In 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at the 50th anniversary of the National Urban League titled “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” where he illuminated why Black Americans were experiencing a sweeping “tide of racial pride and self-consciousness.”
Today, we find ourselves at a similar juncture to the one Martin Luther King Jr. addressed in his era. It is a time marked by the growing movement for Black reparations, wherein Black people are not only bringing to light the vast racial disparities in income, wealth, education, and political representation that our communities experience but are also vigorously pursuing restitution for the centuries of harm that have led to these inequities. This resurgence of the reparations movement is a reflection of the broader movement for Black liberation, particularly over the last ten years.
In recent history, several pivotal moments have significantly contributed to a renewed sense of motivation in the movement for reparations, most notably including:
The Birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement
Emerging after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement brought renewed attention to the issue of police and vigilante violence perpetrated against Black individuals. Over the last decade, the movement’s growth and impact have turned the phrase “Black Lives Matter” into a rallying cry for justice and the end to the brutality and systemic injustice faced by Black people across the globe.
The Charleston Church Massacre
As former president Barack Obama entered the last year of his presidency, a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston took the lives of nine Black people and served as a stark reminder of the deep-seated racial hatred that still exists in segments of the U.S. population. In his eulogy following the massacre, President Obama noted that
“There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace, and we seek peace, in a place of worship. Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church. This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When there were laws banning all-Black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps. This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.”
This moment definitively ended any argument that our country had entered a post-racial era. It served as a mirror, reflecting the nation’s failure to align its professed ideals of equality and justice with the realities faced by its Black citizens.
The Movement to Topple Confederate Monuments
In 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia, witnessed a disturbing convergence of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and far-right neo-fascists, spurred by the planned removal of statues of Confederate figures Robert E. Lee and General Thomas Jackson. This event tragically escalated when Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed by James Alex Fields Jr., a self-proclaimed white supremacist who intentionally drove his car into a crowd. Heyer’s death starkly underscored the deadly consequences of white supremacist extremism.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that as of 2022, 482 Confederate symbols had been removed, renamed, or relocated from public space since 2015, including the removal of 159 Confederate memorials in 2020 alone. This movement represents a crucial shift in the public narrative regarding slavery and its legacy, challenging the glorification of the Confederacy and promoting a more truthful historical narrative.
In thinking about narrative power, the ability to tell stories that shift perceptions, mental models, and cultural mindsets, the toppling of Confederate monuments signifies a shift in such power, reflecting a growing public determination to redefine the historical storylines that shape our collective understanding of slavery and its aftermath in American society.
The Murder of George Floyd
In 2020, the world watched former police officer Derek Chauvin kneel on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, choking the life out of him.
In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, there was a notable increase in the discussion of reparations, particularly at the local and state level. In response to the heightened conversation about anti-Blackness, California Governor Gavin Newsome signed a bill to create a nine-member reparations task force, which published its final report last year.
Since 2020, several local reparations initiatives have been started across the United States, including:
- Evanston, Illinois
- Asheville, North Carolina
- San Francisco, California
- Providence, Rhode Island
- Amherst, Massachusetts
- Greenbelt, Maryland
Although we’ve witnessed recent backlash since the uprisings of 2020, the significance of the protests and organizing immediately following the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Tayler, and Ahmaud Arbery has undoubtedly spurred increased awareness, legislative momentum, and an impact that has intensified the national conversation about reparations.
Juneteenth Becoming a Federal Holiday
On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was established as a federal holiday in the United States, marking a significant moment in the nation’s journey toward reparations. This day commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, bringing the long-awaited news of freedom to enslaved Black people — news that came nearly two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
The annual observance of Juneteenth now serves as a poignant reminder of slavery’s mark on U.S. history and the delayed emancipation of many Black Americans. However, it also serves as a national acknowledgment of historical injustices and sets the stage for ongoing conversations and actions aimed at addressing the deep-seated impacts of slavery.
The significance of this day intertwines with the evolving conversation on reparations, and while HR 40, the bill proposing the establishment of a federal commission to examine reparations for Black Americans, has yet to pass, the annual observance of Juneteenth presents a recurring opportunity to advocate for its advancement and calls for transformative change.
Becoming A Repaired Nation
We are embarking on a transformative journey of “becoming,” as described by the late bell hooks — evolving into a nation that bravely confronts the enduring scars of our past. This evolution involves recognizing that we are inheritors not only of the ideals but also the sins of our forefathers.
We are approaching a collective understanding that to realize the dream envisioned by King, we must navigate a path that actively addresses the ills birthed from the weaponization of race and the pervasive effects of racism. In essence, to heal as a nation and to progress toward the ideal of a colorblind society, we must be unflinchingly explicit and intentional in confronting racial issues. It is only through a racially conscious approach that we can truly repair and grow as a unified nation.
Source: Reparations Daily (ish)