By Conference Minister Diane Weible
Last week one of our Authorized Ministers sent me an AP article on an African American reparation bill that just passed in the California Assembly.
There was a sentence in the article that really struck me: “The federal government has given reparations before. After 120,000 Japanese Americans were held at internment camps during World War II, the U.S. government apologized and in 1988 paid $20,000 to each surviving victim.”
That sentence gave me an incredible pause. It was right and good and I’m glad the federal government gave reparations to the 120,000 Japanese Americans held at internment camps. I celebrate that action.
My pause came from disbelief that while talking about this the federal government was not able to see (or chose to ignore) the important connection that needs to be made to the millions of African Americans who have continued to suffer from compounding effects of 400 years of slavery passed from generation to generation.
If I were part of those deliberations would I have been able to see it?
I was thinking this morning about the life of Civil Rights Icon and United States Representative John Lewis. Especially in the last few years, I have chosen to not watch the news very much. However, when I would see or hear something that Mr. Lewis said, I paid attention. His words and actions and witness has, on many occasions, broken through my wall of white denial or ignorance on the topics of racism and privilege. I do not think it is just coincidence that the day after I learned of his death I woke up with reparations on my mind. His patience and perseverance in fighting for civil rights for decades have captured my attention and now it makes so much more sense to me. Good Trouble is my new mantra.
America was built on the backs of slaves—slaves who were never compensated for their work and, in fact, were beaten and killed repeatedly. Their hard work was not only NOT appreciated, they were abused for it. When you add on top of that the horrific abuse and violence perpetrated against them, how can one even begin to believe we do not owe their descendants for the suffering of their ancestors and the ways that suffering and economic and social disparity and oppression were passed from generation to generation to create present-day suffering?
Laws during reconstruction would have given freed slaves land and money to start a new life. The laws were repealed and the land never was given. Later attempts at reparations have been introduced in Congress for more than a hundred years. In 1894 a bill would have paid a lump sum of $500 and monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15 to formerly enslaved people and their children. The most recent attempt at a Reparations bill was in 2019.
If the United States had owned up to the horrors of slavery and made reparations in the 19th century, freed families would’ve had a chance to live and thrive and pass that prosperity from generation to generation, just like my ancestors did for me. Instead, poverty, new laws meant to oppress, and lynching and mass incarceration were piled on top of everything else so the opportunity for equity was not just stripped from them in 1865 but has continued to be stripped from them day after day.
Reparations will not solve everything, but it will be a step. It will be an important first step. In the spotlight of the legacy of the life of John Lewis, I believe the Stillspeaking God is inviting us to be a voice in ways that may feel stranger or different than anything we have ever done before. And, isn’t that what we have come to know about the Stillspeaking God? God does not invite us to a life of comfort. God invites us to a life of ministry and justice. We never know it all and every new thing we come to learn and understand is an open door through which God beckons because our work and our witness are needed in places we have yet to go.
I have new posts on my blog page. I invite you into some of the musings from my daily 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence and contemplation. Click HERE to read the blog post.