Dr. Jason Hill on Reparations, White Guilt, and the ‘Age of Post-Oppression’
“I’m going to be a little bit radical here and say there is no racial reckoning to be had … I don’t know what further reckonings would look like short of tearing this country apart,” says Dr. Jason Hill, a professor of philosophy at DePaul University and author of “What Do White Americans Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression.”
“It befuddles me to see how someone who’s living in Appalachia in a trailer park, who has no access to water, health care, is a walking practitioner of racism, and that that person should, in some sense, participate in a reparations program for … an upper-class black person with five college degrees.”
Jan Jekielek: Jason Hill, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Jason Hill, Ph.D: Thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: Jason, I really enjoyed reading your book. This concept of post-oppression, it seems so counter to many of the narratives, the most popular narratives we’re hearing today. What is post-oppression actually?
Mr. Hill: Well, I think since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed in this country, which granted blacks full equality before the law, we are living in a post-oppressive society. By that, I mean that prior to 1964, when blacks were not existing in what I call the domain of the ethical, or were not part of the pantheon of the full human community, when Jim Crow still existed, when full equality before the law was not their rightful claim, there was some semblance of white supremacists that still existed in this country.
There was a sense in which blacks were oppressed, because there were still punitive laws that were created around race. Since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which brought blacks full equality before the law, and which I argue in my book was a moral eugenics program. Also, which we can talk a little bit about, which sought to re-socialize the sensibilities of whites, and to make them into non-racist by saying that you cannot be private races anymore, you cannot use your businesses as extensions of, let’s say your living room.
You cannot dispose of your private property in ways that you want to, that racism is such an egregious evil that we’re going to outlaw it. This is as far as a free constitution republic can do without transgressing on the rights of individuals, as individuals. We have to ask ourselves the question, “What was the purpose of the civil rights movement? What was the purpose of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Act, and the 1972 Employment Act?” It was designed not to bring about economic equality, the country was not founded on economic equality, it was founded on political equality.
This country was meant to bring everyone within the domain of political equality, which means that everyone is granted a full standing before the law as equals. That is, not equals in terms of intelligence, or capabilities, or beauty, or athletic prowess, but equal in the sense of possessing inalienable, intrinsic dignity, moral worth, and valid worth.
When I look out at the world today, I see a post-oppressive world in the sense that there are no movements existing in America today that are systemically and systematically designed to squash, terminate, annihilate the conceptions of a life that each person black, white, brown, yellow has designed for him or herself.
Quite the opposite. We live in such a progressive era that institutions, the state, is trying its best to put forward agendas, that whether you’re a trans person, whether you’re a gay person, whether you’re a woman, that is trying to foster the growth and the acceleration of the conception of a good life that each of us choose to cultivate for our lives.
Mr. Jekielek: This is fascinating. There’s so many vantage points here and this whole moral eugenics concept, we have to get back to that. That’s fascinating, and frankly, controversial would be the right term.
I want to talk about how you conceive of this three-prong founding, like actually that the Civil Rights Act was something that was necessary to complete the founding. Is that a good way to think about it?
Mr. Hill: Right, so I think, of course, the first founding was the 1776 Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That’s when our great republic or unprecedented republic was founded. I would put the second founding at Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Civil War, which freed the slaves and was the first installment of the great promise that Martin Luther King frequently referred to in terms of trying to bring blacks by freeing them into, again, the domain of the ethical, the full pantheon of the human community, to promise them what was promised in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.
That was the second installment. It was necessary, it was not a sufficient condition. It was not enough to bring blacks within the ambit of the rights domain. It would take at least another century.
I think that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the third founding. That is, it was the last installment on the promise of full freedom, full recognition of equality before the law, and that’s as far as, I think, a constitutional republic can go. That is, if we go any further in terms of demanding, it already was trespassing on the rights of whites in telling them how they can use their private property.
I think given the collusion between the state and individuals, given the sense in which the state did manufacture racists, the way in which the country was born with a birth defect, the state upheld slavery. In a way, it made a lethal and tragic compromise because if it hadn’t endorsed slavery, the southern states wouldn’t have ratified the constitution and the republic would never have gotten off the ground.
Given the collusion between the state and private individuals, given the way the state had created an ethos of racism, one could argue that what I’m calling a social eugenical moment in the 1964 Civil Rights Act was justified. That affirmative action, which was part of the latter part of the civil rights movement, had a role to play.
That was part of the eugenical moment in telling whites, “We’re going to make non-racists out of you. We’re going to re-socialize your sensibilities. We’re going to create a different orientation.” That’s part of the third founding of this country. It was the radical eugenical moment in which the government interfered in the sensibilities, understandably so I think, but interfered in the character orientation of individuals saying, “Even if you conceive of yourself as a racist.”
It’s like anti-sexual harassment laws. If a man thinks that he’s a misogynist, the state says, “Fine, but we’re going to introduce anti-harassment, sexual harassment laws in the workplace, that if you comport yourself in a certain way towards a woman, you’re going to face punitive consequences.” Over time, a man might find himself actually comporting himself differently, that his sensibilities, that his view towards women have changed. I think the 1964 Civil Rights Act accomplished something quite enormous and superlative in that sense towards blacks.
That is, it not just brought blacks full equality before the law, it actually concomitantly changed the sensibilities, the orientation, the way whites saw blacks by bringing them in such close proximity with blacks through affirmative action programs, and that’s as really far as a republic can go in trying to achieve equality between the races.
Mr. Jekielek: This is really fascinating to me, as you describe it, because this extensively actually worked. But it almost seems like a lot of what we’re seeing today is like that same approach, but on steroids. Is that accurate in your mind?
Mr. Hill: Yes. I think what we’re seeing is an inverse form of that racism, where, as I said, I think the affirmative action programs should have had an expiration date on them. I think-
Mr. Jekielek: I guess, the first question is, did they work?
Mr. Hill: I think they worked temporarily for a group of individuals. I think they worked in sort of changing the ethos of the country, in the sense of showing that there were blacks who were not congenitally, cognitively inferior, that blacks were capable of the same kind of skill sets as whites.
I think over time, it was middle-class women and middle-class blacks who benefited enormously from the affirmative action programs, and that it became psychologically crippling by sending a message to white Americans that blacks needed these programs in order to matriculate through institutional systems and through the educational systems.
I think, in my sense, it was meant to change the ethos and the sensibilities of white America, and to give blacks a way of catching up and to redress grievances that were inflicted on a minority group.
As we make progress in a society, as the sensibilities of white Americans have changed, as race relationships, or race relations have changed, as they certainly have changed and have improved, we have to have an expiration date on social programs. We can’t have the solutions that were meant to address problems during a moment of let’s say, white supremacy, when we had Jim Crow, when that ethos no longer exists, when that ideology no longer exists. We have to terminate those programs and we have to terminate a mindset that is no longer befitting of an era that has long since expired.
Mr. Jekielek: Because, basically, you’re saying that this helped foster this victim identity on one side, and on the other side this patronizing identity or something like that on the other side?
Mr. Hill: That’s right. I know what we have is something which Martin Luther king, I think, would disapprove of. We have a kind of inverse racism, where we’re seeing re-segregation among blacks on college campuses, race and identity politics are being conjured up in a manner that betrays reality.
That is, as institutions have grown more progressive, as academic institutions, corporate institutions are seeking leadership positions, seeking actively to recruit minorities into positions of leadership, a narrative is being conjured up that our society is becoming more systemically racist when the data shows that it’s not.
That we’re a white supremacist country when clearly we’re no longer a white supremacist country. We don’t have an ideology that valorizes or prioritizes the supremacy of the white race or any other race anymore, as we once had admittedly, that’s no longer the case. We are promoting an ideology that says that if you are a white person with white skin, that automatically you are a systemic racist, that you’re an oppressor of black people, that you enjoy white privilege unilaterally across the board.
And that we now have to institute new programs to, again, re-socialize the sensibilities of white people into making them non-racists by introducing something called equity, which is a very nefarious notion because it means that every single disparity or every single asymmetry that exists between the races is traceable back to slavery, which is a subject of my book, when this is clearly not the case. It rests on a form of what I call metaphysical egalitarianism.
That is, if we can extensively point to any kind of asymmetry, any kind of disparity, it has to do with slavery, it has to do with racism. So the fact that 72 percent of out-of-wedlock births are attributed to single mothers in the black community, has nothing to do with racism, and those are correlative to poverty, to poor performance in high school, to suicide rates, to a proclivity for committing crimes.
That has nothing to do with racism. That has to do with certain pathologies that exist in the black community, because the marriage rates prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act among blacks was something like 22 percent. The out-of-birth wedlock, I should say, rate was 22 percent. Literacy rates were much higher.
So there’s a monocausal explanation that’s given today for every single asymmetry, every single disparity between the races, and it’s all pointed to slavery. I think this is egregious, and this is atrocious, and it’s causing divisions. We need to look for reasons why such disparities exist, and the majority of those reasons have very little to do with slavery and have very little to do with systematic or systemic racism, I should say.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, as you’re talking, the voice of a mutual friend of ours, Bob Woodson is ringing through my head. When white people were at their worst, and black people were at their best. It was fascinating to learn this reality that there was this whole parallel, social and financial, and everything system that blacks created for themselves under Jim Crow—under actual systemic racism.
That all collapsed after the Civil Rights Act, paradoxically. I guess you’re starting to explain here how and why that happened. Because if there is this, the three foundings and finally the realization of the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights is manifested. How is it really that things could have gone so far south after that?
Mr. Hill: Well, I think what happened, I think so much of black identity was forged in the crucibles of oppression, and I write about this in my book. I think what happened in the latter part of the 1960s is blacks faced an existential crisis. They didn’t know what to do with all this radical freedom. If you look at the black studies programs and when blacks are brought into what I call the sovereign mass, and they’re given all this freedom.
You have a people who, since their entrance into the United States of America, as slaves, it was forged in the crucibles of oppression. They are now suddenly radically free, the drama is over, the quest is over, the struggle is over. The question is, “What do I do with my life?” What one does with one’s life is one creates more drama, or one creates a narrow, or one creates pseudo racism that doesn’t exist.
I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist, but it doesn’t certainly exist on the broad scale that it existed before. And so in order to compensate for this existential crisis that one faces, because it’s a crisis of meaning, “What do I do with my life when I was either a slave or either ensconced in a milieu of oppression that no longer exists?” I think blacks faced a tremendous identity crisis in the post-civil rights movement.
And this is why so many of them on college campuses are asking for segregated dorms, their own dorms, their own libraries, in some cases, their own cafeterias. They have to conjure up a scenario that existed in the past and transpose it into the present in order to make sense of themselves. I think this is a great tragedy because what African Americans or blacks need to be doing right now is to take advantage of the hard-won victories that were achieved by the first phase and the late phase civil rights movement, and move with it.
There seems to be some sort of, not all, but a great many of them, a kind of paralysis in not knowing what to do, so they cling to a sense of victimology, a victim sense identity, in order to make sense of this paralysis. What the far left has done, or the not so far left, what the left really has done is expropriated their agency and assumed the role of a manager or a class, and resurrected the oppressive past and said, “Yes, the oppressive past never really went away. You’re actually worse off than you were during the Jim Crow era.
That the Jim Crow era really is a new Jim Crow era that people like Michelle Alexander in her book, “The New Jim Crow,” states that, “It’s really just a new era in disguise, that you’re just as oppressed by the status quo. You’re just as oppressed by white imperialism. You’re just as oppressed as under patriarchy.” Expropriated their agency, told them that, “There’s nothing you can do with your creative capabilities to defeat racism when you encounter it, and we, on the left, will take care of you. We will create social programs,” as we saw Lyndon Johnson doing with the war on poverty and the great society programs.
The state will become your surrogate spouse, or your surrogate husband, or a parental figure that will take care of all your needs.” I think this is part of the response of the left welfare state to the existential crisis that I think a lot of blacks have faced post the latter part of the civil rights movement.
Mr. Jekielek: This is really fascinating because now I’m thinking about this concept of white guilt that Shelby Steele described in his famous book, and how this may have manifested after, I guess, this moral eugenic program that you describe. And how these two sides would go back and forth and reinforcing the ideas that we’re seeing today. So that’s what I’m seeing as we’re speaking here.
Mr. Hill: I think that’s right. I think that’s right. I think that white guilt has fostered a lot of the existential crisis, but I think it’s also a response. I would add to white guilt—white embarrassment. That is, it has responded to the sense of outrage, and the sense of anger, and the sense of vitriol that came after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I think what many of us were not expecting and this is probably the result of what happens when people who have been oppressed in real ways are emancipated, are delivered.
What one really expects is maybe gratitude or maybe a sense of relief. What one is really not expecting is anger. So what we saw happening with the student demonstrations in 1968 and throughout the 1970s and the resurgence of violence coming out of the black communities post-1964 Civil Rights Act was very surprising to a lot of white people.
They thought that the ’64 Civil Rights Act was passed, blacks have access to all universities. There are all these black studies programs that are not just black studies programs, but they’re black studies programs infiltrating literature departments, history departments, philosophy departments, that finally blacks would feel a sense of relief. No, what we saw was an outpouring of rage, an attempt to wage an assault against enlightenment tradition, talk of decolonizing the black mind from the European incursion against the black mind.
I think the concomitant response from a lot of whites was guilt, was, “We have done such ineradicable damage to blacks,” that it caught them by surprise. The response was guilt. Had the response been something like gratitude or relief, or just, “Let’s move on with their lives.
Now we are part of the sovereign mass. We have all rights, we have full equality before the law, the inalienability of our rights have been recognized, our invalid dignity is now affirmed. We’re moving into the future that political liberalism has always promised, but has never fulfilled. Let’s move quietly into the future.”
I don’t think this guilt would have been forthcoming. I think the guilt is a response to the anger and the vitriol that we saw coming out of the latter part of the 1964 civil rights movement, and also the existential anguish of many blacks who seem directionless, lost, and just didn’t know what to do with their lives when their identities had been forged.
Again, as I said in the crucibles of real oppression. Now, the oppression is over, there are no blacks, short of a set of Ku Klux Klan members and residual white supremacists, who pose no real existential threat to the advancement of black people. When there are no real systemic white movements designed to repress, and obliterate, and annihilate your conception of the life, a real identity crisis arose.
I think a lot of whites responded with guilt and a sense of, “We’re responsible for this, collectively, and now what do we do?” Well, we continue to self-flagellate ourselves and engage in a moral masochism by ceding to every single demand that black victimologists make of us. We see this today in the way that people like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram Kendi, every demand, every silly and ridiculous and unspeakable accusation that they make to the white liberal bourgeois left, is accepted unquestionably as if the utterances themselves are moral axioms or unassailable truths.
Mr. Jekielek: Looking as a Canadian onto America, this whole phenomenon—it fascinates me. I can’t help but think, there’s still a racial reckoning that needs to be had here. Sometimes, I talk with people and they say, “Well, no, it’s actually, we are in a colorblind society.” That can’t be entirely true, because if it were, then there wouldn’t be this energy in exactly these types of utterances that are taken as moral axioms.
There’s something that clearly needs to be fixed here, still, or am I wrong?
Mr. Hill: Well, I’m an immigrant. I came here in 1985 at the age of 20, and I moved to the deep south. I lived in Atlanta for eight years. In 36 years I’ve watched increasingly improved race relations in this country. I think they have deteriorated a little bit in the past 10 years or so. I’m going to be a little bit radical here and say, there is no racial reckoning to be had. There are episodic moments, and there’s still episodic incidences of injustices that blacks face.
But look, short of a bloated totalitarian state in which you are going to be a hypervigilant watchdog over the conscience of people, there will always be racists or as Shelby Steele said, “There will always be stupid people.” Or, what I’d like to call them, psychotic people, because racism is a form of psychosis. It’s a misperception of reality. It’s misperceiving the person standing before you where you’re just judging that person’s character, based on skin pigmentation, or the morphological characteristics that a person possesses.
There is really nothing that you can do to control the thought patterns of a person or the psychotic sensibilities that he or she possesses. All you can really do is racism is illegal. You can punish that person for a crime if he breaks the law, that is, if he discriminates against another person.
I don’t think there’s any reckoning to be had. The reckoning that we’re talking about is reparations, and in my book, “What do White Americans Owe Black People?,” I think I do a stellar job of laying out why there can be no such thing as any further reckoning. We’ve had three great foundings in this country where there were moments of reckoning.
I don’t know what further reckonings would look like, short of tearing this country apart and systematically and systemically transgressing, and violating the rights of both white Americans and black Americans, and turning this country into a charnel house. I think what we have to do is we have to look at those isolated cases where the rights of blacks are violated. If there are still cases of redlining going on in this country, then those belong in courts of law, not as reparative claims at all.
Mr. Jekielek: Just very quickly. What is redlining, for the benefit of our audience?
Mr. Hill: Well, it’s a vast phenomenon. It’s when the government deliberately steps through zoning laws, among other things, to deprive blacks from acquiring loans for living in certain neighborhoods that are typically occupied by whites. There are certain policies that are enacted that prevent blacks from accessing areas of living, of healthcare, that would render them equal to those of whites.
Mr. Jekielek: I see. I have seen other examples in this vein that we don’t necessarily need to jump into here. I want to talk a little bit about reparations. Of course, it’s a big part of your book, but before I go there, are you suggesting that critical race theory ideology put into practice, education, woke-ism in general, praxis, is this actually fostering a psychosis among the people who are being taught this stuff, or taught through the lens of this stuff?
Mr. Hill: Well, if you unpack critical race theory, which I think is the philosophic foundation or it’s like the philosophic principle that foundationalizes reparations, it is a form of psychosis, because among other things, it’s a misperception of reality. One of the main canards of critical race theory is that every single institution is suffused with systematic and systemic racist policies. That racism is endemic to every institution in America, that it is ineradicably endemic to every institution in America, and what I call the third iteration of critical race theory.
We had the first iteration, 1970s under Derrick Bell, we had the second iteration in the 1990s, and we have a new crop of critical race theorists, who claim that white people, just by possessing white skin, are either conscious, or implicit, or unconscious bearers of oppression, and so they’re walking practitioners of systemic racism. That’s empirically untenable.
It seems to be a form of psychosis because it’s based on a misperception of reality. And what the practitioners themselves seem to be after is power. The reparations advocates and the critical race theory advocates seem to have formed a very unholy alliance. Seemingly disparage groups like Black Lives Matter even, who are not necessarily critical race theorists, find themselves very often in alliance with critical race theorists, because Black Lives Matter, the group advocates the breaking up of U.S. banks, the destruction of the nuclear family. They’re Marxist trained. They advocate the breaking up of capitalism.
These are all tenets that critical race theory claim are conduits through which what they call race capitalism are propagated. So what we find is that there are a lot of groups that are not necessarily promulgators of critical race theorists, but the theory has become so wide and so far reaching that it functions as a philosophical template for a lot of groups like Black Lives Matter. People who are what we could call, woke supremacists, find their justification on the critical race theory.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating to be thinking about this. There’s this whole dimension that you alluded to here that the people that are, I guess, fostering the theories around critical theory, critical race theory, they’re actually deeply anti-Western civilization as a whole. I think this is still not something that’s broadly known. There’s this question, whether the inherent divisiveness that we’ve been describing to some extent in our conversation is actually not a side effect, but it’s actually by design. What do you think about that?
Mr. Hill: I think it’s by design. I think what we have to be very clear, and I make this clear in my book, is that critical race theorists are out to fundamentally change the DNA of this country. They are like critical theorists, from which they gain their philosophic upshot, are out to destroy Western civilization, not just American civilization, but they have waged an assault against Western civilization and the foundations of the enlightenment.
Because in some sense, they think that all the moral vocabularies and all the cognitive machineries that emanate from the enlightenment tradition, an objective reality, reason, logic, the scientific method, the concept of universalism and universality, that these are all constructs created by white European imperialists that were used to dominate and keep marginalized people or people on the periphery, outside the ambit of the human condition. That they were used to describe characteristics that were exclusive only to one set of people—that is white people.
We cannot overemphasize the extent to which critical race theorists are out to not just wage an assault against the Western enlightenment tradition, but they’re actually, I think, systemic nihilists, in the sense that they want to destroy all those foundational values, all those codified values and principles that we use in times of crisis, as what I would call moral inoculates. We inoculate ourselves against those who would attack us from the outside. We use those foundational principles. They want to first erase personal identity, then erase history, erase those codified values to usher in a new, what I would call, Marxist communist agenda in our society.
Mr. Jekielek: If only that were more understood. We’re not just talking about systemic racism, we’re talking about, like you said, reason or the scientific method. People wonder why these theories have wandered far afield from the social sciences, and into physics, and medicine, and health for that matter, right?
Mr. Hill: They are. Physics has now become racist, mathematics has now become racist. Because as far as critical race theory is concerned, the standpoint or the experiential way of learning by blacks and other minorities, they all differ greatly from how whites learn. While the old-fashioned way of teaching the physical sciences was always by an appeal, it’s an objective reality.
That is, there is something called truth, and there are objective methods of adjudicating among truth claims, there are processes of verification and appraising arguments. These are deemed as racist and it’s exclusionary. Why? Because they don’t take into account the lived experiences and the subjective experiences of certain groups of people.
What we have is a situation in which feelings, emotional vibrations, the lived experiences of people supersede the objective criteria that have traditionally been used to adjudicate and appraise and judge competing truth claims that people have, which is just a radical form of subjectivism.
I don’t have access to 10 peoples’ feelings in a room. What we all share in common is reason, and what we all share in common is an appeal to an objective reality that exists independently of our feelings, of our shared experiences, that can adjudicate among the truth claims. That’s gotten swept outside the door, because the whole idea of universality and objective reality is seen as a racist construct to sabotage or subvert, or even more, ignore the lived experiences of so-called minorities or disenfranchised people.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and the thing that’s most fascinating, or I guess bizarre to me, is that these subjective experiences, however bizarre, and correct me if I’m wrong here, do seem to have a universality according to grouping. You would think subjective experiences are highly personal, because they’re subjective experiences. It’s sort of the suggestion that the subjective experiences of say, one, black Americans for example, are all the same.
Mr. Hill: That’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: How does that work?
Mr. Hill: It doesn’t work, because there’s assumed monolithicity among all black people. This is ridiculous. There are just as many differences among black people as a group, as there are among white people. If you take middle-class blacks, you take working-class blacks, you take poor working-class blacks, even among middle-class blacks, the varied experiences among those middle-class blacks are incredible.
There’s no such thing as a monolithic cultural group, and there’s even no such thing as a monolithic homogeneous cultural group, even among the homogeneous group that you can ostensibly point to. The individual experiences that they have, the idiosyncratic personalities that they have that shape their experiences are very, very different. The assumed monolithicity that one would have to presuppose among cultural groups is arrogant, and it all goes back to power.
That is, these individuals like Ibram Kendi, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, that assume themselves to be sentinels, or guardians, or spokespersons, for a group are after power. There can be no such thing as a single lived experience of a cultural group—it doesn’t exist. You would have to go to each single person in that group and ask that person, “What is your lived experience as a black person?” I am identified as black in this country, I’m a black person, I’m a black immigrant. I have educational privilege, I have five college degrees, including a PhD.
My lived experience is not the same as an incarcerated person if he has lived on the south side of Chicago. Someone who’s a medical doctor, married with five children, doesn’t have this same lived experience as myself, who’s a single person with no children at all. It’s a fabricated political heuristic device, that’s really meant to stifle the voices of individuals. And it’s really used as a bargaining chip to shore up identity politics for the sole single purpose of achieving power.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and I have to mention this now because since we’re talking about it, but there’s also this dimension that if you are vocal in your subjective reality being somewhat different than what the group is supposed to have according to this theory, then you’re suddenly not politically black. I feel my mind is being warped every time I think of this concept.
Mr. Hill: That’s right. That’s true. As an independent conservative who happens to be black, I’m not seen as authentically black because I’m not buying into the left wing orthodoxy that is supposed to characterize the authentic black person. I’m not claiming to be a victim, so therefore I’m not authentically black. I don’t think that my agency should be expropriated by white people because I am confident that my agency and my capabilities are both necessary and sufficient to deal with whatever problems present themselves to me.
And, because I’m confident, I’m not a victim, I am a little bit cocky in my approach to navigating myself throughout the world, that makes me almost white. Because I believe in excellence and I believe in the virtues of character, that makes me somehow more similar in the eyes of certain people to exhibiting white traits. This is ludicrous, this is monarchy.
Mr. Jekielek: So, but how terrible that excellence would be associated with quote/unquote, “whiteness” and seen as a terrible social evil? Terrible.
Mr. Hill: Right. There’s a form of complicity between whites and blacks who want power by keeping black people down, by telling black people that, to pin your aspirational identity on something like greatness, on heroism, on remarkability, is to sell out. You see the phoniness and you see the lack of scruples and integrity on both the people on the left who are black and the people on the left who are white, who really don’t care about black uplift.
What they really care about is gaining a position in this managerial class bureaucracy, in lording it over in some kind of, almost like feudal lords in the old days, over a set of imagined downtrodden individuals, who cannot use their own capabilities and their own agency to better their lives.
It used to be a very anti-American phenomenon, but now I’m afraid that it’s becoming quite American, or at least is running concurrently with another American strand that we know to be very American, which is individualism and pulling oneself up by one’s bootstrap. Not alone, in conjunction with a community, but being responsible, mainly for your destiny and for your faith.
Mr. Jekielek: You describe this managerial class by imagined reparations, regime, or structure would require a considerable new infrastructure to deal with, because when I think about it, it would be a very expensive project. Let’s talk about that.
The first thing I want to ask you is, what is the most compelling, in your mind, argument for reparations? Which, of course, you go to great length in your book to look at, I think honestly at many different examples, but what do you think is the most compelling argument that our viewers might be wondering about?
Mr. Hill: Well, the most compelling argument would be to show the extent to which the collusion between the state and infrastructures today, like public education, like public housing, are still being instituted by the state against blacks. To the extent that the state is still the primary oppressor of blacks in any form of the public’s sphere, I can see people making a case for reparations. If I can type your zip code in, and I can tell the quality of the education you’re going to receive, because the quality of education is based on the property taxes that you pay into the system.
Mr. Jekielek: Isn’t this preposterous? I’m still blown away by the idea that this is a thing. That a society would structure itself that way, because there is huge inequality in this type of a structure, isn’t there?
Mr. Hill: That’s right. That’s right. I can see people saying, “Look, the state is discriminating against blacks because public-funded education is based on property taxes, and so the state ought to show no preferential treatment towards its citizens, to the extent that we still have public-funded education,” of which I’m not an advocate. Let’s just for the argument say, we do have public-funded education, it exists, it’s going to exist. The state should not be discriminating on the basis of income that people earn.
One could see a case where a reasonable argument for reparations could be made. I would issue the rejoinder and say that there are two issues here. One is simply not to tax people, poor blacks in this case, or poor working class whites, on the income that they would use to send their children to a competing private school or to issue tax vouchers for education.
I could see where reasonable people could have reasonable disagreements about this issue. Where the government is discriminating against poor people, whites, and blacks, and Hispanics, by using property tax to finance public education, when the federal government could dip into its coffers and subsidize the public education in poor districts.
If the government is going to take itself as being responsible for educating 90 percent of the populace, then it shouldn’t be doing this on the basis of property taxes, which is in and of itself discriminatory. I think a compelling argument could be made there. I think it would be a fallacious argument, but I think reasonable people could have reasonable disagreements about this form of reparations.
Mr. Jekielek: I have to confess, despite all of the recent awareness that I have of the perils of public education, I’m still a fan. I’d love to talk to you sometime about this whole question of public schooling and why you think it doesn’t have a place in society. That’s pretty fascinating, maybe for another episode.
For now, what would you say is the most compelling case against reparations? Of course, for the whole picture, the book would be required.
Mr. Hill: The book would be required for the full panoply of reasons that I give against reparations. It’s unethical because it’s highly punitive. It’s asking for a race of people, whites, to fiscally, financially pay for two things. It’s predicated on two premises, one is the ancestral argument. The fact that white people living today had ancestors who were slaveholders, which is empirically either false or untenable.
The majority of white people living today, their ancestors came after the Civil War. Even if that were the case, I would say, “So what? That has nothing to do with them. There are no white people today who are slaveholders and there are no black people today who are slaves.”
The second argument, which is a more popular one is that white people living today are the beneficiaries of white privilege. That this country was built on the back of slave labor, and that blacks continue to experience the residual effects of slavery. I would say that is putatively false. That is, race is no longer determinate of destiny and faith as it once was. That is, the 1964 Civil Rights Act has made reparations outdated.
Ostensibly, if we can point to any discrimination against blacks, those claims belong in the courts of law, they are not sufficient reparations claims. If we can ostensibly point to land that was confiscated, that’s in the south, or in the north, or anywhere in this country, by the state, to which blacks have a legal claim, as in the Holocaust, where artworks, jewelry, property, was confiscated by the Nazis, then those lands need to return to blacks.
That would be a legitimate case for reparations. Restorative justice. I think there have been a few cases in the south where generationally land was passed on to blacks. I think in Mississippi, the state did appropriate those lands.
In those individual cases, reparations had to be made. But to make the collective argument that all blacks are unilaterally, unilaterally the victims of slavery today, that all blacks equally suffer the residual effects of slavery, and that qualitatively are deserving of reparations, seems quite ludicrous. How one would measure this and how one would go about enforcing this, is very, very, very problematic.
I think we have to reach a point in our society where we just simply move forward, that we admit that egregious wrongs have been committed against blacks. That, as I said, there were three founding moments, there were three restorative moments. I have made the argument in the book that there have been reparative moments, that reparations have been occurring.
Actually, this is the controversial part of the book. Reparations have been occurring since 1776, incrementally so. Politically, in 1964 and in the 1970s, reparations have been occurring incrementally towards blacks in this country. There is no further need for reparations. If we’re going to talk about reparations, we need to talk about the extent to which the federal government simply stop placing obstructions in the path of blacks who are exercising efforts on behalf of their lives to make something remarkable of their lives. That, I would say, in the spirit of a contrarian, would include welfare.
I think when you assume responsibility for the life of another person, and you take that responsibility away from that person, you are crippling the agency of that person. I think, paradoxically, welfare and excessive assistance to blacks, are actually restrained and constraints against the agency of those blacks.
I say a lot more in the book that’s a lot more complicated, and I think that even going back to the debate. History lovers are going to like the book because there’s an intense debate between Justice Taney and Lincoln, in which Lincoln is arguing for not necessarily the color blind society, but arguing for the inalienability of the rights of blacks, and arguing for the rights of blacks to enjoy the republic. He thinks blacks have a rightful place in the republic, and Taney thinks that that’s just not the case.
We see the beginnings of a reparative movement originating in the Constitution itself, in the decades and the centuries, but really the decades after the Constitution and the century after the Constitution was ratified in this country. I think the book is going to be a slow journey and it’s going to take the readers on a slow journey in showing the reparative moments that have been occurring since this country was founded, for blacks to bring them within the ambit of rights and the domain of the ethical.
Talk of reparations today, is really a talk about punishing a race of people, that is white people, for crimes that their ancestors might have committed. Or, assuming something that I have written about, that is that all white people enjoy equal white privilege. To make that statement is very, very problematic.
I’m not sure that a white person living in Appalachia today with no teeth, with no healthcare, who’s illiterate, living at a trailer park, enjoys the same kind of privilege that I do, or enjoys the same kind of privilege as a well-educated doctor living on the upper east side of New York in a brownstone. It’s not meant to complicate or problematize anything. I think the job of an academic philosopher such as myself, is to bring into sharper relief what people are trying to model.
This talk that all white people are systemic and systematic oppressors, it befuddles me to see how someone who’s living in Appalachia in a trailer park, who has no access to water, healthcare, is a walking practitioner of racism, and that that person should, in some sense, participate in a reparations program for a middle-class black person or an upper-class black person, with five college degrees or four college degrees. When you really sit down and figure out the mechanics and the logic of it, then it becomes very problematic, and then it seems ethically untenable to me.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and so at the risk of exposing all of your book here as we finish up, you envision what you describe, an interesting term, a trans-racial future. So briefly tell me about that.
Mr. Hill: Well, the book ends with a note of forgiveness. That is, I think it ends on a very optimistic note where I’m entreating blacks to end on a note of radical forgiveness, that there are many options and there are many routes that we can go. Black people can continue this trajectory of aggrievement, where we continue to look to whites as oppressors, and as our enemies or adversaries, and continue to make claims against them.
This can continue in perpetuity with no hope of an end insight. Or, we can simply say, “Look, let’s engage in a project of radical forgiveness for the injustices of the past and move forward in what I call a moment of trans-racial hopefulness, in which we give up a certain form of cultural blackness.” By that I mean, once blacks continue to tenaciously hold onto a form of blackness that is predicated on victimology, and helplessness, and hopelessness, which I talk about in chapter four of the book, black nihilism and Afro pessimism, then they’re going to remain landlocked in their own souls.
This trans-racial future that I envision is not necessarily an annihilation of one’s identity as a black person, but one’s annihilation of blackness that is predicated on helplessness, victimology, aggrievement, and to join our compatriots, our fellow white citizens, in a spirit of universal brotherhood and radical forgiveness.
That’s the only way the country’s going to move forward beyond the divisiveness that it has. I’m very inspired by the truth and reconciliation hearings that Bishop Desmond Tutu spearheaded after South Africa ended its horrible apartheid regime, and Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president. South Africa could have gone the route of vengeance and vendetta, instead they chose a different route.
I’m saying that in that vein, blacks can choose a spirit of vengeance, which I think the reparations claims are a spirit of vendetta and aggrievement, or we can choose a route of radical forgiveness and a trans-racial alliance with our white compatriots, and move forward to figure out what kind of future do we really want to create as individuals, as value makers in this wonderful republic of ours. It’s a beautiful cosmopolitan moment that is not predicated on racial divisiveness.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Jason Hill, such powerful words, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Hill: Thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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