Do you owe me? II: A student perspective on reparations

Alright, enough poking fun at CBS and that silly "guys in pajamas" comment. Back to some real blogging, in my pajamas of course, but not in the livingroom.

So I've finally gotten my hands on that in class writing assignment I mentioned that hubby gave his students a few months back. The question was (roughly), "Do whites owe anything to non-whites because of past injustice?" A secondary part of the question was about white guilt and self hate. The students had some interesting answers to that question as well. I think I'll deal with those answers separately though. Here are the answers to the first part of the question:

"I'm not exactly sure how to answer this question. I'd like to say that I feel bad for something like slavery, if that's part of the question, but how exactly do you repay something like that. If we were to do something like this, I think it would just provoke racism and be a little more counter-productive than productive. I don't know if I really understand the question."

"In my opinion, white people do not necessarily owe non-white people for the injustice done by their grand [sic] grand fathers. However, the government should take action and help its citizens. Non-whites being a part of this country can benefit from this help. None the less, this help should not come as a duty or debt to non-whites. On the other hand, just because you are non-white it does not mean you should get more help if you do not really need it."
Furthermore, looking at today's progress non-whites have made and the way some of them do not recognize it and ask for more to be done, I do not think it is fair and morally right to blame white people."

"No, because little by little things are improving and if you keep going back on the past, nothing will get better. You need to move on and forgive and leave the past behind. If you dwell on the past then nothing will get better. Things will get better when we try to work together in letting white people try to show their understanding and friendliness. Non-whites need to understand that its [sic] getting better slowly and white people need to recognize that racism still exists and to understand their feelings. I personally don't owe anything, I am not racist and wasn't raised that way either."

"I think white people in the sense that the US gov [sic] owes the native americans b/c of pas [sic] injustice. But on a personal level, I'm not going to apologize to a random African American for past slavery. If you personally have injusticed [sic] someone of another race, you owe them something."

"It depends what types of reparations money I think is a rediculous [sic] claim because its [sic] not constructive. However, reparations in the form of affirmative action is good and needed. Past injustice caused todays [sic] injustices so its necessary to have programs implimented [sic] to try to avoid injustices. "

"I don't believe white people owe anything to nonwhites. I believe whites should just realize that there is racism, and work towards improving the relations between whites and nonwhites."

"No I think white people should recognize what happened and that it continues today."

"I think that there have been mistakes in the past like slavery but that it is in the past and by abolishing slavery white people gave back what they owed black people, their freedom. I find that we can never repay mistakes in the past, we can forgive and move on...We can't change the past so we should not focus on it as something we can make better."

"I don't think I owe anything to non-whites, I was not involved in the oppression of non-whites and do not do it today."

"I think that white people do owe something to non-whites because of past injustices, because we have to help those non-whites get back on track. Even if the non-whites are not currently experiencing the injustice, they are still experiencing the repercussions of the injustices that their ancestors endured. So to help those non-whites get back to a point in which they are more equal to whites, they need to be given some assistance. However, there should be a point at which the assistance should be stopped so that the non-whites can succeed on their own efforts (but it would be difficult to say at what point that assistance should stop). "


The first thing that struck me about these answers was how well these students handled the English language (it is a second language for at least one of these students). I've seen lots of stuff written by college students that would make you cry it was so horribly written and impossible to understand. And these guys were doing this on the fly too, very impressive.

The second thing that struck me was how level headed their answers seem to be. No flaming vitriol about who owes who what or who doesn't owe who what. They just wrote what seemed reasonable to them, on the fly. Their calm contemplation of the issue is refreshing. Perhaps I've been hanging around the blogosphere too much where flaming vitriol and demonization of others' ideas is the norm.

On to the answers themselves. One recurring theme in these answers is the assumption that white people don't seem to think that racism still exists. Personally, I have never encountered a white individual who believes such a thing. If anything, most of the white folk I have come into contact with are deathly afraid that someone might mistake them for a racist or that they might unintentionally give offense to a black person. This does not indicate to me that white people as a whole are oblivious to the existence of racism. Or maybe I just hang out with a better caliber of white people than the folk these students are talking about.

It's good to see that some of these students made it a point to recognise that not all non-white people (to expand this beyond the usual black vs white thing, as if those are the only two groups that matter in this kind of discussion) are in need of assistance. It is also good to see that some think that it is better for people to succeed on their own than to always be receiving assistance from somewhere on high. Indeed, if any assistance is given it should be for the purpose of making further assistance unnecessary.

I think I'll leave my comments at that.

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