A thought experiment

Let’s play with a scenario. Imagine a situation in which I am driving down a street I have never been before. On this street there are structures that I’m not familiar with. They look far different from what I am used to. I come to one of these structures and I just enter. No knocking, or anything like that – why would I? I just discovered the structures, and besides I have a legal document from the jurisdiction I’m from that gives me the right to lay claim to anything I find. So I’m doing that. Even though I discovered your house, it doesn’t matter. I have the legal right. And you don’t.

As I’m going through the structure, I find you. We don’t speak the same language. Clearly you are uneducated because you would know my language if you were educated. You can’t hardly be considered human – I mean look at what you are wearing. So I decide that I can claim this structure and everything in it. And you. So I take the land and everything in it, and I sell you off – feeding you is a financial burden.

I imagine that you are pretty upset by all of this. I imagine that you are saying something like “that isn’t right!” It’s illegal! But remember, I have a document from a government that I recognize saying I can do this. Your opinion doesn’t matter actually.

You might even demand justice!

And what would justice be in this case? At the very least, freeing you, and either returning property back to you, or compensating you for what was taken from you. And if we’re really doing justice, we might recognize that we need to go beyond that – seeing all the loss that happened because of everything that you lost, including your property, wellbeing, your creativity, your productivity, and more. That’s how justice is supposed to work.

But let’s through a wrench in the mix. Let’s say that justice isn’t offered to you. Nope. In fact, you stay sold off for the rest of your life, the property is taken and changes hands through my family and to others I want to sell it to. So what would justice be then? The easy answer would be that your family should receive compensation for the loss, even though they didn’t experience the fullness of the loss.

But let’s say what I did to you went on for a few generations – well after you are gone and your family. Let’s say this went on for five generations. Your family has been out of luck, without property or financial means because of that initial theft that occurred to you. What would justice be then? None of your fifth generation family members experienced the direct taking of the property or their freedom. Should they be compensated for what happened to you even though no compensation was ever done for you when you were alive, or to your family? I imagine you would feel this would be the right thing. The property was stolen from your relatives long ago. Any wealth that would have been passed on to your family was taken away. While none of these things were directly taken from your future family members, they still experience the loss of these things. And there was never an acknowledgement that what happened to your family several generations ago was wrong. Never any effort to correct the wrong that was done to not only the initial generation that suffered the loss, but all subsequent generations that followed.

A wrong was done that was never acknowledged. Compensation for that wrong was never given to try to restore your family.

It’s a terrible situation that I can imagine you would find disturbing and upsetting. Something that I imagine you would never allow to stand. Something that I imagine you could only describe as an injustice. Something that would make you want to demand compensation and an acknowledgement for the wrong that was committed against your family.

And you would be right.

Now do you understand racism in America and its long term effects? Or does the term race all of sudden make the situation different? If the above situation is upsetting to you because it happened to you directly, but substituting in race makes you come up with excuses for why there is no injustice, then the only question I have is why?


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