OPINION: TOWN SHOULD EMBRACE REPARATIONS TO REDRESS THE DAMAGE OF WHITE SUPREMACY

Matthew Andrews

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a child who has harmed another but doesn’t know that there is a path to resolution, or doesn’t believe they can find it? Have you seen the scarcely hidden pain and fear, barely veiled by bravado and aggression? Children are more visible. By the time they grow up, they become skilled at hiding their shame and pain. But hiding does not support healing. 

When we don’t repair harm that we’ve done, we carry it in our hearts. We may carry it as shame, or a basic sense of wrongness. And often the lingering discomfort tied to the unrepaired harm becomes too much, so we close down our feeling, harden our hearts. We close up around the shame, pain, and fear, leaving them repressed, though with an unseen controlling interest in our consciousness.

White America has torn out its own heart to keep from feeling the weight of its crimes against humanity. White wealth was consolidated in a system that was born during slavery and profited from it, and then shape shifted into a million ways of intentionally disadvantaging Black people. It was not fairly earned. And as long as we hoard it, we are poisoning ourselves and disempowering our collective potential.

We have been separated — collectively — blinded to the real and ongoing pain that we are causing, pain that is now clearly demonstrated in the public record by historians and sociologists, by authors like Maya Angelou, Ta Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, James Baldwin, Ibram X Kendi, and many more. Pain that has become even more visible as we watch live videos of our brothers and sisters being killed, of mothers and fathers bereft, of communities torn apart and traumatized, crying out and demanding that injustice end. The dignity of a people who have born so much pain and prejudice, so much trauma, stands as a challenge to the indignity of a people who have hidden from the pain they have caused.

But we are not beyond healing. This is why we need reparations.

We need reparations for slavery and the post-slavery legacy of institutional racial oppression that includes (but is not limited to) voter suppression, red-lining, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration. And while a national reparations bill would be a beautiful thing, we don’t need to wait for that. We can act now, in our own community, to recognize and honor the toll that white supremacy and the ethos of domination have taken right here in our own front yards and backyards. We can look at our own lives and ask what we can do to support reparations. We can join together to create models for reparations that could inspire larger scale movements. 

Where I live in Amherst Massachusetts, the population is 76% white. Why is that? How did this white enclave develop – surely not by chance? Who was excluded and how and when? We have an opportunity now, as we awaken to the reality and prevalence of white supremacy, to learn these stories, to open ourselves to the voices that bear them, and to respond with compassion and righteousness. The answers may not be simple or quick, but this moment invites us to commit ourselves to the process and see it through. 

One simple way to begin repair is to network with neighbors, town officials, and businesses to create a collective apology and a fund to support material reparations. My friend Michele Miller and I have created an online petition, which you can access here, that proposes doing exactly that in the town of Amherst. 

A fund could do things like give seed grants to Black entrepreneurs and down payments for home purchases for Black individuals and families. It could support opportunities for deep learning about the specific history of race in a town or city. It could provide additional mental health and social services to folks who have been traumatized by white supremacy. In alignment with the movement for reparations, any such fund should be built by the white community and administered by those who have borne the brunt of white supremacy. 

The way to freedom is through release, through letting go of what was earned in a rigged system, through opening our hearts and feeling our own pain and the pain that we have caused. In order to release, we need to trust that we are held by something greater and more powerful than our privilege and our nest egg. We need to trust that together we can build a just society, and that domination does not actually make us safe. This is deep work, and this moment in our collective history invites us into it. 

Reparations offer a platform for healing that can lead to a profound and lasting freedom of spirit, which is worth more than all the material wealth in the world. Let us embrace this path of healing, and embody our values. Let us learn from each other how to repair harm. And let us embrace the freedom that comes from releasing what was wrongly gained and offering it, with folded hands and humble hearts, to those from whom it was taken.

Matthew Andrews is a musician, writer, father, devotee, and co-owner (with his wife Corinne Andrews) of Yoga Center Amherst. He leads pilgrimages to sacred sites in India, teaches yoga philosophy, and serves as President of the Board of Directors for Auroville International, USA.

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