Skip Gates and His Flawed Assumptions
April 24, 2010 5 Comments
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is trying to find a way to arouse people’s attention without being arrested again. “How to End the Slavery Blame-Game,” an op-ed he penned for the New York Times, appears to be working. In it, Gates argues that because African kingdoms were complicit in selling their kinsmen during the transatlantic slave trade, an economic system responsible for bringing millions to the American continent for over two centuries of enslavement, crafting a system of reparations for descendants of African slaves would be difficult.
Skip Gates sells the concept of reparations very short by presuming that Black Americans want reparations solely to get back at a dehumanized specter of a supremacist White America. The conversation on reparations does not center how badly Blacks were treated by Whites; it centers the ongoing legacy of economic stability that White-dominated institutions have enjoyed by law and tradition over centuries, compared to the economic blight that Black Americans face on an ongoing basis. Despite the hard work our ancestors invested against their will in the future of America, we do not share in any legacy of economic benefit. Opportunities, while admirable and prevalent, are not wealth. Affirmative action, while an attempt to level the playing field, cannot equip Black Americans to move ahead in a system designed to keep a minority underclass thriving without more centuries of underpaid and undervalued work. Bootstrapping isn’t feasible if you have to manufacture the boot and the straps from scratch while everyone else is wearing boots and owning multiple pairs.
The solution conceivably would lie in direct economic investment in Black America and its institutions — the ones that exist and ones needing to be created. However, as Skip Gates reveals in his other flawed assumption, that solution will not begin or end with Obama’s presidential power. President Obama’s election cannot singlehandedly defeat the White supremacy on which this nation and its systems were founded. But unlike Gates, I don’t think many in Black America expected it to do so.