George Jackson

Why I Don’t Support Reparations: Why I Want More.

Provocation

i stopped saying

“black lives matter” because

i already knew

it was true,

and what was i trying

to prove?

when i go home

to my mother’s embrace

i know i’m alive and

that’s good enough

for me.

so, no, i don’t need you

to know that i breathe,

i just need you off

my neck.

it’s futile to put into words

what we know is true,

leaving us always begging

and receiving what we

didn’t ask for.

i can show you

better than i can tell you

that black lives matter,

and it’ll be something

youve never witnessed,

that doesn’t need your permission

to proliferate.

Recently, I attended Noname’s Book Club’s online discussion. The book was George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye, among one of the most radical books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, on par with Assata by Assata Shakur and Revolutionary Suicide by Huey Newton. In the book he essentially calls for the end of the United States, broadly, and property relations, specifically — among other things. In his analysis is a fundamental understanding that the end of property, as a concept, is necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) for black liberation. It’s not difficult to understand why when we think about the emergence of property in relation to the proliferation of anti-black chattel slavery. In short, slaves were property.

Therefore, when reparations — the monetary compensation of black people for their labor — was entertained as a viable solution to anti-blackness, I was taken aback. How could a conversation with such radical potential be reduced to a discussion of the liberatory potential of sheets of green paper with slave masters printed on them? How could George Jackson’s words be so disregarded and disrespected by some of those taking part in the conversation, even if unknowingly? One commenter replied that reparations would be “charity,” and they were met with contempt from the Book Club’s Facebook page, itself. “Charity” seems to be a harsh word, but how else do we describe black people putting their hand out to ask their master for money, whether they feel it’s rightfully theirs or not? Money itself predates our emancipation and regulated the trade of our ancestor’s bodies, so how can we ever have claim to it? Reparations, to me, is an attempt at humanizing our ancestors, of shifting them from being “slaves” to “enslaved people,” of capitalizing the “b” in “black.” But what is the utility in these conceptual and linguistic moves beyond making us feel better about our blackness? My ancestors were slaves. They were property. That is the reality of the situation, and that is a reality that we must contend with if we want to be as free as we say do.

Our ancestors seemed to have a fundamental understanding of what it meant to be human when they asked, following emancipation, for “forty acres and a mule.” That is, they understood the necessity of capital to live as a “proper” human. In “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” Sylvia Wynter tells us that the dominant conception of the human that “overrepresents” itself and its desires as the only way to be in the world — what she calls “Man” — is currently the homo economicus: the “masterer of Natural Scarcity,” the “investor,” the “capital accumulator.” That is, to be “human” in the Western sense of both the word “human” and way of being “human,” is to own objects and use these objects to accumulate more capital. But how can an object own an object?

Arguably, slaves were still objects following the “non-event” of Emancipation, to borrow from Saidiya Hartman, if we think about the circumstances in which slaves were freed. They were a bargaining chip, an object used to preserve the United States. They were “transmogrified,” their being made into a “plastic” — terms used by Zakiyyah Jackson — to glue and repair the ripping seams of the United States. What I want to make clear is that it was the slave’s object status that even made it possible for their “freedom” to be actualized. They didn’t take freedom, it was granted. Because of their objecthood, Abraham Lincoln could “free” them, freedom being from the literal plantation, just for the world to become their plantation. Arguably, there is even less potential to escape from slave relations because the plantation is everywhere. It is the prison, it is the city, it is the university, it is everything. Therefore, we can characterize ourselves as what Anthony Bogues calls “living corpses,” the “walking dead” now seeking “life” in the form of capital (reparations), that which the homo economicus recognizes as the only form of life. But we are the very conditions for that capital. In our social death, we are the conditions for everyone else’s life.

So when the conversation of reparations comes up as a solution to anti-blackness, I immediately think of Black Wall Street, a bustling black Tulsa, Oklahoma community composed of black doctors, lawyers, and dentists. The average income was more than today’s minimum wage and the black dollar circulated for “almost a year before leaving”. These were black people attempting to live the good homo economicus life. The life of Man. And they were met with violence and the destruction of their community at the hands of a local white militia conspiring with the federal government to put these negroes “in their place.” That is, the place of death.

I also think about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin, who were also killed by the State or white vigilantees seeking to keep niggas “in their place.” And I can’t help but think, the solution goes beyond money. How much money would it take for George Zimmerman to stop hunting Trayvon after the call operator told him so? How much money would it take for Derek Chauvin to stop basking in the pleasure of digging his knee into George’s neck? Does it cost to stop anti-black violence? Is there a price on black liberation from continued bodily harm? A harm that others seem to take pleasure in? Can we put a price tag on African families being ripped apart and shipped head to toe in wooden vessels? Of having their identities and cultures spat and shit on time and time again? Of spending day after agonizing day picking cotton in the southern United States, harvesting sugar cane and rice in the Caribbean and South America, and having their hands cut off for not collecting enough rubber in a day’s time, in parts of Africa? Will a piece of green paper with Benjamin Franklin’s ass really make me feel better? Really honor my ancestors?

I don’t have the solution to anti-blackness because we’ve committed our intellectual resources to a pipe dream. That being that the United States will say “I’m sorry.” What will that sorry do for me beyond permitting anti-black violence to remain, but with an “I O U” attached. In many ways, because of our social death, we remain politically illegible to others — speaking another language, but begging them to listen, to say three words. But if we can regain our bearings on an ever-shifting foundation, see eye-to-eye and speak mouth-to-mouth without regard for the non-black gaze, for what’s politically permissible according to Man, then perhaps black liberation can occur. I saw glimpses of it in between flickering flames inhaling the Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct. I’ve seen glimpses in mutual aid funds. I’ve seen glimpses in the eyes of my friends reading Are Prisons Obsolete?, as we gathered to discuss every Sunday afternoon. Black liberation can be tomorrow, if we be it so.

In this moment, we also see a push for businesses to open to allow their capital-accumulating activities to continue because, again, capital is (social) “life,” even if it means the end of one’s biological life, the final end. Colleges are planning to open, though they know it is a risk to students, faculty, staff, essential workers, and the communities in which they are likely actively gentrifying. Perhaps capital isn’t the answer to any of our problems or what makes us live, a reality obscured by the insidious suicidal nature of Man’s anti-blackness.

Then, perhaps, the answer lies in blackness, in black people’s thought, in our illegible being.

I love Black people.