Published on December 23rd, 2019 | by Candace Simpson
This election cycle has made a buzzword of “reparations.”
Many people think of it as 40 acres and a mule or a finite check to be given to a person at a specific moment in history. Some believe that $25 to Black people via PayPal is reparations. It’s not—that’s guilt money. Still others believe that reparations should only be given to African-American descendants of Enslaved African persons. Which is historically insufficient, given the havoc the Slave Trade wreaked on Africa, the Caribbean, and basically anywhere else Black people live.
Reparations is part of a larger praxis of harm acknowledgement and resource redistribution. If we acknowledge that Black people in this country have been exploited and under resourced, then we must also account for the reasons for and actors in such inequality. Reparations contains within it an acknowledgement of harm done and material ways to mitigate that harm. It is meant for all people who have endured a particular systemic and generational agenda of oppression. Not just the ones who prove themselves worthy.
If an attempt at reparations is to mean anything, it must cover the entire Diaspora with a balm that can bring balance and equity to our ecosystem. White Supremacist Christian logic has often made oppressed peoples feel guilty about being in need. But how does God Herself testify about reparations?
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Joel 2:25-26, NRSV
God speaks through the prophet Joel, and the message is clear: I am responsible for your demise, and it is my responsibility to fix it. Biblical scholar Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney notes that during this time there was a plague of locusts that disrupted the ecosystem. All the crops were destroyed. It was so bad that there were no seeds for the following harvest.
A modern equivalent would be not only did you exhaust THIS week’s paycheck, because it’s rent week, but now every dollar from your next paycheck two weeks from now—that you haven’t even received yet—has a job too. Every time I get paid and have to pay bills, I calm my anxieties by remembering that Black women get the short end of the stick. I am not simply imagining the difficulty of “making it work.”
Not only do we have to work an entire extra eight months on top of a regular calendar year to make what our white male peers make, but we are also more likely to be the foundation of our communities. We are raising children, giving advice, picking up elders from doctors’ appointments, organizing rallies, planning community events, playing kitchen table therapist, coordinating birthday parties, and basically everything else. At some point, you begin to wonder what kind of life you would have if you didn’t always have to play catch up.
That’s why I like this passage in Joel. It’s comforting to those who have lost something due to a force beyond their control. It keeps me from blaming myself for the structural oppression that manifests as insurmountable debt and skinny paychecks. God promises to restore the Earth. God says, in essence, I’m going to undo what I did. It was my fault. I sent these locusts, these are my creations, and I will take responsibility for them. I will repay you for your trouble.
As an example, wouldn’t it be something if the companies and policymakers responsible for food deserts also had to make reparations for their actions? Everyone from the top food producers and agribusinesses to grocery store managers to real estate developers to politicians who didn’t advocate for the most vulnerable.
Wouldn’t it be something if the people who’ve had their land and labor stolen received free groceries for life? If every Black person was able to live in a safe and beautiful home at no cost? If every Black person was able to receive a quality college education or sponsored apprenticeship?
The good news is that God has already decided that we matter in this world. Not only do we matter, but we deserve to be fed and to have our needs met. God has decided to restore the very thing that was destroyed. God promises reparations to those who have been made vulnerable. Not because of anything moral or upstanding that we did, but because we exist. Just because.
And here we are, thousands of years later, deciding whether reparations are necessary at all. For presidents and policymakers who believe themselves to be gods, this would be a great thing to copycat.
Pay what you owe.
If you’re looking for more on reparations, check out the resources below.
- My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations, written by Mary Frances Berry.
- 4. Numbers 27:1-11, NRSV
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.