In This Episode
This week on Stuck with Damon Young, Yamiche Alcindor joins Damon to discuss the battle for slavery reparations in the United States. From history
, to current events, they delve into the argument in favor of reparations and the best way to compensate the descendants of slaves for the labor of their ancestors. Then, on Dear Damon, Boston University professor Saida Grundy helps Damon advise a listener who is a descendant of slave owners who wants to give back to the black community.
Yamiche Alcindor: I’m someone who very much believes that that real freedom looks like Black people doing whatever the heck they want with their time and their money. I would say as someone who loves covering Black people and loves writing about Black people much like you, Damon I also have total respect for Black people who don’t want to write about racism, who want to write about the stock market, who want to write about China, or who want to write about all sorts of other things that have nothing to do with Black people, because maybe some of this is depressing for people. [music plays]
Damon Young: Welcome back, everyone to Stuck With Damon Young, the show where we want y’all to show us the money [laughs] and not no scholarship, but straight cash my nigga. Straight cash. So there’s no topic that speaks to America’s reckoning of its past, in its present, and also some people’s refusal to admit that a reckoning is even necessary and reparations, and not just whether Black Americans should receive it, but who and how. And how much. Who would pay? Just recently, the nation’s first ever reparations task force was organized in California, and economists estimated that Black residents of that state, just that one state, might be owed $800 billion. And so to grapple with these questions and more, I speak to award winning journalist Yamiche Alcindor. And then to cap today’s very, very special reparations episode. I’m joined by a Boston University professor Saida Grundy to help counsel a listener who learned his family owned slaves and wants to redistribute some of his wealth to Black people but doesn’t know how. All right y’all. [music plays] Let’s get it. Yamiche Alcindor is an award winning journalist who was a Washington correspondent for NBC News. Yamiche, how you doing?
Yamiche Alcindor: I’m doing well, how are you?
Damon Young: I’m good. I’m good. So you might not remember. We actually met. This was pre-pandemic 2020, Nicole’s rooftop party. Do you remember that?
Yamiche Alcindor: I do remember that. I also think I met you at the Root 100, one year.
Damon Young: Maybe even two. That last year pre-pandemic, pre-lockdown was just a blur.
Yamiche Alcindor: It was.
Damon Young: Like it reminds me of, like, people talking about their experiences before the Great Depression. [laughter]
Yamiche Alcindor: It’s definitely the before times where we would just, like, drink off each other and just open up doors without washing our hands.
Damon Young: Oh yeah.
Yamiche Alcindor: And I’d come home and just go to sleep and not scrub my body down.
Damon Young: Just less anxiety.
Yamiche Alcindor: Much less anxiety.
Damon Young: Let’s put it that way. Less anxiety about existing, about moving, about breathing in people’s air. Even though, you know, maybe we weren’t making the best decisions all the time, but still.
Yamiche Alcindor: Yep.
Damon Young: It’s a different time. So there’s a question that I’ve had for a minute, and I’m hoping that you can maybe give me some clarity about this. So let’s say today is National Reparations Day. A bill get passed, Congress, president, whoever need to sign off on it. Right. And you’re getting your reparations check today. It’s going to hit your account. Okay. How many pairs of Balenciaga’s are you going to buy today?
Yamiche Alcindor: One. I’m going to be hyped that the Haitians got it because I’m not Black American, so I’m going to be one. Probably buying the Haitian flag. [laughter] I will probably buy maybe two pairs.
Damon Young: Two pairs?
Yamiche Alcindor: Two pairs.
Damon Young: Okay. I, I was thinking somewhere between five and nine and I landed on seven [laughter] landed on seven just grab a different pair for every day to week. So getting back to that question about reparations, I’m thinking back to a conversation that I had about eight years ago. I was at Marvin’s in D.C. and the topic came up reparations, and there’s about five of us in a group talking about it. And I brought up that it felt like a thought exercise that didn’t really have a basis in reality because I didn’t necessarily see how it could be distributed if something like this were to happen. And so in a conversation, you know, someone pushed back on that and was like, you know what? That’s a limited way of thinking about things because how do you know that we might not invent a mechanism for it to be distributed? You’re already trying to prevent the solving of a problem because you can’t think of the solution. And so you’re just not going to address the problem at all. And after that conversation, I had to recognize that, well, he was right. And I think that that’s been the response that people have had. You know, when other people have brought up the idea of reparations, what how we’d distribute it, how would this happen? Who’s going to pay who? How would you respond it to that 2014 me, if I have brought that question up to you.
Yamiche Alcindor: Remind me if that’s the year before, after Ta-Nehisi wrote his piece. Because a part of me thinks that the first thing I would have done is hand you Ta-Nehisi’s piece The Case for Reparations and had you really understand the depths of which inequality was baked into the system—
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Yamiche Alcindor: —in a way that was conscious to make Black people’s lives harder. And then I would also have invited you to to look at sort of reparations, not just as checks, but as all the different ways the system can be reorganized so that Black people can really get a chance at this thing. We like to call it the American dream. And I would challenge you to say that it’s not just cash, that there are so many other ways that reparations can exist, that it might be hard to think of it as something that’s doable, but it’s obviously doable because we did it for the Japanese in America before, and we’ve done it for other populations around the world. So there is definitely a way to do this.
Damon Young: So I’m glad you brought up Ta-Nehisi’s piece. And for context, this is The Case for Reparations, a piece from Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was a cover story for The Atlantic. It was like 30,000 words long, just a very in-depth, very nuanced, very rigorous take on essentially the case for reparations. Would you mind expounding on reparations? Not necessarily just being cash. What does that mean for someone who’s just entering the conversation, just trying to wrap their heads around what exactly is possible?
Yamiche Alcindor: Well, okay, so there are two things I can say about this. The first is reparations doesn’t have to just be handing people a sum of money because that’s not the way that America worked. It wasn’t just that Black people were told, we have to pay this amount of money just to exist here. In fact, it was that free labor was extracted by people, and it’s hard to quantify that. And it’s also not as easy to say what we’re going to give you $100,000 because we know we live in a country where $100,000 in Alabama could maybe fund your life for two, three years, $100,000 in San Francisco might help you out for a couple of months. So the idea that we could really sort of quantify and monetize the consequences of what happened to African-Americans is very, very hard to think of and very, very hard to do. The other thing I would say is I learned about this study after I got back from my honeymoon. So I got married in 2018. I’m in bliss. I was like Black love my husband is this beautiful Black man. I come back. I’m just sort of sort of just levitating, thinking about our family and our future. And this study comes out that says, even if you are Black millionaires, even if you make it to the millionaire status, the next generation, because America has so many discriminatory practices, that child can end up still in poverty. So even if you save all this money and this generational wealth that African-Americans often talk about, to kind of be the vehicle that we can help our our descendants get out of this sort of racism that so many people deal with that can be stripped away just based on the fact that someone will criminalize your child or someone will take advantage of your child or a bank will just decide they don’t want to loan to your child or to your descendants just because of the way America is set up. And they basically said that you could being a child of two Black millionaires, it’s almost equal to being the child of one single poor white woman. And it was a reality check for me. That money is not the thing that solve things. Of course, money can help.
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Yamiche Alcindor: There’s no walking around the fact and talking around the fact that giving people money and financial stability absolutely helps their lives out. But it’s not a fix for racism because the racism and discrimination in this country is much deeper than just giving people money and then allowing America to sort of do what it does. Because if you don’t fix the real estate industry, if you don’t fix the health care systems and the education system and all the things that come together as sort of confluence of racial discrimination, you end up in a space where you really aren’t fixing the problem. You just sort of let one generation have some nice sneakers, but their descendants are going to be back in the same situation. [laughter]
Damon Young: Yeah, and you made some great points. And as you were talking, I’m thinking about also just how, you know, we talk about just income disparities that exist in America, that have existed, that are intentional and have existed for decades, centuries. And how even if one of us is lucky enough to make six figures, even like a seven figure sort of income, and how that six figures, that seven figure just doesn’t exist the same way it does for your typical white person. You know, and even going back to your analogy about how 100 K in Mississippi is different than 100 K in D.C., right? 100 K a year for for me is different than 100 K year for my neighbor for my white neighbor. Because 100 K for me it’s good. But I’m also. Paying for school tuitions for nephews. I’m also letting people borrow money who need it. You know, and again, I’d rather have it myself than have them go to like some, you know, some check cashing place or whatever to get it. But again, it’s those [sighs] it’s the conversation that can’t exist without the recognition of these grand disparities and how, like you were saying, money doesn’t really solve that. I’m curious, when this first became an issue that you were passionate about. Was there a catalyst or was it just like a general slow burn of understanding where you just came to? You know, to be passionate and recognize that this is a thing that needed to happen?
Yamiche Alcindor: Well, I mean, as I’ll say, as a reporter, it’s hard for I’m not an activist, so I can’t say that I felt passionate about reparations needing to happen. I definitely feel passionate about understanding—
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Yamiche Alcindor: —why reparations for some people is something that they want to happen. And I think my understanding of reparations as a vehicle, a powerful vehicle for equal treatment in America really came from Ta-Nehisi’s piece. I consider myself a civil rights supporter and had been covering sort of civil rights issues for a while. But in 2015, 2014, when that piece came out, The Case for Reparations, it was the first time that I saw somebody lay out in a really, really direct way why reparations in particular was something that this country should be thinking about and mulling over. So Ta-Nehisi’s works absolutely sort of started me on the road to even understanding reparations. And then I became a congressional reporter and of course, H.R. 40, was going through Congress, it’s something that had been percolating. It’s this congressional bill that is asking for Congress just to study the issue of reparations that has yet to be passed. And it’s something that has come up over and over again. So in also learning about the Congressional Black Caucus and meeting some of the players over the years that were really, really integral in that piece. John Conyers being one of them, he’s now passed away. But there are a lot of people Sheila Jackson Lee is now taking that up, the congresswoman from Texas. So I would think that that’s the two things that really helped me understand, hey, maybe reparations could be something that actually could help. Also, I should say I’m a graduate of Georgetown University. I bring that up because Georgetown, one of my friends, her name is Rachel Swarns. She was a reporter at The New York Times. She wrote this whole piece about how Georgetown was sort of saved by this selling of enslaved people and that it really did in some ways turn on its head the history of Georgetown. As someone who graduated from that university, they talk so much about Jesuit ideals and about the Center for Social Justice and about sort of how that school was always centered on trying to be an education for the whole person. We never talked about the history that the school had with slavery. So to have that be brought up and then to have the university have some really deep conversations about how to rectify that, settling in part on allowing free tuition for the descendants of those people who were sold. That, to me also sort of opened my eyes. I’m like, oh, this is a place that I love, that I went to school with. And this is sort of reparations in real time happening on a campus that I visit all the time.
Damon Young: When you pull back and you just think about all the tentacles that white supremacy has, right and all the different ways that it is affected just how we live, how we survive, how we eat, how we exist, how we even party. Last week there were a couple of memes, a couple tweets about how back in like the early aughts and like 2010s, niggas used to like, dress up to go clubbing, wear the suits, wear the ties and you know, wear the hard bottoms to go clubbing. It was like y’all are going to Dougie. [laughter] Y’all were getting sweaty in the club in business casual like what was happening then? Well, what was happening was that a lot of the clubs in the country had these dress code requirements where you couldn’t get in with jeans, you could get in with t shirts, you couldn’t get in with a hat on, or gold chain showing or whatever. And so you had to wear these clothes in order to get into the club. So it wasn’t something that people decided to do because they felt like wearing hard bottoms and a tie to the nightclub. It was something that was a result of a racism, and we reacted that way. Are you familiar with the situation that’s happening in California right now, the land based reparations? I think it’s about this space called Bruce’s Beach, right, where a Black family owned this beachfront property. The state of California took it from them and then California gave it back. And then I guess the family sold it back to the state. Are you familiar with this at all?
Yamiche Alcindor: Yes, I’m familiar with that it was, you know this family that could have been the Hiltons that bought this resort and then basically eminent domain, the state took it back. And then years and years later, the state gave it back to the family. And then, of course, they sold it back to the city.
Damon Young: Yeah. And I’ve seen some criticism of the family’s decision to sell it right back. Right. Because it’s like, well, you own this property, you could develop it, you could do whatever with it. Why would you sell it right back? And, you know, I think that even that speaks back to your point about cash itself isn’t enough. Right. Because even with this family, even with this property, is that okay? Well, we have all this property. What are we going to do? Who was going to manage it? What are we going to do with it? Do we have the infrastructure in place to to take care of this and perhaps for that family. The most pragmatic thing to do in that circumstance, which is the you know what, we just want to cash out because the amount of bandwidth and amount of physical labor it’s going to take to maintain this just isn’t worth it.
Yamiche Alcindor: I mean, I saw the criticism of the family for selling it. And to me, I thought, well, isn’t the whole point of reparations in cash to freedom? Isn’t it that if I’m not part of that family, but who am I to say that their best decision wasn’t to cash out? If that’s what they wanted to do, then that’s what they should do. And if reparations came in a check of $100,000 for every single Black person and one person wants to buy 100 J’s and the other person want’s to, wants to invest and put it in the stock market, another person wants to buy a house. Who am I to decide that the person who bought the J’s isn’t doing their best life? Maybe that person is dying of cancer and the thing that is going to make them happy is getting some J’s before they get in their casket. Like I’m someone who very much believes that that real freedom looks like Black people doing whatever the heck they want with their time and their money. I would say, as someone who loves covering Black people and loves writing my Black people much like you Damon, I also have total respect for Black people who don’t want to write about racism, who want to write about the stock market, who want to write about China, or who want to write about all sorts of other things that have nothing to do with Black people, because maybe some of this is depressing for people. So to me, I see that family and I think that’s what’s best for them. They obviously had a group decision to make and that’s a decision that they made. Some people said, oh, they should have leased it, but like, do we know what that would have entailed? Do we understand all of the different things that would have gone into that? And it’s not as if you can go back and do history and they can turn into the Hiltons tomorrow, right? There was this idea at the beginning when they had this family land and this family’s vision and these people who had it been broken down by their own cities, that they could become like the Hiltons or they could be like the Waldorf Astoria’s. But that that has passed. We can’t go back in time and give them not only the sort of financial aid and infrastructure, but also just that they’re no longer living without the trauma of having that snatched away from them. We don’t know what that did to their family when you had this amazing idea and then it was taken away from you through eminent domain. What that does for generations of people in that family, we’ll never really know. So for me, I think I think it’s freedom.
Damon Young: Yeah. And again, to your point, it doesn’t account for how traumatic experience that could have been and how that trauma is passed down.
Yamiche Alcindor: Yeah.
Damon Young: Through through stories through generations, even through DNA. And, you know, you get to a point where you’re just like nah, forget this. I just, let me just not think about this anymore. Let me cash out and move on and actually, you know, perhaps pursue some sort of freedom because this thing that has existed for generations, this trauma is an albatross that’s just weighing us down. You know, so like, I get that, you know, we joked earlier about the Balenciaga’s, but again, I think that to your point, you know, we we can’t try to dictate what people should do or what freedom means to different people. You know, there are people who are, you know, the LLC ass people who are all about generational wealth and, you know, by Black owned Black, which is great if that’s your bag, but that’s not everyone’s bag. And, you know, we should at the very least have the opportunity to decide which path, which way we intend to go. What do you think is the greatest roadblock or what are the roadblocks that exist right now that are preventing, you know, any sort of reparations from from reaching a level where it could possibly happen?
Yamiche Alcindor: I don’t know that there’s the biggest roadblock. I think that there are a number of roadblocks. One, of course, being just the idea that we’re living in a country in this moment after the death of George Floyd and the backlash against sort of this country wanting to really understand racism. We’re now dealing with a country that does not want to talk about racism in a lot of places and doesn’t want to deal with things like African-American studies, AP courses. We don’t want to deal with The Bluest Eye in schools. We’re a country that I think right now in this moment, especially with some conservatives and some parent groups that are really trying in some ways to say, let’s move past even the conversation around the consequences of slavery and act like in some ways it hasn’t happened. So I think that there’s there’s that little sort of everyday in the moment contemporary challenge of just we are a country that’s not really in the mood in big ways to deal with just the consequences of slavery. Like we were the summer of 2020, soon after George Floyd’s death, when we were a country that was more open to it, to having that conversation. I also think there’s this real question of just how to do it, and there’s a real question among Black people and white people about what does that look like? Is it fair? And I think that that’s a really big roadblock to the conversation around, well, how does this even happen? And sort of is it really going to make a difference? So the big questions are just and I think that that that is something that even Black Black people and white people in some ways share this deep skepticism that reparations can be the thing that could help this country. And I think the third thing is just who we are. We were struggling in this country to define what victim what the victim of slavery is, is is is the victim of slavery someone like me who’s Haitian-American, whose parents immigrated here in the 1970s, I still deal with racial discrimination. My brother, who is also 100% Haitian still get stopped by the cops. Right. But is he the proper descendant of someone who who should get reparations or should it be only the people who are from America, who were the descendants of the people who were enslaved on these soils. Of course, we are also, as Haitians, descendants of slaves who were, of course, enslaved in the Caribbean. So I think there’s also the big question of who actually deserves to get, especially because we’re in America where people are mixed as much as, you know, all this Ancestry.com, people who think they’re white turn out to be not so white. People who think they’re Black turn out to be a little bit a little bit more vanilla than they thought they were. So I think I should say I should pause here and say I did a Ancestry.com test that said I was 94% Black. And that made me happy—
Damon Young: Okay, congrats.
Yamiche Alcindor: —because as someone who [overlapping chatter] with my melanin—
Damon Young: It’s A-minus. Yeah congratulations, it’s an A-minus. [laughter]
Yamiche Alcindor: —but I think in some ways there is real question of who did who are the descendants of slaves, because in reality, you know, Henry Louis Gates has shown us that the people that we think might not be descendants of slaves might be descendants of slaves in some way.
Damon Young: I mean, we could we could just solve that by bringing back the paper bag test. You know, we could just do that [laughter] right just on a national scale of like, you know, if you are if you are lighter than a paper bag, then, you know, I’m sorry. You know, maybe try again next year. But if, you know, if you pass a test, then you get your check. [laughter] Right. And at the end, I guess it depends on the darkness that a paperback too cause you know, they make them [laughter] different shades of brown now. Right. Now, your point about, I guess, America’s refusal, right. You know, to have this psychic reckoning of what this country actually is or what this country has done to the descendants of slaves, that’s like, okay, we had that seven hour stretch in the summer, 2020 with, you know, with George Floyd when people were on board. Right. And then, you know, shit went back to how it usually goes 7 hours later. And so with that in mind, I’m wondering if there’s a way to circumvent that part of it, because that part, the national psychic reckoning, is something that I am not confident will ever happen. And so is there is there a way to get to this goal without that part of it?
Yamiche Alcindor: I mean, I think that that’s the question that our country’s been trying to reckon with maybe since the end of the Civil War. Can we get to a place where we can actually say, let’s have a real conversation about the consequences of enslaving hundreds of people, thousands of people, and what that really did to our country? I think it’s a very hard conversation to have. I don’t know that we will get there as a reporter just based on my own reporting on when I think when I talk to civil rights activists, they are coming from such a place of of wanting to talk about this in a being passionate, talking about this. And then when I talk to people who are on the other side of that issue, they don’t want to talk about this. They think that it makes. We’ve had we’ve as a country, we’ve been having conversations, I would say, since that since right after the summer of 2020 that said, well, what does it mean to have a real conversation about white privilege? Who who who is impacted by that? I also think as someone who’s interviewed a lot of Trump supporters, we we we don’t reckon maybe as much with this idea that when you tell white men in particular right or white people in particular, you are the privileged ones, you are the ones that are supposed to be sort of you are the ones that have this invisible leg up. And then you also have people who are living in deep poverty in West Virginia, in Western P.A., and are trying to wrestle with the idea of I’m so privileged, why do I live in a trailer park if I’m so privileged? Why am I drinking water that’s dirty? Or why am I drinking water that’s not safe? Because there obviously, there’s the Flint, Michigan, but there’s also the West Virginia and Appalachian areas. So I think it’s fair to say the data proves that Black people still have when you look at just sort of education or health care or disparities, Black people are still dealing with a juggernaut issue. But it’s not that white people don’t deal with that because there’s also really, really poor white people that don’t want to have that conversation because they’re like, well, why should we have a conversation about racial discrimination and not about the economic issues of this country? Because in the capitalist society, someone has to be taken advantage of. Someone has to be at the bottom for someone else to be at the top. So I think it’s it’s a hard conversation to have and it makes people uncomfortable because no one wants to. I mean at least some people don’t want to talk about poor white men who don’t who don’t aren’t being able to have the sort of privilege that we associate with a lot of times with moneyed white men. At the same time that we have that there are some that don’t want to talk about the conversation of even if you’re rich and Black in this country, that doesn’t mean that you’re any safer from the police. So I think there’s also that issue. So I think it’s just a hard conversation to have.
Damon Young: Well, I felt like before privilege had its, you know, more larger cultural meaning in the zeitgeist as a catch all to describe people who maybe their life isn’t easy, but their status doesn’t make life harder. So having male privilege doesn’t mean that your life is easy. It just means that being a man doesn’t make life harder. Having white privilege doesn’t mean that your life is easy, just means that being white doesn’t make things harder. And I feel like maybe that word we can maybe think of a different word. Because when I think of privilege, like before this current definition, I think of like Queen of England, silver spoon, butler, like people who who use summer as a verb. Like, that’s [laughter] that’s how I think of privilege, right? And so I can understand people having like a pushback when they hear that word. And, you know, particularly, you know, I’m I’m from Pittsburgh, you know, Western PA. And I joke before that that Pittsburgh is Wakanda for white people. But the thing that kind of breaks that that analogy down is that there are some poor ass white people here, too, right? [laughter] Like, I’m not far off of West Virginia we are literally in Appalachian Mountains. I know poor white people, you know, and, and I could see how that could be a hard sell to someone who has been poor for generations. Right. Whole family lived in the same house for generations and trying to tell them, like, you know what? Black people have had it harder and it’s up to the government and your descendants to take care of us in some capacity. And and again, I recognize that being a hard sell. Right. And again, I to your point, you know, trying to find a way to communicate that in a way where people are ready to actually have the conversation about rectifying that wrong. I mean, I think you need obviously, you need sociologists. You need scientists. You need economists. But you also need linguists in this too, to just figure out exactly how to communicate this and writers to figure out exactly how to communicate this, because that gap is real.
Yamiche Alcindor: Yeah. And I think you need the will of everyday people to want to be interested in educating themselves about the sort of consequences of slavery, but also the consequences of setting up a capitalist society. And that’s that’s you know, I think when you look at sort of this moment that our country is in where education my husband is an education reporter in Virginia. And you look at the sort of conversation we’re having just on the education front, it really shows you that we’re we’re at a place in this country where we just cannot agree on even sort of how we talk about race, how we talk about slavery. I mean, we’ve all heard stories about The Bluest Eye being banned, about Ruby Bridges. Now there’s a Disney movie about Ruby Bridges, who was, of course, this young Black woman who is this young Black girl who integrated a school that she somehow maybe the kids aren’t ready to watch a movie about her, even though it’s made by the Disney Channel. So it’s it’s this really, I think, hard thing that we as a country are trying to figure out how to have this conversation without anybody leaving, feeling offended or feeling hurt when in fact you’re going to have some feelings of hurt. And talking about the consequences of slavery is emotional. It is tough. It’s a very hard conversation to have, especially as someone who’s West Indian, who’s someone who’s Haitian. There has to be the also the conversations, I grew up in Miami. There’s the conversation of West Indians and Black immigrants who come here and look down at African Americans. So it’s not just that there’s this conversation to be made among the races, but there’s also an ethnic conversation to have, because I know people in my family who have come here and said, oh, well, you know, Black Americans, what’s their deal? We’re able to go to college and get PhDs and there they’re still living in the projects. Well, it’s not that simple because everyone needs to get educated on what the consequences of slavery do. So it’s a really hard conversation to have. And it’s not only, I would say, an interracial conversation, it’s also a conversation across the seas, and across class. And I don’t I don’t know how we get there. It would be great to cover when we do get there, but I’m just not sure how we get there.
Damon Young: Yamiche, thank you so much for joining us today. This is great. Informative. Appreciate, good seeing you again.
Yamiche Alcindor: Good seeing you, too. Thanks for having me on.
Damon Young: Up next, is Damon hates. The section of the show where I talk about shit that I hate because I hate a lot of shit. [music plays] So I was out the other day with my kid, one of my kids. I forgot which one of the kids it was, might have been both, it might have been just one. It doesn’t matter. And there was a struggle. Right. I think I was trying to get one of them into the car, and they were having a tantrum, which kids tend to do. You know, my kids are four and seven. They’re right in a prime age for unusual and unprompted tantrums about. I mean, these kids, like one of them had a tantrum in Target the other day because they wanted some candy while he was literally holding motherfucking Snickers. Anyway. Tantrums happening. Someone on the street makes eye contact with me and gives me like this knowing look like. Yeah, because I see you’re going through it. Yeah. It sucks to be you. And I’m going to need people to stop doing that fucking shit. When you see a parent out in the wild who is struggling with their children, children are having a tantrum. Something’s happening. Don’t give them a knowing look. Don’t give them like a sigh. Don’t try to give them empathy. No, don’t make eye. Pretend that parents a motherfucking pit bull that if you make eye contact with them, they’re going to fucking chew your esophagus out of your throat. All right. Don’t look at me. Pretend like I’m not there. Like, who wants more attention when there is something that is aggravating going on? Like it reminds me of when you’re in a restaurant and a server maybe drops the glass or chops a plate and it breaks on the ground and people start fucking clapping. It’s like, what the fuck would you do that while someone is having a moment that they wish they weren’t having? So again, I know you might think that it’s like a collective community thing. Like, you know, I’m with you. I see you. It gets better. Nah fuck you. Don’t look at me. Don’t look in my direction. Don’t say nothing to me. I’ll keep going about my day. Pretend like I’m a velociraptor. Keep your eyes to your motherfucking self. Thank you. [music plays] Up next for dear Damon, I’m joined by the homie Saida Grundy, Boston University professor. And, you know, since this week is the special reparations episode. Morgan the producer, what we got brewing in reparations pot?
Morgan Moody: Yeah, the reparations pot is hot this week. A listener wrote in and said, I just finished the biography of a famous family ancestor who was a slave owner. My family benefited mightily from her crimes and I can afford to redistribute some of our wealth to the descendants of those she wronged. What do you think is the most beneficial thing I could do? Try to find the slave’s descendants. Scholarships for kids in the county where she lived. Is there a nonprofit famous for private reparations?
Damon Young: Saida Grundy.
Saida Grundy: Thank you for [laughter] having me and fielding me this question, because I am kind of fascinated by questions of you know white justice that actually cost white people something, right? So racial justice in the way that we talk about it often doesn’t cost white people anything. Right. It’s the idea of like, oh, I bought this book for 24.95, now I am absolved, you know, thank you, Robin DiAngelo, for, you know, anointing, it’s like we do it like evangelism, right? You know, as I, you know, you are somehow washed in the blood of a very, very easy buyout. So this is actually great because this is kudos to this white person for actually thinking about this. Also, all white people who have ancestors here before 1865, benefited from the slave trade. The slave trade was not just the actual owning of human beings. The entire reason we have a financial system globally, you know, Wall Street, you know, Amsterdam, London, Paris, etc., that was to manage the money of slavery, right? So there were human people who were owned as property. But those people, much like houses today, were bundled into securitized bonds. So we sold those bonds all over the world, much like we sell mortgage bonds. So everyone in the globe who benefited from slavery, who was not colonized person or an enslaved persons themselves, and we also excluded Black people from Wall Street. So this is a private wealth question, but I’m putting in the context of more public wealth. Are there philanthropic organizations to help redistribute stuff? I don’t know if this is their terrain. This seems like you go to the estate lawyer, right? You go to your probate attorney and you say, add these Black people to the trust. If you are wealthy enough to be talking about family wealth, you wealthy enough to have a trust and those Black people should be added to that trust. I think that’s actually quite simple.
Damon Young: Yeah, I mean, I appreciate the context you added, shout out the context, shout out [indistinct] smart niggas, appreciate you, but I feel like that was a very robust, very rigorous response to a question with a simple answer and a simple answer is just give me your fucking money. [laughter] And that’ll be me. Like in a collective. I mean me. Give it to me. Like if you can’t—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: —find these descendants if you can’t find the people that your family enslaved, the descendants of those people—
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: —you found me. You emailed me, so just give me the money.
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: Yeah, that could be a reparation strategy. Just the first Black person you see. [laughter] You know what I mean, just—
Saida Grundy: Yes.
Damon Young: —don’t do any research. Don’t do any studying, don’t do any genealogy. You know, whatever. Just, you know what, you see a nigga in the street. It’s like, you know what? [laughter] I haven’t, I haven’t distributed my reparations yet, so this is your lucky day. Rufus. [laughs]
Saida Grundy: This is very timely because Randall Robinson just died last week, and Randall Robinson was a very, very radical activist who wrote a book in the nineties called The Debt, which I still think is the Bible of the reparations conversation. And Randall Robinson said so clearly he’s like, reparations is not necessarily about benefiting me or you, right? Like, we’re straight. You’re even straighter than me. Son of a bitch. But like, we’re straight, right? It’s about lifting the Black poor, because the reason they are the Black poor is because of the wealth extracted from them. Right? Wealth is a relational, you know, situation to poverty. The reason we have poverty is the reason we have extreme wealth. Right? So, you know, this white person, whatever, you know, justice, they think that they should be doing if this was their family. Go back to the county where your family owned Black people and redistribute. I mean, actual checks, right. Or actual parts of trust, actual dividing up of your stockholding etc., your assets. Redistribute that to the Black people in that county, because I assure you that in that county, Black people make up disproportionately the poorest people in that county. And the reason they are the poorest people in that county in 2023. Because your punk ass ancestors.
Damon Young: I think that’s a great point Saida. I also think, you know, just getting back to the question that person asked, like I think that asking the question is noble, right? You have to admit that like, you know, coming into the money, having somebody want to distribute it.
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: But there’s a part of it that annoys the fuck out of me whenever I hear it. And that’s the suggestion of, like, a scholarship fund.
Saida Grundy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Damon Young: Or the creation of, like, a nonprofit and—
Saida Grundy: Yeah, yeah.
Damon Young: —you know, and when that happens, that’s almost like, well, I have this money.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: And I don’t trust you enough—
Saida Grundy: [whispers] Exactly. Exactly.
Damon Young: —to do like, if I give you this money, you just going to go buy seven pairs of Balenciaga’s. You’re going to get a whole bunch of steaks.
Saida Grundy: Exactly.
Damon Young: You know, you’re going to go to Red Lobster, and those are all things that I would do.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: That I might do today.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: Right. And there’s this, like, well, I can’t trust them to make the right decision. So, you know what? How about I make some incentive based thing? Like, you know, here’s a scholarship fund, right? Here’s a nonprofit that I’m creating. I don’t even know what the fucking nonprofit would be.
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: And I’m not necessarily saying that this person is doing this right, but I think that that is like a larger thing that white people—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: —do sometimes when they’re thinking about, okay, ways to help or ways to rectify whatever wrongs is like, you know, you don’t actually give money to a person you throw money at like a—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: —some theoretical in the future sort of achievable.
Saida Grundy: Mhm.
Damon Young: And that’s just not cool. That’s just not it doesn’t do anything.
Saida Grundy: When, when Bernie Madoff robbed all them people as they’ve been doing for decades. Right. So these were absolutely multigenerational, wealthy white families. No one was like, you know what we need for the Bernie Madoff victims? [laughter] Scholarship funds. They literally took those. You know, it was, you know, Madoff, had stole $100 billion or something like that. They literally reclaimed all of his assets. They reclaim everything they could. They I mean, they didn’t get nearly all of it. But the, you know, few billion they got back, they absolutely redistributed that directly. So I think that your your take is really keen because to cover this up in this moralistic thing of like scholarship claims actually is a cover up of the crime itself. The crime itself is theft, right. It is the theft of Black bodies. It was the theft of Black futures is the theft of Black generational wealth. And it did not end at slavery. Right. White people in those, and you know, the slave owners rolled right into sharecropping planters. Right. It did not end there. We’re talking about 100 years post slavery, that Black people still had their wealth robbed by these very families and that wealth was robbed through white violence. Right. So when Black people try to do things like, you know, start a business, they were, you know, killed, etc.. So yeah, all that to say I’m with you entirely that telling Black people how their money should be spent is key to the paternalism of white racism, right? Telling Black people that somehow we don’t delay our gratification in the way they would. First of all, white people invented Black Friday they don’t delay their gratification at all. And it also is a way of really tampering down the violence of the crime itself.
Damon Young: I’m still thinking about the point you made about Bernie Madoff, that if someone would have tried to offer them motherfuckers some scholarships [laughter] it’s like, yo, do you have do you have our money? But no, but well, we have these gift cards to Georgetown University. [laughter]
Saida Grundy: We have these Target gift cards—
Damon Young: That are redeemable. [laughter]
Saida Grundy: You just need to wait 30 years for them to mature.
Damon Young: Yeah. You get these gift cards to Yale if you— [laughter] Like we own Yale. My family owns Yale. What the fuck is wrong with you? Our last name is literally, Yale. [laughter] Right.
Saida Grundy: Elihu Yale was literally our grandfather. [laughter] And philanthropy is extremely paternalistic toward Black communities, right?
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Saida Grundy: You know, philanthropy is you know, often about having the upper hand on deciding what Black people should and should not do, deciding which Black people should and should not be valued, and also getting people out of poverty. I think as we understand now, like the whole, oh, here’s this college scholarship for you. Like, do you realize how many more immediate economic crises there are to even get someone to that level? So you’re dangling a carrot that’s not reachable if you don’t meet immediate needs. And it’s like this white woman has her immediate needs. I’m sure she buys all the Lululemon she wants. I’m sure she gets guac on whatever the fuck she’s ordering, it’s like all her immediate needs are met. Like no one is telling her [laughter] your family’s wealth could actually be delayed to you, right? She’s been enjoying that wealth her entire life. Her parents have been enjoying it, her great grandparents been enjoying it.
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Saida Grundy: No one told them to delay anything about inheriting that money.
Damon Young: Yeah, and this is a digression, obviously. But, you know, I think that it’s a bone—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: —that I have with whatever it is sort of conversation that arises and there’s like this suggestion that, you know what it actually reminds me of the conversation that existed for years about college athletes.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: Where people were reluctant to pay them, but they were saying, like, oh, well, we invested all this money into the locker rooms.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: And into the equipment and into the dining halls for them whatever it’s like—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: —okay, well, you’re surrounding them with money, but you’re not actually giving them—
Saida Grundy: Giving them.
Damon Young: —some of the money that they’re generating for the labor. And again, it’s this paternalistic aspect of white supremacy.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: That just suggests that we just don’t know what to do. That even as they are showing some empathy or showing some sort of—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: Reckoning with the past, there’s still that like, you know what? We still have to be white. [laughter]
Saida Grundy: Yeah, it’s, yeah. Real talk.
Damon Young: We still have to be white in the way that we attempt to rectify this thing. Instead of just giving you money. We have to put conditions around the money that we distribute.
Saida Grundy: Absolutely. I mean, this is you know, we’ve seen this, you know, historically over and over and over again, where part of how white supremacy was done economically was not only delaying Black people wages, but choosing how they would be paid. So Black women, domestics, you know, oftentimes, you know, in a white family, they actually might not be as flush with cash as they purported. But part of being white in middle class was having a Black woman work for you. So there’s all these stories of Black women who, you know, come payday and, you know, Karen and Becky and them would be like, well, you know, I’m paying you in these you know, in these old clothes and Black women would be like no give me our money. But again, the white thing of like, shouldn’t you value these things? These are clothes. But I you know, I say this also in terms of how I’ve seen this done even in my field. So when Black people are research participants or anytime we’re studying communities, disadvantaged communities, there is many instances in academia where we switch to instead of giving people cash. I remember because the day I remember going off in a faculty meeting as a grad student, I remember they said, oh, we’re going to stop using cash, you know, stop using actual redeemable vouchers and start using target gift cards. I was disgusted by this. One name me a fucking hood with a target.
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Saida Grundy: Right. You cannot pay your babysitter with Target gift card. You cannot pay the cab with Target, that’s not money. And in fact, you’re taking a form of payment that should be actual currency and you’re forcing people to become consumers. That’s what really pissed me the fuck off. Right. Michael Luther King said it best to invoke Dr. King. He said the vote did not cost white people anything. The real mountaintop for him was economic justice, and that was about an economic justice that was bottom up, not about Jay-Z and post needling and making rich Black people richer, he didn’t give a fuck about millionaires. What he was talking about was economic justice for the Black bottom.
Damon Young: Mm hmm. Speaking of giving them money, let’s say this person who wrote it. Let’s say that they discover that you are one of the people that your family, you know, you’re a descendant of one of the people that their family owned. And so they’re gonna give you the check.
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: First question is, you know, today’s check day, how many pairs of Balenciaga’s do you buy? [laughter] Okay. And the second question is what [laughs] what do you think is like a justified like we’re talking about this, you know, these nebulous terms about payment—
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: —and owed or what’s due. But what do you think is an actual tangible if we’re talking cash, we’re talking money. What do you think is an actual. Number to start with?
Saida Grundy: So I would I mean, I would be in the meeting with the probate attorney, and that family’s trust is valued at something.
Damon Young: Okay.
Saida Grundy: And someone who is you know, I’m an executor of a trust now, you know, my sister and brother in law, you know, put me on, you know. Yes, we a Black people with some trust.
Damon Young: Ooh.
Saida Grundy: They put me on it. You should have a trust for your children, by the way, because or else they’re going to pay an inheritance tax to get anything that you have, which is not the smart way to do it. You should actually have a trust, and your children are minor, so you need an executor of that trust. I’m not saying it should be me. But— [laughter]
Damon Young: I am not the one who lives in Matt Damon’s condo from [indistinct] party. I don’t have that, I don’t have [laughter] generational wealth as you do. That is Black wealth that is Black excellent lighting right there. That’s Black excellence sunlight.
Saida Grundy: This. Yeah. The building in which I live, by the way, was an insurance company in the day. And if we know anything, you, the audience might not know this, but all banking and insurance companies in the United States are slave, they are slave based industries because the thing to insure was enslaved human beings, because the transport of enslaved people was extremely risky. And so you had states in the East were selling enslaved people to states in the West. Right. So you had you know, Maryland was selling, you know, to Kansas, etc.. So that is why we have the American insurance industry. And as I tell my students, go to any downtown in America, the largest buildings are always going to be insurance and banking. Right. Those are the two capital industries in our economy and those are slavery based industries. So me personally, I’m not getting just a check. Right. So this is me. I’m telling this family. Yes, a cash payment that should be here by the first or 15th. But also I’m talking about the trust. So we’re talking about the trust as a number of assets that this family, they have wealth like this. This is wealth that they never have to touch any principle. This is they are living off the dividends and interest of their assets. Right. So if I’m the Black person who they owe, you know, and luckily, you know, I’ve had some financial literacy in my life because you’re right, because my parents had enough resources to think about this. But I’m actually saying, no, you are putting us on the trust. The same sort of cut that you all get is what we’re going to be getting. That can be dividends from assets in terms of investments that can you know, that can be assets in the market, that can be property holdings, etc.. But this would, I mean, if this were me, it would basically be like a divorce proceeding. We would be [laughter] splitting the assets. [laughter] I would absolutely treat it like a divorce proceeding that, you know what I’m going to say I’m a partner. I want to argue with my attorney that the source of this family’s largesse, the source of their wealth, is actually my labor. So I’m going to argue like an ex-wife is like I’m going to argue it like you would not be rich if not for my labor.
Damon Young: Okay.
Saida Grundy: I’m going to go Real Housewives.
Damon Young: But then they come back you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym.
Saida Grundy: But I was because source income is actually something that gets argued in divorce proceedings. Right. So you can say, okay, we’re married and the source of the income in this marriage, you can argue like, well, that happened, you know, before I met you, but you can’t argue that for slavery. So the source income is the enslaved people. So I’m winning. I’m me and my attorney is balling.
Damon Young: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and again, if they say you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym, you could come back and say, well, we built the motherfucking gym.
Saida Grundy: We built the actual gym. And—
Damon Young: Yeah.
Saida Grundy: —every asset that family has held since was sourced from enslaved labor that was not paid for. So if that family owned, you know, an ice cream store, if that family owned insurance company if that family owned buildings, I’m arguing that the source is all my family’s unpaid labor. As someone who admires, you know, Black legal scholars, legal scholarship often deals with the hypothetical and I love this as a hypothetical like it if we had laws like reparations is not just going to be a government saying, oh, we’re sorry, and here is, you know, a community center for you Negroes, actual reparations is going to include the private sector because actual Black people are going to be able to bring claims against, say, actual white people who profit from the theft, death and labor of their ancestors. Right. So I know where the Grundy plantation is. I’ve seen it. The building still exists that was the Grundy, you know, the mansion on the plantation. I know where that is, right. I love the hypothetical of and this is why white people don’t want reparations, because it won’t just be a public sector event. And we’ve done this for justice for all sorts of other groups. You know, Germany didn’t say, oh, well, you know, this is just a government entity. No actual Holocaust survivor sued Mercedes Benz. They sued BMW, they sued Volkswagen. They got their money from private entities. Those are corporations. Well, these families were corporation.
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
Saida Grundy: So I love the hypothetical of this because I’m actually going to argue there is no wealth in this family without the source wealth. Of my ancestors. I’m winning my case, I don’t know about. [laughter] I don’t know about your, you know, Balenciaga’s, great. And we’ll get those second. But I’m still winning my case. [laughter]
Damon Young: Okay. And so for the guy who’s writing in, our advice, I think we agree that, you know, you should make every effort to find people.
Saida Grundy: Mm hmm.
Damon Young: Do not create a scholarship.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: Do not create, do not start a community center, Do not give, you know, like a gift card, to fucking Penn State—
Saida Grundy: [laughs] Starbucks gift cards.
Damon Young: Starbucks, Target, wherever. [laughter] Just find, try to find the people. Try to find the people.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: And whatever negotiations need to happen, need to happen. But you try to find actual people and it’s going to take some work you’re gonna, you’re gonna need people to help you.
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: Because you’re probably not going to be able to do this yourself. There, you’re going to have to actually, you know, spend some serious labor—
Saida Grundy: Yeah.
Damon Young: Trying to find these people. But if you are serious about this, then that’s just the next step that you have to do.
Saida Grundy: And I would actually argue that the finding the people won’t be that hard, because slavery was a business. So the ledgers on enslaved people were very, very meticulous. Right? Each one of these persons was insured. We got you know census records and we have names, right? We have, you know, very [laughs] we have the surnames that Black people often carried from whoever owned them unless they were sold around. So actually, this is just going to be a matter of going back to the county in which, you know, this plantation existed or counties and actually start looking at those deeds, deeds. I mean, again, planters, Southern planters, Southern slave owners kept meticulous records of their property, as you would you wouldn’t have a car you didn’t know existed. This was all on their ledger. So and also, you know, to my point, reparations is not an individual act as a community based act. So this person owes the Black people in that county something, something, you know, substantial.
Damon Young: Saida Grundy. Thank you again for coming through it’s always a pleasure.
Saida Grundy: You’re welcome dear. Yeah, I’m going to go buy some Jordans, some Swisher Sweets. [laughter] I’m gonna do all of the things white people don’t want us to spend our money on right now.
Damon Young: All right. Thank you. [music plays] Again, just want to thank Yamiche Alcindor, Saida Grundy, for coming through. Great show, great guests. Thank you all for coming through again to Stuck with Damon Young. Remember. Listen. Subscribe for free only on Spotify. Also, if you have questions about anything, any topic, reparations again, Kyrie Irving again, airplane exiting etiquette again. Hit me up at email@example.com. All right y’all. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Meredith Heringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing sound and mastering from Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. From Gimlet and Spotify our executive producers are Krystal Hawes-Dressler, Lauren Silverman, Nicole Beemsterboer, Neil Drumming, and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam. Follow and subscribe to Stuck on Spotify. Tap the follow button and hit the bell icon to be notified when a new episode drops.