Just clearing house in preparation for the New Year. I originally wrote this piece on December 30th, 2007. I’m not sure why I didn’t finish it. I think I intended to develop it further (the ending “so…”) but due to the New Year Celebrations I never got back to it. Anyway, perhaps there is something in it of interest and worthy of further discussion and elaboration?
Over the last few days De Onion and I have been having a little discussion – low intensity blog warfare – over the issue of reparations. Just before Christmas he and I met and discussed the possibility of starting polemics on this issue between our two sites. The purpose of these polemics is to both heighten our understanding of the topic through mutual discussion of opposing views and raise general consciousness on the issue in question. Needless to say it will also help us mutually sharpen our skills. Naturally, all are welcome to participate in this series as well. I’m not too sure how it’ll all go down, whether we’ll have a long comment thread on one site or back and forths on our respective sites. Alternatively De Onion may choose not to continue (which I doubt), but I will continue to explore the complex issues involved nonetheless.
I’m hoping that this qualifier will be unnecessary, but I think De Onion and I hold each other in mutual respect, and I would hope that both of us are mature enough to maintain good humour and respect throughout this exercise. The same goes for any who choose to join the battle. 😉
Anyway, on to the formal opening shots! 🙂
“Reparations for slavery are a bit of a joke because they ignore that fundamentally human capital is what matters (which is why Germany and Japan are wealthy countries today despite being completely bombed to the ground 60 years ago).
All things point one way – focus on taking care of children and families, then let natural (positive) consequences follow. However at this point the government has spent all of its political capital and it is now impossible for many to believe the government is capable of good faith or of successfully managing anything beyond the most basic administrative achievements.” De Onion; ‘Much Nonsense…’ December 23rd, 2133hrs.
“By definition reparations are payments directed to make someone “whole” for a past injustice – in this case one that happened generations ago.
I oppose that both on principle (since it’s discrimination on racial grounds) and in practice (since the real problems in today’s society are a function of poverty, not race).” De Onion; ‘Much Nonsense…’ December 28th, 0711hrs.
Now, the talk about race as a whole is still fundamental to Bermudian political and social discourse, although I hold the apparently unorthodox opinion (at least it would seem for a White Bermudian) that we are closer to reconciliation than we ever have been as a people. Discourse on race is unavoidably emotional. Amongst Whites I find discussion of race to be a largely taboo subject, that the very discussion of race is divisive, that to talk about race is to cause social division. Emotions that I commonly observe amongst Whites during such discussion are a mixed bag of guilt, self-righteousness, fear, denial and regret. Amongst Blacks, as a whole I find discussion to be dominated by emotions of frustration, anger, resentment and uncertaintity.
Emotions can be beneficial to the discussion when they fuel the desire for reconciliation, a passion for communication and a sense of emotional release that can come through understanding. Emotions can also be damaging to the discussion when they interfere with communication and understanding, when we react to something rather than soberly reflect on what was said and why. While emotions, and honest ones at that, are necessary to the success of racial reconciliation and mutual progress for our Bermuda, the key to success must come from reflection and not reaction. It is towards this end that De Onion and I are seeking to achieve through these polemics. We both have the good and future potential of our people in mind, only we have, I believe, fundamentally different beliefs on the way forward.
I personally feel that the ‘race as taboo subject’ amongst Whites is equivalent to delusion, akin to the proverbial ostrich with head in sand. It is a belief that if you don’t articulate it, if you simply ignore the very concrete reality of race and racial inequality, you can will this very disconcerting fact away and pretend that there is no racial inequality. I do not see that as a recipe for reconciliation. It is commonly said that recognition of the problem is half of the solution. I cannot see how any Bermudian can truly believe that there is no racial inequalities in Bermuda today. We have the statistics to prove these very real inequalities (it should be noted that when CURE began their Workforce Surveys there was a lot of consternation amongst the White community that this in itself was divisive, and I believe from personal experience that there was a widespread campaign amongst the White community to boycott these surveys due to the eeriely similar argument of De Onion, that ‘on principle’ such surveys broken down to race were discriminatory). To maintain a belief that there is no such racial inequalities requires a substantial allocation of psychological and intellectual energy towards some serious doublethink. It is delusional to advocate that there is no racial inequality in the face of concrete reality, and symptomatic of said delusion to believe that the mere discussion of race and racial inequality serves as a genesis for such racial inequality. In short, such reasoning stands reality on its head.
But there is indeed good reason for the White community to persist in its mantra of ‘don’t talk about it and it won’t exist.’ The reason is simple; talking about it requires recognition of the reality of racial inequality, and this requires honest decent people – which constitute the vast majority of our people – to recognise that if there is such racial inequality then drastic steps must be taken to correct such inequality.
I hope its not necessary but I feel impelled to point out here that I recognise that the White community, as with the Black community, are not a monolithic group; there are very race conscious and progressive Whites, just as there are some very race ignorant and conservative Blacks. When I speak of ‘the White community’ I am generalising based on my personal encounters of what I percieve to be dominant trends within the White community. There are exceptions to every rule, but for the sake of brevity and argument I am abstracting based on general or dominant trends.
Now, reading what De Onion has written, in particular what I have quoted of his above, I interpret his argument as follows:
Reparations are unnecessary because…
(1) Slavery and apartheid(*) happened generations ago and are irrelevant to the existing social problems we face today.
(2) The social issues we face are not racial but a matter of ‘personal responsibility’ and poverty.
(3) Reparations are discriminatory on racial grounds and so should be opposed on principle.
(*) I use the term apartheid as equivalent to segregation. While I know some people have an issue with this, and I recall a flame war with my friend Uncle Elvis of The Devil Island blog on the original Limey in Bermuda version, I myself see the term as appropriate. I separate lower case ‘a’parthied with the upper case ‘A’partheid. Upper case Apartheid was the particular version that apartheid took on in South Africa, but lower case apartheid is the general underlying ideology of segregation that was dominant in the American South, Bermuda and a host of other societies until recent times. Wikipedia provides useful insight and references to the definitions of apartheid by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court that I feel are relevant.
Below I will deal with these arguments of De Onion in detail. I will also touch on some other common arguments against reparations, namely:
There is no single group responsible or that benefitted from slavery. This includes the argument that not all Whites were involved in slavery.
Whites were also enslaved.
For the sake of ‘ease of reading’ I will write a separate post altogether to detail what I envision by reparations.
It is true that there will be some unavoidable overlap in regards to my responses to what I percieve to be De Onions argument, but I feel it is necessary to explore each position in depth. It is possible that De Onion will dispute my interpretation of his argument. I welcome his clarification; I will however do my best to quote extensively from his own writing, and readers are urged to review his own blog and writings themselves and to hold me to account if they feel I am misquoting or otherwise misrepresenting De Onions’ argument.
Slavery and apartheid happened generations ago and are irrelevant to the existing social problems we face today.
I completely disagree with this premise. From my perspective slavery and apartheid are fundamentally relevant to the existing social problems we face today. While their historical legacies are superficially influenced by forces nominally separate from slavery and apartheid (such as the development of international business, technological innovation, hurricanes, etc.) these external forces impact our society in a way determined by past slavery and aparthied. The very structure of our society is fundamentally a result of these past crimes.
A casual review of the Census 2000 data clearly indicates that our economic class structure is highly correlated with race, with the bulk of the Lower Class being Black, about equal in the Middle Class and a small minority of the Upper Class being Black. [One could of course rewrite this to say that Whites constitute a small minority of the Lower Class, and the bulk of the Upper Class.]
Reviewing the Annual Review of the Workforce Survey Reports by the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality (CURE) further illuminates this fact (I only have access as I type to their 2004 and 2005 reports by the way). These reports clearly show that while our racial demographics are approximately 55% Black, 34% White and 11% Mixed and Other, distribution of work by classification and pay does not distribute according to these demographics.
Some highlights from the 2004 Report:
Black employees continue to be highly represented in the non-professional positions at 63%.
Whites held the largest proportion of the executive management positions at 67%.
White males represented the largest proportion (76%) of executive positions compared with other males; Black males represented 18%.
Black employees represented the largest share of those earning under $24,000; they represented 62% of this demographic indicator.
In the upper levels of the annual salary bands ($96,000 or more), White employees had a proportional share of 73%, indicating high levels of representation.
If one takes out the non-Bermudians from the equations, the income breakdown is:
$96,000 or more: 57% Whites, 37% Blacks, 6% Mixed/Other
$60,000-$95,959: 31% Whites, 62% Blacks, 7% Mixed/Other
$24,000-$59,999: 15% Whites, 77% Blacks, 8% Mixed/Other
$23,999 and less: 12% Whites, 81% Blacks, 7% Mixed/Other
The ‘implications of the findings’ were:
a) Representation in its purest form would mean that people in Bermuda hold positions and earn incomes consistent with their demographics in the workforce – 55% Black, 34% White and 11% Mixed/Other.
b) Blacks have yet to reach economic parity and equality in the workforce but there has been some advances from 2000-2004.
c) Black Bermudians remain significantly more disadvantaged than Whites.
“When we refer to the state of the races by employment level and Bermudian status, another dynamic of the workforce is uncovered. Black Bermudians represent 50% of the workforce. Therefore, at 28% of the senior management (under-represented), 39% mid-management (under-represented) and 60% non-professional (over-represented), the representation of Black Bermudians in the workforce remains significantly skewed.
White non-Bermudians, who represent 14% of the workforce, make up larger percentages of the senior management level (28%). White Bermudians held majority representation at the executive management level (34%). Black Bermudians are significantly under-represented when compared to their White Bermudian and non-Bermudian counterparts at the executive level (25%) though their workforce representation was 50%. This means that the problems and challenges for representation in the workforce remain those of Black Bermudians, almost exclusively.”
From the 2005 Survey:
Black employees continue to be highly represented in the non-professional positions at 62%.
Executive management positions were broken down 65% White and 29% Black.
“White employees continued to hold the vast majority of executive and senior management positions while Black employees held the larger share of positions at the non-professional level. Tracking progress from the 2000, there are indications that Black employees have made small gains at the executive level, however, the gap between White and Black employees remains wide.
Representation and the racial demographics of the workforce are partial indicators of equality. Therefor, the collection, tabulation and dissemination of data on race are critical activities.”
There is a passage in the beginning of the 2004 Survey (p.17) that states:
“Issues pertaining to race have always been a part of Bermuda’s social, economic and political fabric. The effects of slavery and segregation, which lasted until the 1960s, served to place Black people at a disadvantage in Bermudian society. While strides in race relations and employment parity have been made in recent decades, reports such as the 2000 Census of Population and Housing and the Annual Employment Surveys, show the historically disadvantaged Black population has yet to improve their economic lot to the extent that it better mirrors that of the population.”