The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks

I read Randall Robinson's The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks seven or eight years ago, and have been thumbing through it again lately as I'm reading some of Michael Eric Dyson's work.

In the introduction, Robinson writes: "Solutions to our racial problems are possible, but only if our society can be brought to face up to the massive crime of slavery and all that it has wrought." (7)

More pointedly to the argument I have been making for some time (largely, thanks to Robinson): "Lamentably, there will always be poverty. But African Americans are overrepresented in that economic class for one reason and one reason only: American slavery and the vicious climate that followed it." (8-9)

Chapter One opens beautifully, poetically, tragically, and controversially:

I was born in 1941, but my black soul is much older than that. Its earliest incarnations occured eons ago on another continent somewhere in the mists of prehistory. Thus, there are two selves: one born a mere fifty-eight years ago; the other, immortal, who has lost sight of the trail of his long story. I am this new self and an ancient self. I need both to be whole. Yet there is a war within, and I feel a great wanting of the spirit.

The immortal self - the son of the shining but distant African ages - tells the embattled, beleaguered, damaged self, the modern self, what he needs to remember of his ancient traditions. But the modern self simply cannot remember and thus cannot believe... Maliciously shorn of his natural identity for so long, he can too easily get lost in another's.

Reading this for the first time, maybe in 2002, I was faced with one of the most foundational choices to how I would see myself and the world from then on: I could defend myself, distance myself from the "debt" identified by Robinson, and live self-justified. OR, I could own it; plead guilt for my ignorance, my complicity and my heritage; grieve over it; and finally, seek to move forward in personal, spiritual, and societal reparation.

Eight years later, I still don't know what ownership and repentance should look like, but as with homophobia, misogyny and bourgeois economics, I am seeking to reject self-preservation and open my life to redemption. I trust the Holy Spirit to continue illuminating the truth of "the least of these," those Christ tirelessly loved and shared himself with.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

(Matthew 25:45)


Al said...

Even making that first step of seeing something in oneself that needs to change is a beginning. That inner awareness tends to start changing ones attitudes and actions, even though there may be no big demonstrative act of 'ownership and repentance'.

On a different level, I think there is something very powerful when a white person acknowledges a black issue, or a straight person acknowledges a gay issue. When you recognize and speak about an injustice that isn't against you, it carries the weight of coming from someone on the outside. When a woman talks about women's rights, or a gay talks about gay rights, it's easy to say: "Oh well, they are only promoting their own agenda." But when someone on the outside speaks on their behalf, it says: "This isn't about me, but I believe this is important enough to stick my neck out a bit."

So writing this post is doing something--although you may well have more to do at some point.

Peter said...

Thanks Al, I completely agree. And the weight of THIS statement is what keeps me up at night: "So writing this post is doing something--although you may well have more to do at some point."

What that "MORE" is, is the question I want to be brave enough to answer.

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