By Conference Minister Diane Weible
I read an interesting article in The New York Times article last month entitled, “No Easy Answers on Reparations” by Adeel Hassan. It resonated with me as I have often thought about the issue of reparations and why it is important for us to talk about it and consider it. Hassan wrote the article because, although Americans have avoided the topic for many years, a series of public events have signaled that maybe we are ready to talk about it now.
Hassan quoted a Ta-Nehisi Coates article that appeared in The Atlantic:
“Mr. Coates and others have traced racial disparities in wealth, health and criminal justice to government policies and decades of indifference. And Americans are listening. Today, 63 percent of adults believe that slavery’s legacy affects the position of black people in society either a great deal or a fair amount, a recent Pew Research Center survey showed.”
If any human being is deprived of opportunities and possibilities because of the way they have wrongly been treated, whether that wrong treatment happened a day ago, a decade ago or one or more generations ago, the person(s) who did the harm has a responsibility to make amends.
It reminds me of the lessons of childhood: If you hurt someone, say you are sorry and make it right.
It really is that simple in principal. I get that there is nothing simple about the idea of reparations. How does a society make it right for so many people who have been harmed so long ago? I don’t know the answer but I do know that we need to, at the very least, start talking about it and be open to understanding just how much the United States’ sin of slavery has reverberated through generations of families that still do not have the advantages as those of us who were born with privilege—a privilege we didn’t earn or deserve, but which we have received because of the color of our skin.
I am working every day to understand and experience my privilege and how it manifests itself in the simple things in life from products I buy knowing I don’t have to question whether they work for me and my skin or hair type, to more complicated issues such as how we support a person of color who may be the first in their family trying to figure out how to attend college or how we shine a light on bias in the judicial system in this country.
Understanding this with my head is a first step for sure. And, embodying that understanding in such a way that I can see and feel how disparities in our society affect people needs to be the next step.
I remember a conversation with my children as they were getting ready to go to college. They said there were so many scholarships not open to them because they were white. I said that I was glad to hear that because that meant those scholarship institutions are looking for ways to provide a chance to people who don’t have the chances they do because of the color of their skin and where they were born. One of them commented on the fact that they were born in Japan, the only white children in their school, and that even in their current school they were not the majority in terms of skin color and ethnicity.
This was one of those moments I look back on in terms of my own understanding. I knew, without a doubt, that they had privilege despite all the reasons they didn’t feel it. Their privilege came from their parents and their grandparents and were not just reflected in the color of their skin but in the opportunities that they had—even if they didn’t completely understand how they had embodied it despite growing up as a minority in Japan and Hawaii.
To understand and see things in a new way takes work. Conference staff and Conference Council is putting together a plan for the difficult conversations we are inviting members of our Conference to engage in over the next year as we focus on this very issue. Stay tuned for more information on these opportunities for us to commit to respectful conversation that has the potential to change all of us in ways that transform our own lives and the work we do together as the United Church of Christ in the Northern California Nevada Conference.
In The New York Times article, Hassan referred to a recent House Judiciary hearing in which Filmmaker Katrina Browne, who is white, spoke about how her ancestors had been “the largest slave-trading family in United States history.” She said, “It is good for the soul of a person, a people and a nation to set things right.”
I couldn’t agree more.