So You Want to Talk Solutions?
White Denial and the Change Question (Part 1)
David J. Leonard
One of the common responses to discussions about racism and other forms of injustice is the demand for solutions. The commonplace entry into public and private discussions about racism, the efforts to take over comment sections, to silence those who work to highlight inequality with responses like “what’s the solution” does not engender solutions but rather works to derail the conversation. Usually deployed alongside the descriptor of wining and complaining, this disingenuous demand (as opposed to a desire to figure out the path toward justice) for solutions illustrates the manner that white male privilege operates. In my many years of teaching and writing, the majority of those who felt entitled to have answers NOW and remedies yesterday were white men. The “shut up… stop complaining…give me solutions” reframe is the embodiment of privilege.
Recognizing our forms of denial and challenging our social and racial myopia is the solution. Refusing to accept the lies and distortions, the misinformation and stereotypes is a remedy. However, for those who are desperate for solutions, who feel disappointed with our collective failure to provide a road map toward justice you don’t have to look any further, I got you.
Reparations: Given the history of racist violence, evident in slavery, Native American genocide, Jim Crow, forced sterilization, racist immigration laws, the conquest of Southwest and other crimes against humanity, I think reparations are in order. “Sorry isn’t enough!” According to the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCBRA):
A necessary requirement of all forms of reparations is an acknowledgment by the government or corporation that it committed acts that violated the human rights of those making the claim for reparations. Some groups may want an explicit apology; however, neither the acknowledgement nor apology is sufficient – there must be material forms of reparations that accompany the acknowledgment or apology. Reparations can be in as many forms as necessary to equitably (fairly) address the many forms of injury caused by chattel slavery and its continuing vestiges. The material forms of reparations include cash payments, land, economic development, and repatriation resources particularly to those who are descendants of enslaved Africans.’
Financial restitution, especially given the amount of wealth generated through white supremacy, because of enslavement, genocide, and exploitation, is a necessary step of racial reconciliation. White financial and political success has been predicated on white racism. Malcolm X rightfully destroys the myth of meritocracy, bootstraps, and the white protestant work ethic as reasons for success:
If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your father’s estate, you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of white Americans are in a position of economic strength…is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay…We were sold from plantation to plantation like you sell a horse, or a cow, or a chicken, or a bushel of wheat…All that money…is what gives the present generation of American whites the ability to walk around the earth with their chest out…like they have some kind of economic ingenuity. Your father isn’t here to pay. My father isn’t here to collect. But I’m here to collect and you’re here to pay. (From By Any Means Necessary, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970, 123.)
Prison abolition: The history of America’s prison systems and the criminal justice system as a whole is wrought with racism. As Angela Davis remarks,
In order to imagine a world without prisons — or at least a social landscape no longer dominated by the prison — a new popular vocabulary will have to replace the current language, which articulates crime and punishment in such a way that we cannot think about a society without crime except as a society in which all the criminals are imprisoned. Thus, one of the first challenges is to be able to talk about the many ways in which punishment is linked to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other modes of dominance.
America’s addiction to incarceration requires dramatic intervention. No reform will suffice given the entrenched nature of the criminal (in)justice system within every institution, from the political to the educational, from the cultural to the economic. The systemic incarceration of people of color, of the poor, represents an assault on families, communities, and a betrayal of the principles of equality, fairness, and democracy.