It’s Time To Talk About Reparations

Let’s talk about reparations. Why not? Everyone else is.

According to the Wall Street Journal, public interest in the subject is on the rise. For one thing, all the Democratic presidential candidates have expressed support for some plan to make amends for the centuries of post-slavery disenfranchisement of African Americans in the U.S.

And now, Americans are googling for information about the subject like never before.

Recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly endorsed H.R. 40, a bill to establish a federal commission to study how slavery and Jim Crow continues to impact society today. The bill has been largely ignored since a version was first introduced in 1989, but now it’s back in play. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, also a presidential hopeful, plans to introduce a Senate version of H.R. 40, but he’s already facing headwinds. “I think it’s too remote in time, I think it’s too divisive and I don’t think it’s good for the country, quite frankly,” says Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham [R- S.C.]

But perhaps a good study is just what we need right now.

This week, Henry Louis Gates and PBS released a four-hour documentary series on America’s post-Civil War Reconstruction period, a brief time of optimism when black people found meaningful roles in public and commercial life, and when poor white and black people were joined in common cause.

What should have been the second founding of our country became an era marked by a violent backlash so profound, that it sent society careening down a racist track that would ultimately make a reparations study necessary.

But, we were so close. So close.

The documentary begins with the 2015 mass-murder of nine black worshippers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. by Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist. Roof believed terrible things about black people, as one survivor explains. “He just said, ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women. You’re taking over our country.’” But as writer Jelani Cobb explains, this event was not a singular horror. “Unless you wanted to understand how this could happen…that meant that you had to get into the history.”

You can watch the extended trailer here. The entire series will be available online until May 7.

Most people who were educated in the U.S. know virtually nothing about the Reconstruction period and now that I’m halfway through the series, I realize how profoundly tragic that is. It seems to me that no meaningful debate about reparations – and what is keeping people of color from experiencing equity in education, health care, housing, credit markets, and in the workforce – can happen without getting into the history.

Hit me back if any of your groups (ERGs, church, book groups, super-secret clubs) plan on watching it. If you’d have me, I’d love to join/Skype into your post-viewing discussion. History is better when shared, after all.


On Point

[bs-title]Despite safety concerns about Baby Powder, Johnson & Johnson targeted black, brown and overweight women[/bs-title][bs-content]Before the World Health Organization classified talc as a possible carcinogen in 2006, Johnson & Johnson began re-thinking the future of its most identifiable product. A Reuters investigation of internal company documents shows that despite the health concerns, the company launched a decades-long focus on mostly non-white women, often citing specific targets, such as “curvy Southern women 18-49 skewing African American.” Strategies including sharing free Baby Powder samples through churches and beauty salons in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. As class action suits press on, the stories are heartbreaking. Still want to talk about the business case for diversity?[/bs-content][bs-link link=”” source=”Reuters”]

[bs-title]Study: Students of color are healthier in school environments that value diversity[/bs-title][bs-content]A group of researchers studying a diverse group of students from more than 100 different urban schools found that when schools emphasize the importance of diversity, students of color are healthier. The researchers found the black adolescents had lower markers of inflammation, less insulin resistance and fewer signs of metabolic disorders. “These results suggest that institutions that emphasize diversity may play an unacknowledged role in protecting the health of people of color and, thus, may be a site for future interventions to reduce health disparities.” (Subscription, or available for single purchase.)[/bs-content][bs-link link=”″ source=”PNAS”]

[bs-title]Go-go music and the true cost of gentrification[/bs-title][bs-content]On the corner of 7th Street and Florida Ave in the Shaw area of Washington, D.C. there is a Metro PCS store owned by a black entrepreneur named Donald Campbell. He’s been playing a certain type of music known as go-go out to the corner for years. It was the delight of the neighborhood. “Go-go is the music and soul of DC,” explains Jossif Ezekiolv. “It is a living embodiment of this city’s history and culture, a blend of funk, R&B, and hip-hop reflective of the Black musical tradition of what was once known as Chocolate City.” Campbell was recently ordered by T-Mobile to stop playing the music, which has sparked a passionate conversation -including a block/dance party – about gentrification and the silencing of black culture. A public town hall is scheduled for tomorrow, there’s also a petition to support Campbell. Follow #DontMuteDC. [/bs-content][bs-link link=”” source=”Rantt”]

[bs-title]A new version of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” is on HBO[/bs-title][bs-content]It is the directorial debut of Rashid Johnson, a multi-hyphenate artistic talent, paired with Ashton Sanders, one of the breakout stars of Moonlight. It promises to be a richly imagined interpretation. For one, the story is set on Chicago’s middle-class North Side, and not Wright’s South Side. And Sanders, who plays Bigger Thomas, is now decidedly modern: He’s portrayed as a “skinny green-haired afropunk.” But the themes remain the same. “You know, Bigger is, kind of, the black experience,” Sanders tells Mari Uyehara for GQ. “No matter where you come from, no matter how much money you have, somehow we feel these anxieties from society.” Click through for one of the most creative conversations involving shea butter you’ll ever read.[/bs-content][bs-link link=”” source=”GQ”]

On Background

[bs-title]Do you tip the hotel maid?[/bs-title][bs-content]It’s become an interesting conversation in business travel circles. Everyone tips food wait staff, of course, and travelers customarily tip the people they see – the people who open doors, carry bags and hail taxis, who are almost always men, and often white. But hotel maids, who do their work unseen, are often forgotten. They’re also primarily women of color or immigrants. When hotels have tried to boost tipping, customers have complained. But the tips make a huge difference for the women who do tough work on a tight schedule often using harsh cleaners that compromise their health. So why is it not the norm to tip them?[/bs-content][bs-link link=”” source=”New York Times”]

[bs-title]Harlem through a painter’s eyes[/bs-title][bs-content]Alice Neel moved from bohemian Greenwich Village to Harlem in 1938, a move that might have put her growing career as an artist and tastemaker in jeopardy. Instead, she became an important chronicler of a renaissance that would shape the world. Her work is featured in a new exhibit curated by New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Hilton Als, but this wonderful profile helps to explain both who she was and how she worked. She called herself a “collector of souls” and her portraiture reflected a deep curiosity about the world that was both intimate and compassionate. “For Neel herself, everyone was equal in all their idiosyncrasies and racial differences,” Als told The Atlantic. “Everyone was a member of her club. She painted people no matter what their color, creed, or social standing, and this is what makes her oeuvre so unique.”[/bs-content][bs-link link=”” source=”The Atlantic”]

[bs-title]How the model minority myth hurts people at work[/bs-title][bs-content]It’s more than just the pressure to succeed, says professor and researcher Adia Harvey Wingfield. Racism affects the professional potential of Asian people from the time they become students. While Korean, Chinese, and Japanese people have made it part-way into managerial ranks, Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, and Filipino Americans remain overrepresented in low wage jobs. “Research suggests that whites see Asian American men as being unfit for management, because they are stereotyped as passive and weak,” which operates as a racialized glass ceiling. But throughout their professional development, being rewarded for silence means that very real problems like discrimination or depression go unaddressed. “When Asian Americans are depicted as the minority group that doesn’t complain, attract negative attention, or cause problems, it can feel uncomfortable for them to point out stereotypes, insults, and assaults,” she writes.[/bs-content][bs-link link=”” source=”The Atlantic”]



[bs-quote link=”” author =”–Mohammad Abu-Salha”]This has happened on too many occasions. Families like mine – regular Americans living regular lives – are left without hope that justice will truly be served. Our families were fortunate to have lawyers, including at the Muslim Advocates, supporting us every step of the way, but these volunteers cannot be everywhere. It should not be so difficult to navigate the system to seek justice. And because the climate of bigotry is getting worse, I am gravely worried that more tragedies will happen if action is not taken at all levels of government.[/bs-quote]