Elie Mystal joined CSPAN's Washington Journal host Pedro Echevarria for a discussion on Impeachment, the 2020 elections, and also to take callers from their phone lines broken down by party. The first five or ten minutes was illuminating, just between the legal expert and the host about the most recent developments in the presidential race, but they soon got to the fun on the phones. For the uninitiated, the shows format offers three phone numbers: one each for Independents, Republicans, and Democrats.
A few callers in, Echevarria announced a caller named Liz on the Republican line, who hailed from Wisconsin. It's fair to say, the topic was unexpected.
MYSTAL: You are concerned about the deficit, but you are a Republican?
MYSTAL: So, all of Trump's tax cuts that have exploded the deficit to heretofore unseen levels, you are not worried about that, but you're worried about reparations?
LIZ: I am worried about the deficit because that's a Republican stance that has been long-standing for many years. I'm not saying Trump has honored that part of the Republican platform.
You could see the look on Mystal's face swing from shock to confusion to comprehension. "Ooooooooh," he seemed to mentally conclude, "You're THAT kind of Republican. Old School. Got it." Still a speckle of astonishment, though, because he was registering an element of sincerity about reparations in this Republican woman that was unusual. I mean, it seemed as if she was saying reparations are owed, but how can we do it without exploding the deficit? Even Echevarria was like, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, I gotta get in on this," as he interrupted and asked her a question.
LIZ: In fact, it is something I did. I was challenged by someone on a train, when I was going out to see my son for basic training, and we talked about what could work, and we talked about laws and we talked about reparations and such, and we looked at how well or not well the civil rights laws had maybe influenced what was happening in America in terms of equality, and we came up with the idea of individual reparations, and we both decided we would start an act of that. So. I went and got two-dollar bills and I started approaching People of Color and telling them my apologies for any way I consciously or not consciously went ahead and added to any problems with differences between the classes of people, both black and white, and I signed that two-dollar bill and handed it over. And it made for a lot of interesting conversations.
WHOA. At this point the white savior whiplash in full effect, and Mystal clearly could not believe what he was hearing. "I am so sorry my parents burned down your entire house. Here's a nice shiny quarter to make it all better." Recovering admirably, though, he addressed the issue of reparations directly, pragmatically, and gave viewers a sense of where our government stands on the issue at the moment.
Before we talk about the actual cash remissions, we need to figure out, is direct payments the way to do it? Is it more in terms of scholarship opportunities, or educational opportunities or whatever? There are lots of ways to skin this cat. I am happy to live in a world where reparations are taken seriously, they are no longer a joke or a thing that is for humor, I think that is an amazing change that I didn't think was going to happen in my lifetime, certainly, so that's kind of cool. But I think we still need to be in the study and planning phase to figure out how best to make this not just an apology, but remittance for lost wages. That is a long-term project. Hopefully we are at the start of it.
Yeah, he said "Two dollars isn't gonna cut it," and "Don't ever try that with ME on the street," but his answer embodied intellect and grace, and a gratitude that the issue was taken seriously at all during his lifetime. Something he didn't think he'd see.
However — and this is a big HOWEVER — I'd like a word with Liz in Wisconsin: I cannot speak for any Black people, but based on the many things I have read, and many discussions I have had, this is a terrible approach. if you want to do reparations on an individual basis, do it in a way that will make a difference, and NOT in a way that centers you. Pay for someone's meal in a diner anonymously. Go to a school and pay off a child's overdue lunch account. Buy someone's groceries, or donate to a Black mama's bail fund. There are lots of ways. Accosting random Black people on the street and forcing an apology and a conversation about race relations on them so that you can feel better about yourself while you give them two frikkin dollars and calling it an act of reparations? THAT. AIN'T. IT.