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Yesterday in The Atlantic, an assistant professor at Brooklyn Law School argued that America needs to enact a “Third Reconstruction.” From his perspective, the first two attempts to solve the problem were too short and largely unsuccessful with respect to manufacturing black success and parity. What follows is a partial insight into the framework of this Third Reconstruction:
So what is needed for a successful Third Reconstruction? Perhaps it begins with sweeping criminal-justice and voting reforms that could transform the United States from the world’s leading carceral state into a truly multiracial democracy. It might also entail direct investments in Black communities to guarantee stable housing, universal health care, and high-quality education, necessities for achieving a more inclusive economy and greater wealth parity. But whatever its shape, a Third Reconstruction must rekindle the aspiration of a nation molded in the ideal of perfect equality, understanding that thinking big—and going big, too—is the surest way toward “a more perfect Union.” Success also demands that national leaders heed some lessons.
The next period of Reconstruction must contend with the effects of the prior era’s deconstruction. America’s undoing of interim progress has only added to the weight of history and increased the burden for future generations. The unmitigated injury of slavery and racism did not end with abolition or the civil-rights era; instead, like interest on debt, its impact has compounded. The upshot of this is that continued inaction and delay amount to opportunities lost, and will make racial justice ever more difficult to achieve.
In addition, a Third Reconstruction will require many things, three of them vital: truth, reconciliation, and recompense. At no point in American history has there been a major national effort toward achieving any of these things separately, much less collectively. But we have no shortage of models for doing so. Many governments and universities have inquired into their ties to mass atrocities. The United States, too, should establish formal means to unearth and understand the enormity of state-sanctioned repression, dispossession, exploitation, and violence toward Black Americans, as well as the extent to which the remnants of those ills persists in our economic, political, and legal systems today. Only then will the nation be primed to engage in the long-overdue discussion about how to restore the human dignity stolen and to repair itself. (On this, too, thereisnoscarcityofideas.) The task will be made much more difficult because we suffer from a collective amnesia, and now operate in a post-truth world. But without accurate accounting of and penance for the original sin and its progeny, we’ll get nowhere.
History has revealed a recursive white weariness from trying to solve “the Negro Question.” The work of reconstruction will be less exhausting—and the results far more stable—if everyone participates in crafting the solution. It’s not enough for elites to design a project and dictate its terms and conditions. Instead, achieving meaningful progress will require us to join together “in the work of remaking this nation … block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”
And, finally, on color blindness: Acknowledging race is necessary. Identifying its impact is necessary. Drawing on it to fashion solutions—solutions to problems caused not by Black inferiority, but systems infected with virulent, mutating strains of white supremacy—is necessary. The Supreme Court may have dismantled Plessy v. Ferguson, but through its insistence on the charade that is constitutional color blindness, it has warped a 19th-century conception of progress and has left 21st-century America leaning on a faulty pillar. Healing racial wounds may demand race-sensitive ointments, and a successful Third Reconstruction requires us to pursue that possibility.
In our contemporary context, any talk about a “Third Reconstruction” is reparations by another name.
In our current cultural context, any talk about a “Third Reconstruction” is reparations by another name. Moreover, reconstruction a morally-loaded term– one of authority and obligation– to justify another massive program of government interventionism on behalf of blacks. The author thinks that by arguing for another reconstruction, he’s an advocate for improving black progress. Maybe he wants to take advantage of the moment where racial deference is en vogue.
However, like most racial dispensations whose purpose is leveraging the reclamation of moral authority, this ‘reconstruction’ asks nothing of blacks. The lack of black obligation to contribute to be active contributors to their own fate continues the stain of black helplessness. Consequently, this idea is about trying to facilitate the purgation of the guilt of white racism than about black development, advancement, and self-determination– by the strength of their own hands– in the age of freedom.
Frederick Douglass’ words are still appropriate here. He said–
“Everybody has asked the question… “What shall we do with the negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, — don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner-table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot-box, let him alone, — don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, — your interference is doing him a positive injury… Let him fall if he cannot stand alone.”