Alex Hillyard, Abby Cornelius, Ireland Conrow, Angelina Roberts
From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century by William A. Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen is a road map for explaining the issues of reparations for Black Americans by focusing on racial inequality and accountability, given the history of how Black people are treated like second class citizens. The actions that are represented in this book can also be demonstrated by Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Guitar and Milkman talk about Guitar’s aspirations in joining the group Seven Days. Guitar expresses strong beliefs on how the group will affect change with racial inequality. Considering the way Black people are treated it is not surprising that this character saw a desperate need for change. Although he neglects to explain how a homicidal ‘tit for tat’ will help to repair the wounds of racism in American society, he truly believes what he is doing is helping indicate his feelings of hopelessness to effect change. When Guitar says “I told you. Numbers. Balance. Ratio. And the earth, the land,” he is not only expressing that he believes this to be a universal problem but that the only possible solution is balancing the ratio of harm itself. Even though the character Guitar is a fictional representation of a generation’s struggles, the problems he faced were very real to an array of people. His life represents how a series of bad faith interactions can lead a person to such a considerable solution.
Guitar thought of the idea of “numbers, balance and ratio” after his father’s death. At the same time Guitar faced both the trauma of losing a parent at a young age and was made aware of how little the company responsible for his death did in the way of reparations. Although his mother tried to provide some kind of solace to her son and other children in good faith by “[buying] each of them a big peppermint stick on the very day of the funeral,” she only ended up making things worse. Guitar’s mother attempted to fix a situation that couldn’t be fixed. The injustice that Guitar’s family faced can never be repaired; however Guitar’s mother attempts to find balance by repairing it in her own way. Morrison also connects with the ideas of Darity and Mullen through giving specific examples of events such the death of Emmett Till. What made this specific case stand out was the actions of Till’s mother following her son’s death. She stood up and talked about the injustice done in a time when speaking out against the system could cost you your job, house, or your family. The economic terrorism that was ingrained into the minds of Black people was also built up by structural racism and systematic inequality, which was enforced by the lack of African Americans in politics or on police forces at the time. However, even after African Americans were given voices in these respective systems, they are still flawed systems. This built effective systematic discrimination that hindered people from standing up to fight injustice. In Song of Solomon, Guitar parallels the death of his father to the death of Emmett Till which though to them is a recent event, is not at all that surprising to anyone besides Milkman. As unpleasant as it is to say, the Till murder was not out of its place when looked at in comparison to other countless lynchings in the south during this era. Although Guitar is still young here, he is able to recognize this very public affair regarding his father’s death. He is able to recognize that Milkman allows himself to be ok with the system because his family is about as wealthy as a Black family at the time could be, and he doesn’t have to be as concerned about speaking out and losing his job in the way many people did.
Guitar sees the way that the Jewish people received retribution after World War Two as a goal for the Black peoples of America to receive post segregation; he’s focused on this big idea of trial-style justice. To find justice Guitar joins a secret society called The Seven Days, an organization consisting of seven Black men that are assigned a day of the week. The men kill white people in response to a Black person being murdered. They make each killing similar to the original violence against the Black victim. The killings are performed on the same day of the week as the original murders of the Black victims. Guitar believes that his actions help keep the ratio of Black people to white people balanced, ensuring that white people will not gain enough power to start a genocide. From Here to Equality mentions that both white and Black people considered the laws and institutions to be less of the problem and said they saw individual prejudices were to blame. Darity and Mullen also outwardly state that their goal is to convince the reader that Americans are looking at racism incorrectly. The civil rights movement did not result in economic freedom for African Americans. Americans have not moved past their long history of racism because of the election of a Black president. All of these efforts for justice and equality have not been sufficient. This eye for an eye style of thinking isn’t going to solve any of these structural problems. Guitar claims that his deeds are grounded, but is he murdering out of love for Black people or murdering out of hate for white people? Either way, seven Black people murdering white people can’t change the structural racism in this country. As From Here to Equality states, “No shift in the power relationship will be possible unless the society as a whole takes action to transform the structural conditions to make racial equality a real possibility”. This relates back to the idea of “numbers balance ratio” because to make a change you can’t just balance out the actions of the opposing group.
Although slavery to a certain extent has long since been eliminated, the lasting effects of racism have been rooted into the lives of African Americans today. SUNY Geneseo faculty member Joseph Cope, Associate Provost for Academic Success and Professor of History, is one member of the college faculty tasked with the job of handling student problems that stem from history within the college. It can be a difficult task, working with people who can be harmed by the very institution that they are a part of; however students in a college institution despite societal pressures and expectations are still actively choosing to be part of said institution. Between de facto segregation, increased voting laws in historically Black districts, the increased rates of serious health issues and many other well known facts it is still clear that Black Americans are still recovering from the pre-existing structures of this institution. Darity and Mullen acknowledge that those who oppose reparations and are quick to point out that money might not do much in the way of actually fixing these issues, but it isn’t really about fixing everything with one apology. According to From Here to Equality the objective of the reparation project is to redress the socioeconomic inequalities associated with race. All of the efforts for justice and equality have not been sufficient because there is no ‘replacing’ instead the conversation is about acknowledging the racial inequality in America.
In conclusion, although most of the processes of inequality have been done away with remnants of a broken system still remain across the U.S. In many ways, the lives of Black people are still affected by systematic efforts to decrease representation, education, and quality of life. When Guitar faces these issues throughout his life it harms him to the point that he is unable to see any solution that doesn’t involve violence to compensate for pain. We can see through the Song of Solomon character Guitar, that when you are so wronged and traumatized that the need to find justice for not only yourself but for your community can become impetuous, especially when the injustices that you and your community have faced are so horrendous and deep-rooted. This is addressed in From Here To Equality when the authors reference how reparations probably wouldn’t actually fix any of the problems they solved but would serve as an acknowledgement and a clear first step in the right direction.