Cash Reparations as Earnest Money
All levels of US government have a history of being used by White Americans to legitimize exploiting Black Americans. The result has been racialized inequalities in wealth and health, but also a settled entitlement among White Americans to use the government as a tool to enact policies of racialized exploitation.
The puzzle for citizens who seek to repair this situation is how can the US government demonstrate that it will no longer allow White Americans to weaponize it against Black Americans? This is a ticklish problem because conventional reparations proposals seek to redress the harm that was done during slavery, Jim Crow, and the mass incarceration era, but those proposals do not effectively demonstrate the government forswearing complicity in future White hegemonic schemes.
This last bit is important because until Black communities know that the US government will resist being captured by White hegemonic factions seeking to exploit Black communities, Black communities will not be free, but will instead live in an internal colony under the capricious rule of White anxieties. Black people will continue to be free only in the way that and as long as White people find Black freedom fashionable. But it belongs to fashion to change, as we learned in post-Reconstruction.
Self-determination for Black people in the United States requires the US government not merely secure but also appear to secure Black communities’ rights against the violent and fickle swings of White racial entitlement, lest Black communities continue to live under the threat of impending disproportionate exploitation in America, even if, in some ways, Black liberation happens to currently be in style.
How can the US government demonstrate that it is serious aboutforswearing being used as an instrument of racialized terror, even when White Americans eventually lose the taste for Black liberation?
There is a similar problem in home real estate, wherein a potential home-buyer has to demonstrate to the seller that she is serious about buying a house, even though she has yet to go through the routine inspections and fill out the loan paperwork for her lender. For the housing market to function somewhat fluidly, we cannot punish potential buyers for requesting inspections and abiding by the timelines mandated by the mortgage companies.
However, the seller is now supposed to remove the house from the market while the buyer negotiates the lending process. By taking the house off of the market, yet not selling it, the house seller incurs liability, while the potential buyer has yet to buy the house and the potential buyer can terminate the sale at her will. This puts the seller in a horribly vulnerable position.
In real estate, earnest money was formulated to address the problem. The potential buyer pays a small fraction to the seller to show that she is serious about buying the house. If the inspection reveals that the seller committed outright fraud in selling the house, then the money is returned to the buyer. If the potential buyer changes her mind as a matter of taste or mood, the seller keeps the money.
The practice of earnest money allows the potential buyer to show that she is serious about going forward with the purchase and that she is not going to punish the seller for accepting the potential buyer’s good faith in giving the potential buyer time to secure the loan.
In a market society, we demonstrate seriousness with money. The potential buyer’s word is simply insufficient, given that she is under no obligation to buy the house. And in the case of the US government, the government’s word is simply insufficient, given the regularity with which every level of government has routinely capitulated to White hegemony.
The way the US government shows its seriousness to Black communities that any subsequent plans to complete reparations will be backed by the full faith and might of the government is by writing a check. This check, itself, does not amount to reparations, but the money tells Black communities that the institutional and financial reparations required to make Black communities whole will not be hollow.
Which means that the size of THIS FIRST check shouldn’t be calibrated to how much Black communities are owed due to the exploited labor; this first check should be calibrated to how much it inconveniences the US government to write it the check.
Reparations for Black Americans is going to entail multiple parts. Dr. Sandy Darity teases this out as a need for recognition, restitution, and reconciliation. The cash payment this essay concerns is a matter of recognition. This money is about showing that US is serious in acknowledging what it did.
Additional payments will be required for restitution and reconciliation.
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