Reparations, Choice, and the Managers of Race by Brad Lena

The issue of reparations for slavery is volatile. At the heart of the matter is compensating a race of people for the theft of their labor, industriousness and innovation. An enslaved people, however, lose freedom in all its manifestations and it is to another type of "theft" that I ask the reader to consider. But first, let's contemplate some attributes of slavery.

We know that in the practice of slavery, an ancient and universal institution, race was not always the central feature. Black enslaved black, white enslaved white, brown enslaved brown, yellow enslaved yellow and red enslaved red. Was race a contributing factor? Absolutely, but other factors included religion, tribal affiliation, geography and technology. When you come right down to it, the race was of the enslaved wasn't critical to task at hand (i.e. the use of brutality, terror, coercion, death and confinement as tools to extract labor.) If people were willing to enslave people of their own race, logic says that there must have been another motivation besides race to do so. Here we descend into the less noble side of human nature and it transcends race. It is the willingness of humans to profit from the misery of other people. The sad truth is that if one can achieve wealth, status, position and influence by the management of the misery of others some, perhaps many, will be glad to do it. By definition, a system of slavery within a single race requires people of the same race to support and maintain the system of oppression. In America, this flaw of humanity, for a variety of reasons, has been lost to the issue of race.

Here's a question for you. If the buyers and sellers in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade were of one race, would slavery have existed in America? My answer, if all other factors remained the same, is yes. History has shown that people of the same race have been all too willing to butcher one another, so why not enslave one another. One constant in either slavery scenario is the willingness of people to exploit, for their personal or peer group gain, the misery of others by their willingness to function as managers of and for the system of oppression. Here's another question. Do these sort of people exist today or are they a relic of the past? I think we all know the answer to that one.

The issue of reparations for the institution of slavery in America's past has everyone's attention. I fully expect it will be addressed in some manner but whatever the outcome, I consider it an orchestrated sideshow. I have a different agenda regarding reparations for historical injustice but more on that later. Let's for a moment reflect on the lives of Black Americans today. For my money, considering the current circumstance, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have really served the interests of black people. Some may disagree; I contend that the only real debate is which party has done a better job of lying about their concern for the condition of Black Americans. In order to understand why I would say that, let us withdraw from the particulars of the Black American condition today and consider the broader historical landscape.

The condition for the overwhelming majority of humanity, stretching as far back into the past as one cares to look, has been defined by scarcity and dearth (not enough of anything at anytime.) In the second half of the 20th Century Americans entered uncharted territory, a condition called abundance. Do not confuse this with the equitable distribution of goods and services or even the necessities of life. I refer only to the convergence of rapid advances in technology, agriculture, communications, manufacturing, transportation, medicine, etc., that displaced scarcity and dearth as the norm and created a condition called abundance. Keep in mind that I'm not talking about politics or social justice but only that it became humanly possible to produce, grow, and manufacture more of everything than anybody ever thought possible. This never happened before. What is more, this material abundance was no longer confined exclusively to the wealthy but began to become available to people in lower and then even lower economic brackets. Through the media, particularly T.V., everybody could see how much there was of everything. For the common person, the means of acquiring this historically unprecedented standard of living slowly shifted from manual labor to education. I ask you to remember what I said about a loss of freedom for an enslaved people. Well, this time around, the lack of an education, for any race, creates a form of enslavement because the possibility for people to extract themselves from the conditions of poverty or oppression becomes almost impossible as their freedom of action, now so dependent on education, is choked off.

Does anyone besides someone like David Duke care to make the argument that black people cannot rise to the top of any field of human endeavor they chose because they're somehow inferior? Make no mistake about it, many are kept from it but I think an argument could be made that it is for reasons other than race. In a word it's education. It is the key that unlocks the chains that confine a person to his or her circumstance. It frees them by creating personal wealth, not just money or property because those can be taken away but this is intellectual wealth and travels with the person. If you're black and educated and you think America is full of racist m*****f******, you have the option of leaving for another country because educated people are in demand. Education gives one mobility and freedom of action. If you're black and uneducated and you think America is full of racist m*****f******, your option may be to wait around for the latest crumbs from the ruling political parties. Such a deal! With education, you do not need those people to manage misery for you because you have other options.

That brings this question; why aren't those who claim to speak for the interests ordinary Black Americans agitating, in the extreme, for freedom of choice in education? Who are "those people"? They're the ones I mentioned earlier, the ones that profit from the misery of others. They are the politicians who vote themselves a real sweetheart of retirement plan and health insurance coverage to beat the band and get taken to "secure places" when buildings begin to be blown up. They are the college professors who have this deal called tenure. If they teach you their latest political, economic or social theory and that turns out to be detrimental to you best interests, you pay the cost because with tenure baby, they've got a gig no matter what. They're the preachers who tell you one thing and then do another.

They're unionized public schoolteachers that say I'll take the money from the system but thank God I don't have to send my kid to a public school. It's ironic that those who profit from the drug trade are more honest than the groups I just mentioned as they don't pretend that they are doing you any favors if they sell dope to you or say if you work for them you'll live long. But these others say wait until the next election or I'm a professor I know what it's all about or brother I can't do the Lord's work without your contribution or don't hold us public school teachers accountable or test us for competency. This sounds pretty harsh doesn't it? It is supposed to be, these people work hand in glove with the political elite that says educating black people isn't a screaming priority, they say maybe after the next generation. They can afford to be patient. They're not the ones in misery. Does anybody see anything on the horizon that leads one to believe they have any intention of empowering everyday black people with the freedom to make their own choice in education? Are they waiting for the marketplace to again offer good jobs to uneducated people? They seem to say that the system of public education is the only choice for blacks. And, as they're the only "friends" blacks have, trust them to fix it. In the meantime, don't think about the minds of so many blacks in previous generations that were enslaved to a life without a decent education or robbed of their future because they were fraudulently educated and for God's sake don't think that you're smart enough to have any control over the education of your children because if you're poor and black baby, we're all you got.

I wonder what would happen if Minister Farrakhan called a million man march to demonstrate and agitate for choice in education? What would the ruling political class and the misery managers do with one million black people saying, "We demand control over our education it's our choice whether it's public, private, religious, secular, coed or single sex. You've had your chance and you have failed. Let us, unless you think us so inept that we cannot create schools of excellence, that we cannot instill achievement in our young without you or without the public school system you have been content to let us rot in. Allow us the chance to show those who condemn us as a permanent underclass what we can create with education. What are you afraid of, that we'll do worse than what passes for education now or are you afraid we'll succeed and not need you?"

My guess is that there would there be a fracture in the black community between those desperate to improve the lives of their children through choice in education and those who say you need them to help manage your future. What side everybody is on would become instantly apparent. For my money, I will bet the farm on the industriousness and the resourcefulness, the ambition and the thirst for excellence that resides choked off or untapped in ordinary black men and women rather than the promises of the mandarin class of misery managers.

You say you want reparations? Would you be willing to seek compensation from those groups and institutions that are stealing your labor, industriousness and innovation today through the maintenance of a fraudulent and in some instances criminal public education system? Or, would you settle for a one time sizable check, after certain administrative fees were taken off the top, (who says justice is cheap) and maintain the status quo for another generation? I recall a saying out of the black movement of the 60's that proclaimed "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

I think in the year 2002 the choice is that stark.

Brad Lena is a regular contributor to Mr. Lena is based in Asheville, NC and can be reached at

Brad Lena

Tuesday, May 14, 2002