I have been told not to attend a happy hour event in Portland on May 21. Because I’m white.
I am instructed instead to give $10 (plus a $2.61 fee), which will be provided to a person who is “Black”, “Brown”, or “Indigenous”. I’m “strongly encouraged” to give more.
“Reparations Happy Hours is a monthly program of local nonprofit, Brown Hope, and is an intentional space for Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. … Receive $10 in cash as reparations, paid for in part by white folks. … This event is for white people, too. (But don’t show up physically! Instructions are below.) White people can show up and support by GIVING reparations.”
The stated goal is reparations. That means repair.
White people are strongly encouraged to give money that will be disbursed to black, brown, and indigenous people at an event where white people are not allowed. I’m afraid that, not only does it not repair, it harms.
“This event is for white people, too. (But don’t show up physically!)”
This event harms because it hypocritically excludes people based on race. How does racial discrimination heal racial discrimination? Two wrongs do not make a right.
“Your presence will be felt through your active financial support for healing, leadership, and community building.”
This event harms because it creates division, not community. It feeds hostility, not peace. It causes injury, not healing. White people are distinctly told that our money is wanted but our presence is not. That’s a gut punch. Not only does it sting, it separates.
“We lead community-grounded initiatives to make justice a lived experience for black, brown, and indigenous people in Oregon.”
This event harms because it’s not fair or sensible. Only the wrongdoers owe reparations. Only the wronged deserve reparations. This event’s organizers seem to indicate that, to qualify as a reparations payer, you need only be white; to qualify as a reparations recipient, you need only be black, brown, or indigenous. The implication is that all white people are the wrongdoers and all black, brown, and indigenous people are the wronged.
This event harms because it simply fails to repair. Let’s say that I hurt my coworker by calling her a lazy slob. If I offered her $10 as a gesture to heal our damaged relationship, she might slap me. It doesn’t repair what is broken. It isn’t justice; it’s an insult.
We humans have a deep desire for justice, to make things right, to repair. Sometimes that leads us to grasp at insufficiencies because it’s all we have. The sad reality is that there is no complete justice for the victims of racial oppression; what was lost can never be restored. The best we can do is fight racism when we see it now (whichever direction it goes), be kind to each other, and teach our children well.
THE WAY FORWARD
“We envision a future where the truth about this nation’s long history of injustice is self-evident. We envision the survivors of this injustice taking the lead on change. We envision love as a lived, and collective, experience.”
So do I. I’m glad we found common ground, because that’s where our strength lies. I share Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream for a day when people will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. This “Happy Hour” is a barrier, not a bridge, to that vision.
I sincerely believe that this event’s organizers mean well and that they are good people wanting to do a good thing. But I’ll never have the chance to meet them, because I am not welcome.
Perhaps that’s what saddens me most about this event. My money is wanted, but I am not. There’s a desire for remuneration rather than relationship, for funds rather than friendship.
We can’t satisfactorily repair the injustices of the past, but we can repair the relationships of today. That can happen with thoughtfulness. That can happen with presence. But it must begin with an invitation.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten
that we belong to each other.”
— Mother Theresa —
Those are some of my thoughts. I’d like to hear yours. Just add a reply below.