Monday, July 8, 2019

Reparations?

Let’s talk reparations. You’d have to bury your head pretty deep in the sand to not see that we owe something to the people we abducted, kidnapped, bought and sold, grew rich off their free labor, beat, raped, murdered without consequence, kept out of certain neighborhoods, out of certain schools and generally heaped centuries of unbearable suffering on their heads for no justifiable reason beyond our own greed, ignorance and hatred. At the same time, we cheer so loudly when the same people win our team’s basketball/ baseball/ football/ etc., games, provide music for us to dance to, to romance to, to enhance our minds and hearts, offer stunning and stirring examples of moral courage and leadership. We enjoy all of this without ever having truly grieved, owned up to, apologized for, all the damage caused. 

And so the idea of reparations. It’s something we teach the children in school. If you hurt someone on purpose, reflect on your behavior, apologize to the person and think of something you can do to make up for it. If you broke their toy, buy or make them a new one. If you hurt their body, give them a hug and buy them ice cream. If you hurt their heart, ask them what you can do to help them feel happy again. It’s Basic Human Decency 101. And yet, as a culture, we Americans have yet to do it for the Native Americans and African-Americans, for starters. The list goes on from there, but since our treatment of these two groups defined the first few centuries of our growing identity as a culture and a country, that’s a good starting point. 

Shall we just give everyone $20? Say sorry and buy them ice cream? What is an appropriate gesture of restorative justice?

Well, how about this. When someone from Ghana, a land that supplied much of our free labor and was depleted by the outgoing population, wants to come to the United States to share a bit of their culture and learn a bit of some ideas that grew here, we should open the door wide and greet them with open arms. Especially if they want to go to New Orleans to consider how to teach jazz via the Orff Approach, share some drumming and dancing with the people in the course, lead a group on Sunday in Congo Square, go to Whitney Plantation to find out what happened to their enslaved ancestors, experience the Brass Band tradition to take some back to their brass band students in Ghana. 

If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about a particular person, a morally upstanding and evolved human being with a job at a school in Ghana, a wife and family, not even a hint of a criminal record and nothing but beautiful intentions. He’s not coming to exploit the U.S., to run guns or sell drugs, to get involved with dubious research. He just wants to share some music and learn how to teach music better. For two weeks. 

In any case, there should be no problem for him to enter. But add to the mix the history of stealing his ancestors and treating them as shabbily as we did, the first tiny baby step towards reparations could come from such a musical and cultural sharing. Really, we should PAY for his flight and accommodations and for his teaching. But he’s not asking for that. He’s willing to foot the bill. He’s simply asking to get off the plane and go to the course, just the way I got off the plane in Finland or Sweden or Nova Scotia with no questions asked. 

But instead, he goes to the American Embassy and FOR THE THIRD TIME IN THREE YEARS, THEY REFUSE TO GIVE HIM A VISA. WITHOUT EVEN TAKING ONE MOMENT TO LOOK AT HIS PAPERWORK.

I’m going to repeat those:

• For the third time, they refused his Visa for no reason whatsoever.

• Without even glancing at his paperwork.

• Without even glancing at his paperwork. 

• Without even glancing at his paperwork. Which, by the way, was in perfect order.

Can we even speak the word “reparations” when things like this are happening every day?

I am so ashamed of my country. Remember the book “The Scarlet Letter?” Every American who helps perpetuate things like this, accepts it, embraces it, should be branded with a red S for Shame and put in the stocks. 

I am so ashamed.

I am so ashamed.

I am so ashamed. 

And I hope you are too.

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