Why Mitch McConnell’s Statements on Reparations are Wrong

Mitch McConnell has much to answer for when it comes to the oppression of the poor and people of color and the deterioration of our Democracy.  He has added to his long list of sins by his false and misleading statements on the issue of reparations to African-Americans for slavery.

Even the devil must be given his due, however, and we do not make the mistake of thinking the Senator from Kentucky is stupid.  However wrong his remarks are, they are calculated to appeal to the sensibilities of white people; not only the irredeemable Trump voter, but even those “white moderates” of whom Dr King used to speak.  They are lies, but they are soothing, appealing lies that white people want to believe, and that makes them powerful.

Most African-Americans know better, but we feel the need to set the record straight for those white folks out there who do not ordinarily think about issues of race and racial justice.  (Sadly, that is most white folks out there.)

Lie #1: “Something that happened 150 years ago.”  By this, he means that the oppression that was slavery ended with the Civil War.  That is false. Slavery has continued under other names right up to the present day; Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration, Voter Suppression–it all goes on.

Lie #2: “We’ve tried to deal with the original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war.” What a noble thing, to fight a war to expiate our National sin!  Shall we remind Mr McConnell that his State was fighting that way on the side of sin?  The Civil War shows just how determined people like Mitch were to keep their ill-gotten gains.

Lie #3: “Passing landmark Civil Rights legislation”  Again, Mitch conveniently forgets just how hard his region of the country fought that exact legislation.  He also glosses over just how necessary the fight was, just 50 years ago–not 150.

Lie #4: “We elected an African-American President.” Ah, Mitch, your evil genius shows through! Note that he presents the most statesmanlike and accomplished President of our time as simply a kind of “reparations.”  As though Barack Obama didn’t deserve the Presidency, but was only elected out of some sort of White nobility. We need only look at our current President to understand the flaws in the concept of “White nobility.”

Lie #5: “No one currently alive was responsible.” Sorry, Mitch, you’re not getting that past us either.  There are people alive today who beat demonstrators in the 60’s. There are people alive today who designed the War on Drugs specifically to target African-Americans.  And then, there are people alive today, vast numbers of people alive today, who have benefitted from the historic and continuing oppression of African-Americans.  Everyone who has family wealth built from the GI Bill or FHA loans. Everyone who has benefitted from the implicit bias in hiring experienced by African-Americans.  Everyone who benefits from the fact that pollution centers in African-American neighborhoods, not white ones. And on and on and on.

Lie #6: “We’ve had waves of immigrants … experience dramatic discrimination.” We deplore all forms of discrimination, no matter the target.  That said, none of the immigrants of which he speaks were captured in their home countries, shipped over here against their will, and forced to give their labor for nothing for their whole lives.

Mitch is right about one thing; slavery is American’s original sin.  That sin cannot simply be forgotten for its wages continue to this day.  Instead, it must be expiated. Justice has been long delayed; it must not now be denied.

–NAACP San Diego Branch Executive Committee