Kansas’ conservative reputation doesn’t reflect my leanings, but I respect its original status when it joined the Union as an anti-slavery free state. Naturally, then, saluting its heritage, our current Kansas Republican congressional members should write legislation instituting slavery reparations.
This idea materialized after discussions with our daughters, both of whom have recently expressed dismay at having been raised in Mission Hills. They liked it when they were little, but when they grew up and entered the bigger world, they felt they’d been sheltered here, and never really got a feel for humanity’s racial diversity. Even though I agree with them, I probably wouldn’t have done anything differently, since our main concern as parents was public schools.
When they asked why we moved here, we didn’t have a rehearsed response. Had we lived in a city that included mixed-race neighborhoods and accredited public schools, we would have lived there. But my husband took a job at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and we moved to Kansas when it was time to start school.
Despite our insensitivity of raising them in this pretty house with all the trees, they have each found a place living and working with people of color, with whom they share meaningful friendships. I could race to the end of this and say, “Whew! Thank goodness that ended well! We raised them in an almost completely white environment, yet they emerged with a conscience.”
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But it’s not that simple. Even though we live far away from family, a major influence has been their relatives: no racists, no anti-Semites, many active participants in the democratic process we count on for the order in our world. It was never a mixed message, but it also wasn’t simplified. It made them ask questions.
Even though they are troubled that we didn’t “practice what we preached,” both girls are doing that. One teaches in the underserved school system of New Orleans, and the other actively engages in issues that affect her life in urban Los Angeles, such as racism, poverty, police violence, gentrification, disenfranchisement, LGBTQ conversations, and the many categories of institutional white supremacy that have become more prevalent with the onset of the Trump presidency.
I don’t agree that I’m a white supremacist because I live in Mission Hills, but because I was born white, I categorically enjoy privileges denied to people of color. If you don’t think that’s true, you need to pay more attention.
Space doesn’t allow listing the federal and local laws enacted against former slaves, but the upshot is that when a country kidnaps and enslaves you, then frees you, then passes laws to keep you down, they should eventually pay you, no matter how long it takes. After you die, they should pay your descendants.
Included in the legal actions against African Americans since emancipation is denial of education and jobs training; housing discrimination; gerrymandering; unequal pay; denial of voting rights; and overrepresentation in prisons as a result of the implementation of any or all of the above.
So successful was the American model of legally disenfranchising black citizens, Nazi Germany used it as a stencil to outlaw its Jews. Both German Jews and African American citizens who had fought in wars, advanced in science, medicine, arts and literature, were outlawed in their own countries.
Comparisons between the Holocaust and slavery are not solid, for many reasons, but one: Germany ponies up reparations for survivors who were enslaved, among other indignities, and that creates a parallel deserving scrutiny. If Germany realizes its moral obligation, so should we.
As we’ve learned from the chaotic Trump presidency, we need to elect better people to represent us and write legislation that enables families descended from slaves to receive money from the government, covering the wages and damages their ancestors should have received. By overcoming a secessionist threat and eliminating slavery, we showed intent to be a better people; but we didn’t stop the war’s losing side from using its advantages and continuing to legally repress former slaves.
As confederate monuments disappear, slavery reparations need to be implemented, and the money for monuments replaced with public education funding. Kansas should finish what it started.
Reach Ellen Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.