Reparations, Especially Contributions to the Whitney Plantation

If I had read something like this a few years ago, I might have started paying reparations sooner. So in the hope that this helps someone else, here goes:

Reparations

Photo of two Whitney Plantation tickets with lanyards.
The Whitney Plantation day tickets are renderings of children who were enslaved on the plantation. A quote or story from them is on the back of this card.

White people in America, we should be paying reparations. If you don’t yet know what reparations are, here’s the wikipedia page on them. Better yet, here’s Teen Vogue on the issue, ready to explain it to us.

We white people benefit, every day, from the history of slavery in this country, and we continue to benefit from racist systems the USA operates on. We particularly benefit from the school-to-prison pipeline (the system whereby approximately 13% of the US is Black but the US prison population is 40% Black, thousands of Black people are jailed for life for petty reasons, and punishments are completely disproportionate to the crimes). Imprisonment is a form of slavery in the way it’s practiced in the US today.

Even outside of incarceration, unearned privilege continues to buoy white people far more than any other group in the USA.

It’s a positive thing that several candidates for the American presidency have said they support reparations. That’s good, but it’s not enough. Reparations are overdue. If you’re not sure if you can afford reparations? Think of how little Black people in the US have been able to afford us NOT making reparations for the past several hundred years.

You don’t need me to make the case for reparations, though, actually. Ta-Nehisi Coates made the case for us, several years ago. Read it.

Statue depicts a Black child in yellow clothes, seated, who was enslaved at the Whitney Plantation near New Orleans, LA.
This statue by Woodrow Nash is one of a series depicting children who were enslaved at the Whitney Plantation near New Orleans, LA.

How do you make reparations, anyway?

I’ve thought a lot about how I want to make reparations through the lens of a blog post concerning the Short, Medium, and Long-Term Game Scenarios by Siderea. The original aim of Siderea’s post was to show activists how not to derail each others’ efforts. However, I find the essay useful when considering what actions I want to take in order to make an impact on short, medium, and long-term challenges.

With those goals in mind, here’s how my spouse and I divided the money we’ve sent for reparations so far this year.

White sign with red and black letters on a white fence, reading "Freedom, Education, Family, Pass it on."
This sign is the last piece of the Whitney Plantation you view before leaving through the gates.

25% to provide short-term, immediate relief:

We make a small monthly contribution to a petty cash fund managed by Boston Black activist, Didi Delgado, whose team then makes those funds available to POC (primarily Black folks) in need of short-term assistance to pay rent, buy food, pay for clothes, and other supplies. This has the added advantage of anonymizing us from the recipients and the recipients from us, which I also appreciate in terms of Jewish tzedakah ideals. Being Jewish, I was taught that tzedakah means striving toward social justice, not “charity work,” and that the best form of tzedakah is one in which your efforts aren’t known to the person who receives the benefit of them, and you don’t know who is the recipient of your efforts.

Because such a disproportionately large number of the population in American prisons are Black folks, sending money to bail funds is often money to support imprisoned POC.  The Bail Project is one effort to try to rectify the structural inequalities that exist, here. It would be even better if such funds weren’t needed, because bail is generally used as an additional punishment of the poor. Given that such processes are abused in the American “justice” system, however, donation to a bail support fund is a way of trying to counter this issue. We have a small monthly contribution set up to support this work.

We also give donations every week or so to three Black folks in our neighborhood who are homeless. Those contributions aren’t anonymized, but I hope the fact that we’re known, friendly faces does something to improve their day whenever they see us.

I also send money to a few Black individuals privately whose needs are not public.

25% to medium-term projects:

I’m particularly invested in addressing injustices and marginalizations within geekdom, as will surprise no one who knows of my efforts in science fiction conventions, international scifi as a community, and the international tech industry. (That’s why I co-founded Include Better, after all.)

In terms of supporting other organizations addressing issues of racism in the medium-term, we donate annually in support of the Carl Brandon Society and Con or Bust. These organizations directly support People of Color within science fiction fandom. The Carl Brandon Society celebrates stories and books by POC and stories centering POC within science fiction and fantasy as a genre. Con or Bust directly provides resources to POC with which they can attend science fiction fandom events.  Both of these orgs work hard to support and center the lives and needs of People of Color in general, not specifically Black people.

In terms of Black creators in science fiction and fantasy, I’m also a proud subscriber and donor of Fiyah Lit Magazine. Fiyah has done a tremendous amount of work to develop and celebrate Black authors in SFF. Many a Fiyah author has later gone on to edit the magazine, and vice versa. Staff often go so far as to offer a thorough critique of the works they opt NOT to publish in the magazine. I am so pleased with their continued successes, and their deep commitment to making a lasting change in the scifi/fantasy genre.

Statue of an angel, face downcast, bare-breasted, holding a baby. This statue of an angel kneels at the center of a commemorative courtyard honoring 2200 infants who were enslaved in the immediate area of the Whitney Plantation and who died before reaching the age of two.
This statue of an angel by Rod Moorehead, “Coming Home,” kneels at the center of a commemorative courtyard honoring 2200 infants who were enslaved in the immediate area of the Whitney Plantation and who died before reaching the age of two.

50% to support efforts addressing the long term:

We split this portion of our reparations money between donations to The Color of Change PAC, to the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, and to The Whitney Plantation.

The Color of Change PAC is an organization that leads the way on huge racial justice efforts in the USA. They have programs to help end bail bondsmanship, to highlight Black representation in Hollywood depictions, to support Black women in the #MeToo movement, to decriminalize poverty, to combat racially-biased news reporting, to expand voter access and end voter suppression, and so much more. Honestly, their highly distributed approach is one reason why I think their work is successful — their mission is simply to center American People of Color, and especially Black folks in the US, in every way possible.

The MCNAA is an organization to support native/indigenous people in Massachusetts. One of the things that I learned from going to the Whitney Plantation is that native folks were often the first people to support formerly-enslaved people during their escape from plantations. Enslaved people would flee to the swamps, where they were taught how to survive by the native people who already lived there. Frequently, this meant that formerly-enslaved Black folk would join indigenous communities and form families together. There are many people today with native blood who are also descended from formerly-enslaved people.  It is true that the history of native people and slavery is complex — sometimes native people were enslaved, sometimes they enslaved others — but I ultimately think that the MCNAA efforts to support local tribe members, including Black members of local tribes, is a valuable part of reparations.

Lastly, I want to talk about the Whitney Plantation near New Orleans, Louisiana,  which is where I took all of the pictures in this blog post. If you’ve never been to the Whitney Plantation, I highly, highly recommend it. As far as I can tell, it’s still the only plantation in the American South whose scholarship, efforts, and narrative tour all focus on the lives of the enslaved people and formerly-enslaved sharecropper families (which was just a continuation of slavery by another name in most if not all cases). Every time I go to the Whitney, I learn something new, and their scholarship continues to expand every year.

The largest part of our reparations go to the Whitney, in part because the Whitney was not recognized as a 501(c)3 until this past weekend. It’s less common for Americans to give money to organizations that can’t provide a tax deduction, no matter how crucial their work. The Whitney is important and shouldn’t have to wait for government paperwork in order to get our financial support, so we’ve been contributing for a while. Now that they have official nonprofit status and can offer a tax deduction, however, I hope y’all will consider joining us in sending reparations here.

Picture of a long boat-shaped metal sculpture surrounded by trees.
This is an artist’s rendition of the longboat, which was used by slave ship crews to transport newly-enslaved people off the shores of Africa.

The Whitney doesn’t have an online donations portal yet, but they do have a mailing address to which you can send a check: 5099 Louisiana Hwy 18, Edgard, LA 70049. I’ve visited the Whitney several times over the past few years, so I put a contribution in their box on site when I’m there.

The Whitney Plantation is the best solution I’ve seen to the challenge of honoring the past and preparing for a better future. It’s Black-led and Black-centering. This is the plantation that all the white people on Twitter complain about, I’m pretty sure, for talking about the lives of enslaved people when some white folks just wanted to see a pretty southern picture of “the good ole days.”

The Whitney Plantation is also the place where I go when I need someone to educate me more about American history. Going to the Whitney has helped hammer home some hard lessons, particularly when facing my own lack of education concerning the racist history of the US. Growing up white in the north, I had no concept of the magnitude of suffering under slavery, nor did I understand the extent of its impact and its repercussions today. I feel strongly about paying to make sure that education continues to be available to everyone, including me.

Other efforts which aren’t reparations, but are worth noting:

These are not reparations, but efforts to which we contribute money that we feel are also important in addressing societal marginalizations and inequities.

Everyday Feminism, a progressive website with lots of really good intersectional perspectives and resources on addressing racism and sexism in modern culture.

The New Inquiry, a progressive feminist magazine of cultural and literary criticism which has introduced me to many ideas over the past couple of years.

Basically any non-Republican political challenger of a Republican in an upcoming election. I truly believe that the Republican party depends on racism (and other oppressions of the kyriarchy) in order to function. Amy McGrath is running to defeat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. There are several challengers to David Perdue in Georgia. Dan Whitfield is trying to oust Tom Cotton in Arkansas. Sara Gideon is trying to get rid of Susan Collins in Maine.

Want to make the electoral process better, overall? Stacey Abrams is doing amazing work, with her Fair Fight initiative.

Sculpture of a hand broken off from the arm, lifting up broken chains.
This sculpture, “Returning the Chains,” can also be found at the Whitney Plantation, just outside the Haydel House (where the owners used to live).

 

In Conclusion

There is no addressing the history of the USA without attempting to make amends, as individuals as well as a collective of people who benefit from the legacies of slavery. Reparations are important.

If you’ve been uncertain how to make reparations, or what they are, I hope this post helped you. I hope you go forth and make reparations, yourself, if you aren’t Black or an indigenous person.

If you aren’t sure when you could make reparations, today is a good day to start. Another traditional time to look at reparations is tax season. Any day is a good day to make reparations, however — don’t let a date hold you back.

A piece of the Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Memorial at the Whitney Plantation. Each slab in this memorial of walls features the names of hundreds of enslaved people, sometimes with a quote or a picture of their lives.
This is a piece of the Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Memorial at the Whitney Plantation. Each slab in this memorial of walls features the names of hundreds of enslaved people, sometimes with a quote or a picture of their lives.

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