topic for most of my life, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself feeling… optimistic. I encourage you to explore the whole series.
Then came the racist comments.
Reparations efforts have been contentious throughout American history, so I expected for my videos to evoke strong reactions from contemporary audiences, too. But instead of ignoring extreme comments on social media (of which there were many), I decided to address some of the most common and obviously racist replies.
This, I assure you, is not masochism. My goal is to debunk the persistent anti-Black tropes that often undergird the oppositions to reparations.
In the first video, I challenge a misconception about Black self-sufficiency and present historical examples of how Black independence—in the press, commerce, and thriving communities like Tulsa, Oklahoma—were systematically undermined and destroyed by organized white supremacists.
In the second video, I address a commenter’s question about why they can’t receive reparations since they never owned slaves. They might be surprised to learn that, rather than providing reparations to slaves themselves to heal our fledgling nation, it was the slave owners themselves who received the compensation. Go figure.
Most importantly, I want you to learn something in this series, even if that means engaging with some of the worst people on the internet.