"Reparations: Be Black Like Me," The
Nation, 270:20, p. 2.
Reproduced with permission of The Nation.
By Nell Irvin Painter
Randall Robinson is absolutely right about the need for
reparations for the unpaid labor extorted from the enslaved before 1865
[Americas Debt to Blacks, March 13]. But I have
two further suggestions along reparations lines, which are meant to address
the continuing racism of American culture. First every black person should
have his or her own therapist for life, because dealing with this society
is enough to make you crazy. Second, every white person should have to
live two months as black. (No less, because youd have to experience
it fully; no more, because not having been brought up with the necessary
protective strategies, too many of you would lose your minds.) How
can a white person live as a black person? Its more or less
simple: (1) By taking a leaf from the 1947 classic about anti-Semitism,
Gentlemans Agreement, and letting drop a hint about race.
Once a doubt is planted, ones physical appearance need not change.
(2) If one is ambitious, one can apply dark makeup and not accept
the way out as offered, e.g., accepting the assignment of South Asian
background. (3) By carrying about a black periodical, book or
other talisman, listening to black music, wearing a T-shirt from a
black college or otherwise engaging in black-identified behavior.
Just being interested in black stuff. (4) By being seen on a regular
basis with a black person. (5) By protesting against racism out
loud, without the disclaimer, Im not black, but
(6) This is absolutely necessary: Read everything pertaining
to black people you can get your hands on. While one of the privileges
of whiteness is that of unknowing (to quote Eve Kosofshy
Sedgwick), finding out what goes on in this country with regard to
race changes a person of any racial persuasion.
So there. It is possible and has been done. Remember Black
Like Me and Soul Sister, form the sixties. Maybe its
time someone tried that again.
Nell Irving Painter
Nell Irvin Painter, The Nation, 22 May 2000.
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