Our Reparations Conversations have thus far focused on history. What actions have repaired societies after grievous wrongs? What attempts seem to have failed? Legal remedies, re-education, compensation for loss, truth-telling, voluntary vs. forced monetary reparations, the naming and renaming of places, political strategies for change, words that hurt or heal, money demanded or promised.
Repair is difficult, requiring changes of hearts and minds and dedication of resources. As we study strategies around the world, and attempts of reparations in our own society, I keep looking for what worked. And what didn’t. And why.
I asked Rev. Terrance Thomas to present on the Black Manifesto of 1969 as a little-known piece of our history, an inflammatory document calling for mass uprising from the Black community and massive financial transfers from religious institutions- neither of which seemed to happen. Perhaps it did not represent a broader coalition of the Black community, particularly the Black church. Perhaps it alienated allies committed to the cause of equality who embraced other strategies for change. Perhaps it succeeded in ways I don’t understand, or was simply silenced by power.
Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings— there’s no saving help with them! Their breath leaves them, then they go back to the ground. On that very same day, their plans die too. Psalm 146:3-4 (CEB)
The Black Manifesto was written and delivered at a particular time, in a particular context, by a particular group (the National Black Economic Development Conference) more than 50 years ago. Coming from a secular financial perspective, it targeted churches and synagogues as capitalist systems in a decadent, racist society that has exploited Black labor, and brutalized and killed Black Americans. It is a powerful and problematic document. Its indictment of the Christian church and its strategic recommendations are important to consider.
Understanding the complicity of the Christian church with slavery, racist laws and structures, violence, and white supremacy is critical to our ability to learn, repair, and heal our nation. Synagogues, of course, have a different history in America. Like other minorities, Jewish Americans have experienced discrimination and violence. Neither black nor accepted as white.
The construction of whiteness as an American category changes, excluding or including ethnic and religious groups to preserve power among some by keeping others out. Our apartheid is nuanced and shifty. Perhaps the absurdity of South Africa’s system was more honest- detailing different rights and rules for blacks, whites, “coloreds”, and Indians/Asians- including reversing the status of Japanese to “white” when politically convenient.
Where is God- in whose image we are all created, as individuals and as humanity reflecting the divine- leading us? What is the repair to which we are called? More than anyone I know, God seems committed to the process, not just the product. And so we journey on, together. Imperfect, asking forgiveness, tending each other’s wounds, learning, falling down and helping each other get back up, reaching out to take another’s hand.
I search for wisdom on the repair of the world:
Rabbi Tarfon teaches: Do not be arrogant; do not think that you alone can finish the job. Trust in your children and generations yet unborn to take up the task. “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” Pirke Avot 2:21
I am grateful to be on this journey with this community. May we humbly take up the task together, learning from our past and trusting God for the future.