Perhaps the most positive thing to come out of the protests against police brutality is the widespread participation and support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters have received from whites. All too often white folk are unable to believe that darker skinned folk’s grievances are real, or they downplay their importance and horrific manifestations in everyday life.
One of the best pieces of writing on the subject is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article The Case for Reparations, from the Atlantic’s June 2014 issue. Don’t be put off by the title and any knee-jerk reaction you might have for the idea of reparations, the article is likely not at all what you might think. The case that Coates makes could just as well be the case for the current protests. The history of violence and murder against Blacks in this country is staggering, but where Coates rises so far above that narrative is in the details of the economics involved, how straight up systematic theft and fraud have made and kept people poor. The case for reparations boils down to the same case you would make if someone stole your car and burned down your house. You would want your car back and the money to rebuild your house. And you certainly wouldn’t want to be beaten, jailed, or murdered for complaining about it to the authorities and expecting recompense. How far back in your family’s history it should go, well that’s where it gets tricky. Shoud you be recompensed for the theft of your father’s property? Your grandfatther’s? Your great-great-great grandfather’s property? That’s probably not going to happen, but the fact is that generational wealth is important, and the right and opportunity to accumulate it has been historically denied to Black people in America.
Empathy is the key to understanding other people and buidling a better society. Writers like Coates put us in the shoes of people whose life experiences we have not shared, and can hardly imagine.
I think the answer to this and to most of our societal problems is the same. Everyone should have equal rights and responsibilities under the law. It really is the simple, and it’s an idea on which almost everyone agrees. So why is the implementation of such a popular and simple idea so difficult and complex?