By Rev. Brian A. Tillman
I have often heard justice fighters say, “when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” I agree. This is very true. After accepting this truth, my mind starts to wonder, “If equality feels that bad for white American’s, I wonder what equity would feel like.”
In previous writings, I’ve included the six phases of racial reconciliation and have written in more detail about the first three phases—resistance, recognition, and repentance. Repair is the fourth phase. Reconciliation without serious efforts to repair is, as Marting Luther King, Jr. describes,
“like freeing a man who had been unjustly imprisoned for years, and on discovering his innocence sending him out with no bus fare to get home, no suit to cover his body, no financial compensation to atone for his long years of incarceration and to help him get a sound footing in society; sending him out with only the assertion: ‘Now you are free.’ What greater injustice could society perpetrate? All the moral voices of the universe, all the codes of sound jurisprudence, would rise up with condemnation at such an act. Yet this is what America did to the Negro.”
White America has a debt it has never paid and won’t even acknowledge. The history and effects of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration have stifled the progress of the Black community and unfairly privileged the white community. Without repair, the injustice does not stop.
So how do we repair the injustice done to persons of color and especially Black Americans? We’d have to begin by accepting that reparations for Black Americans will mean that the society cannot treat everyone the same. This is critical. This is complicated for us as Americans because we are supposed to be in favor of equal opportunity and equal access. We have been convinced that equality is supposed to be the goal when, in reality, equality only further perpetuates the injustice. If I have committed to split $100 a month amongst my 4 kids, but evenly split $99 between the first three kids and leave just $1 for the forth kid, an injustice is created. If I do that for a full year and realize my error, how do I repair it? Do I repair it by committing to give each kid $25 the next year? Doing so is treating all of them equally, but it is not fair or equitable. In order to repair the injustice, I must bring the forth kid up to the level that I brought the first three kids. My forth child would never trust me if I did not equitably repair the injustice that I created. This should be the expectation for America.
Removing the oppressive laws that were on the books for hundreds of years does not even the playing field. Ending slavery did not retroactively remove the devastation on Black Americans or distribute land grants to Black Americans like what was done for White Americans. Ending segregation did not also include giving Black American’s the opportunity to take advantage of the federally backed home loans granted to White Americans from which much of the wealth of the middle class now stems. Changing laws is good, but it does not complete the process of reconciliation; it is merely a step along the way.
It’s a simple lesson we should learn as kids. “If you break something, you must fix it. If you take something, you must replace it. If you go into debt, you must repay it.” Every good parent teaches these lessons to their children. Yet, somehow when it comes to institutional and systemic racism in America, especially in reference to slavery, America has never repaired, replaced, or restituted. Still, White Americans keep talking about reconciliation without understanding that reconciliation includes repair for damage done. If I were driving in a car and hit someone’s property, I would be expected to fix what was broken; apologizing and then treating her like all other drivers would not be acceptable.
The work to repair the damage of racism is too important to not identify who should be doing it. Many white people I have spoken with feel that racism is a Black problem; it is not. It is a problem “for” black people, but it is a “White” problem. “To benefit from oppression is to be responsible for changing it.” This repair work must be done by white people in power, but be lead by persons of color and be done to the satisfaction of persons of color. True repair cannot be trusted if it must be controlled by persons who are white and done to their own satisfaction.
The Rev. Brian A. Tillman serves as the chair of the Commission on Religion and Race in the North Georgia Conference of the UMC and also serves as an associate pastor at Ben Hill UMC in Atlanta. He often hashtags to: #ResistToReconcile
 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968). Where Do We Go From Here. Boston: Beacon Press, 84.
 Jim Wallis, (2016) America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America; Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 35.
[Posted December 19, 2017]