I recently completed a graduate degree in social innovation and sustainability and
during that time studied reparations as a strategy for addressing harm, both current and historic. There are commemorative reparations, such as apologies and education efforts like museums. For instance, government funding for the recently completed National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama could be seen as commemorative reparations. Then there are anti-systemic reparations, such as returning land to indigenous peoples. This recently occurred in Eureka, CA where the Eureka City Council voted to return 200 acres to the Wiyot Tribe. Commemorative reparations are important for what they say, while anti-systemic reparations are important for what they do.
My awareness regarding the economic distinction between these two approaches first increased when meeting apartheid-era hero Steve Biko’s son, Nkosinathi in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was part of a group learning about South Africa’s social justice history and legacy with Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. We had visited amazing apartheid-related memorials in many communities while also witnessing the too-familiar US social patterns of primarily white wealth and primarily black poverty. Like in the US, Black people in South Africa were systematically denied access to economic opportunities while tribes were relocated onto a small percentage of the least desirable land in the country. Furthermore, Black South African children, under the Bantu Education Laws, received second-class education. At that time in 2015, Nkosinathi served as director of the Steve Biko Foundation. When I asked him why more economic reparations hadn’t been sought by Mandela and others in the mid-90s, he pondered for a moment and said: “They thought political power would be enough to change things. It is not.”
From learning all of this, I have become more committed to integrating economics into my social change activities. I’m inspired to upgrade my efforts during Black History Month to include everyday choices, both as a consumer and as an organizational leader who makes spending decisions, and to invite others to do the same. While learning of the gifts possessed, and the barriers experienced, by people of African descent this month, you and I can also make the choice to seek out and spend some of our hard earned cash in one of the many local Black owned businesses. Becoming intentional about how our money is spent offers a powerful and painless way to enact reparations on an individual level.
Do something different and create relationships that don’t end February 28. For a directory of Black owned businesses here in Rochester, check out this site.