TIME Ole Miss

Dear Ole Miss: Minorities Are Done Being Haunted by Confederate Ghosts

Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.
Rolls Press—Getty Images Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.

Clinging to nostalgia will only hold back everyone at our university

It was my second semester of Ancient Greek class at the University of Mississippi when I finally raised my hand and asked.

“The statue on the Circle, of the Confederate soldier,” I began earnestly — I was still excited about learning new things — “has a Greek inscription on the side. Could you translate it for us?”

The answer came the next time class met. It was an elegiac couplet by the Greek poet Simonides, engraved first on a monument to the Spartan dead of the Battle of Thermopylae, presented to us by The Histories of Herodotus. My professor had taken the time to copy the inscription on individual slips of paper for all of us to keep, then read it aloud, the Greek consonants somersaulting over his lips, before he offered us one of its numerous English translations.

“‘Foreigner, go tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their commands,’” he said. “Quite a sentiment to put on a Confederate statue.”

It took half an hour of research that night for me to realize how much of an understatement that was. The voice of the poor dead Spartans begs you to return to their loved ones the news that they didn’t tap out for nothing. That they died defending Sparta, Spartan ideals, and Spartan soil from foreign invasion — their glory in defeat is forever memorialized with that epitaph. The Spartans were heroes. According to the statue that thrusts its imposing figure over the Circle, the Confederate dead of Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, are, too.

Unfortunately, Ole Miss can’t seem to make up its mind about who its heroes are, or, at least, how much to value them. The statue of the Confederate soldier stands within a section of campus designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark due to the riots that accompanied the enrollment of James Meredith, the university’s first black student, 52 years ago next month. Just a few hundred feet away stands a statue of Mr. Meredith. It is made of bronze, and, for now, it is free of nooses and Georgia flags.

It is not for me to decide whether or not Confederate soldiers deserve glory, but I do know that it is not the responsibility of an educational institution and its students to maintain the last bastion of the Confederacy, or to stand as a symbol of the “Old South,” a period of assumed refinement and class that would maybe seem more romantic if it hadn’t all been built on the backs of slaves. Ole Miss has spent too long marinating in such an idyll, willfully and disappointingly ignorant of the antebellum period and its shame, and claiming that those who are not blind on purpose are traitors whose criticism should not be heard; but, as another professor of mine claims, nostalgia is about forgetting, not remembering. Selective memory and a painful lack of racial consciousness, however, are for the enjoyment of the privileged only. Minority students have no opportunity to forget, and it is irresponsible to tell them they have no voice to criticize aspects of a place that cheerfully romanticizes a society that would have enslaved them. As it stands, white privilege is a horrible litmus test for the acidity of racism. White students must no longer talk only to other white people about racism, or accept the myth that racism does not exist and that talking about racism is somehow worse than racism itself.

I teared up when I read the letter from Chancellor Dan Jones that detailed his action plan for the continued diversification of the university, which includes creation of a vice chancellor position for diversity and inclusion, the establishment of a Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, and the cultivation of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden to give Black Greek Letter Organizations a permanent physical fixture on campus. Chancellor Jones also calls for not using the school’s nickname within an academic context; though referring to the university as “Ole Miss” is unlikely to change soon (I continue to use it when I’m not speaking about academics, simply because it’s much shorter), the nickname has paternalistic origins.

His leadership reflects the acknowledgement of the university’s — whatever you choose to call it — much- and long-needed diversity measures. The action plan inconveniences literally no one, but has received criticism from people who feel as if a tradition is being snatched away from them—people who view their own contrarian rather than constructive opinions above the offense they undeniably incur. One Ole Miss student (who is not from Mississippi) who objected to these changes wrote in an open letter to Chancellor Jones that she felt that “one of easiest forms of diversity a campus can attain is by attracting students from other states.” Out-of-state-ism is real, y’all.

Luckily, out-of-state tuition is not a recognized form of discrimination. Neither is it a “problem” unique to the university the way that romanticizing racist traditions is. The fact of the matter is that this plan of action is not an indictment of students for choosing to attend Ole Miss, ­for joining Greek organizations, or for being white; rather, it is a call for awareness of the discriminatory climate of campus. Reactionary students who will never be subject to racial slurs when they’re walking on campus in broad daylight, who were never afraid that their skin color would subject them to violence in a place where they’re supposed to be protected, who didn’t experience terror the night a noose appeared around the Meredith statue, shout their perceived victimhood so loudly that those whose lives would benefit most from the action plan cannot be heard.

Those who truly love Ole Miss push forward for necessary change, leadership, and inclusiveness for all who wish to be educated here; it is laughable to act as if impeding progress is somehow healthy for the university’s continued success. For Ole Miss to grow and rightfully be the flagship university for the state of Mississippi, its students must not only support this plan of action, but also allow those whose experiences are germane to the issues to lead the conversation.


Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.


Abraham Lincoln’s Handwriting Found in Racial Theory Book

Lincoln Handwriting Race
Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum—AP This undated photo provided by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., shows what historical experts say is Abraham Lincoln's handwriting they’ve found inside a tattered book justifying racism that he may have read to better understand his opponents' thinking on slavery.

The Great Emancipator was reading a book that seeks to justify racism

Experts confirmed Tuesday what had long been whispered at a public library in the small town of Clinton, Illinois — a name written on a page in the book Types of Mankind was penned by none other than Abraham Lincoln.

On an early page of the book is written the name Clifton Moore, a local attorney and colleague of Lincoln, NBC Chicago reports. Below that note is one from a different attorney attesting that Lincoln wrote it in 1861, just before he was elected president. Lincoln is presumed to have written Moore’s name in the book to remind himself, or someone else, as to the identity of its rightful owner.

“There are certain letters of the alphabet that Lincoln wrote in a way that were not common to his era,” says the curator of Lincoln’s presidential museum James Cornelius. “A forger can typically do some of the letters in a good Lincolnian way. They’ll give themselves away on a couple of the others. This all adds up.”

The 700-page tome offers up the theory that different races on earth were created at different times and thus could not be equal and it was part of the natural order that Caucasians would enslave Africans and Native Americans. The book, published in 1854, was popular among racists and slave owners for lending support to their way of life.

Historians at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential stressed that Lincoln did not subscribe to the beliefs put forth in the book, but that racial division was a hot button issue at the time of his presidency and he was likely educating himself on opposing arguments.

“Everything we know about Lincoln’s legal, religious and scientific thinking tells us he rejected that argument,” adds Cornelius.

[NBC Chicago]


Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer Meet for the First Time, Unproductively

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
Mario Anzuoni— Reuters A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 29, 2014.

No progress was made on Ballmer's bid to buy the L.A. Clippers, but ESPN reports it was otherwise a "friendly conversation."

It was a private meeting between two men very recently and very publicly ushered from power: one the erstwhile leader of a once iconic tech company whose stock prices swiftly rebounded upon news of his resignation, the other the former owner of a basketball team whose departure from it only parenthetically had anything to do with basketball (in that his apparently racist vitriol was targeted at, well, people the color of some of his basketball players).

The latter, Donald Sterling, was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the remainder of his life after TMZ leaked a recording of some comments he made to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, concerning her friendship with black people. He’s consequently in the throes of selling the Los Angeles Clippers to the former, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from the company last year after thirteen tumultuous years at the helm, marked by the surge of the Apple Empire and the ultimate marking of his once-eminent firm as a brand that just wasn’t cool anymore. When all else fails, one supposes, buy a basketball team; Ballmer successfully made a bid of $2 billion to buy the Clippers within a month of the Sterling controversy.

The two men met at Sterling’s Beverly Hills home to negotiate the sale of the Clippers franchise together with Sterling’s wife Shelly. And while the crew reached no definitive settlement, ESPN reports that it was otherwise a perfectly pleasant conversation, considering Sterling’s notorious obstinacy on the matter.

It’s a trickier deal than just writing a check. Two years after Sterling bought the team in 1979, he granted co-ownership rights to Shelly, from whom he has been estranged since December 2012. Donald is banned from the NBA; Shelly is not. The NBA briefly considered snatching all license of ownership from the entire Sterling clan — their son-in-law, Eric Miller, has served as the Clippers’ “director of basketball administration” — but not before Shelly arranged the sale to Ballmer in late May. Donald condemned her actions, and a day later sued the NBA for $1 billion.

He’d drop the suit all of three days later, though he has since called his wife of 59 years a “pig.”

The warring couple met on Sunday to finally discuss business, two days before Shelly was to testify in the civil case between them over whether or not she was justified in her negotiations with Ballmer (she’ll be in court on Tuesday in Los Angeles). After a three hour conversation concerning all the tumult of the last few months — oh, to be a fly on that wall — the two invited Ballmer to come over the next day to further address the matter of the Clippers’ sale, which was supposed to have been finalized a week ago. It’s the first time the two men met in person to talk about the deal.

The NBA, meanwhile, twiddles its thumbs and waits. It’s widely assumed Ballmer will ultimately take the reins from the Sterlings, but if nothing’s certain by September 15, the league has the option to take matters into its own hands and sell the team itself, since the 2014-15 season will begin just six weeks later.

TIME Education

Maya Peterson: Why Lawrenceville Prep Needs a Jolt of Diversity

Maya Peterson
© instagram—© instagram Maya Peterson

The elite private school's former student body president explains why she used satire to fight privilege.

Earlier this year, I posted a photo of myself dressed in a Yale sweatshirt, embroidered pants, L.L. Bean boots and a hockey stick to my personal Instagram account. I captioned it “Lawrenceville Boi” (boi being a word used in the queer community to describe butch lesbians) and added hashtags like #confederate, #romney2016, #peakedinhighschool, #nwa and #ilikerap. The photo stirred up controversy at the elite private boarding school in New Jersey I attended at the time, where I was also student body president. I was told by my school’s administration and some students that I had offended a large portion of the school’s population, and I would have to either step down as student body president of The Lawrenceville School or face disciplinary action for the photo. I resigned in March.

Since then, I’ve been accused of trying to bring Lawrenceville down. While I understand how people might get that impression, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I love Lawrenceville so much that I refuse to stand by while the pressures of systematic oppression that plague our entire country go to work at the school I once called home. I consider Lawrenceville a microcosm of the United States, where discrimination and racism must be addressed.

Let me say first that the photo was strictly satirical. Earlier in the year, my friends and I had taken a Black Power photo for the yearbook, with our fists raised, that caused some backlash on campus. Because of that backlash, we decided to take another photo for our other yearbook page in which we all wore “typical Lawrenceville” apparel. That’s where the offending photo originated from.

As student body president, and Lawrenceville’s first black woman to hold the position, my actions were undoubtedly immature. But I hold firm that the use of satire to bring light to issues is not only effective, but also sometimes necessary when coping with oppression and injustice.

I was never called a nigger at Lawrenceville. Once a faggot. A few times a dyke. A trans friend was once called a “tranny” and a cross-dresser. The majority of the discrimination at Lawrenceville is subtle, almost unnoticeable unless you really pay attention to the anti-minority sentiments that linger in the minds and show themselves in the words of a few vocal Lawrentians.

It’s unclear to me where the insensitive, anti-PC attitude that I see so often in Lawrenceville men (women as well, but men in particular) comes from, though it’s certainly not exclusive to my alma mater. But I’m invested in changing such attitudes on campus and among the student body because Lawrenceville is the place where I gained the majority of my knowledge. Without the help of the school and the faculty, I probably wouldn’t have been able to write this piece. Though the educational value of Lawrenceville is priceless (the price tag, on the other hand, is $70,000 a year), there’s a crucial lack of appreciation for peoples and cultures that don’t fit the traditional American norm.

Lawrenceville preaches its own diversity, but the student body is predominantly white. From my observations, African Americans and Latinos make up a small portion of the student body. Lawrenceville was created for the children of wealthy, white, Protestants. In its 200-some years, Lawrenceville’s student body has included students of color for only around half a century, and women for only a quarter. Lawrenceville is also focused on honoring tradition. In the late 19th Century, the Southern Club was advertised in the yearbook with a caricature of an African American man. Last year, a Confederate flag was used at the club fair. It’s important to remember Lawrenceville’s history with pride, but modern Lawrentians and school administrators must understand that that history was not kind to all people.

Progress at Lawrenceville can be as simple as a more diversified curriculum or a non-gendered dress code. It will require overriding some traditions and ensuring minority students the same safety and comfort (physical and emotional) as the traditional Lawrenceville boy. I say this with full confidence that Lawrenceville will progress. I say this with gratitude for every person I have met and everything I have learned on the school’s stunning campus.

To the young women, students of color, disabled students, queer students, students who aren’t wealthy and straight white men who understand the plight of minorities who may be considering Lawrenceville: Don’t allow the recent articles and my story to dissuade you from attending. Although I don’t believe Lawrenceville knew how to effectively deal with me as a queer woman of color and as another brash teen, I owe all that I am to the school, the teachers who influenced and supported me and the amazing friends that I made. Lawrenceville needs your voices and your strength. There is a lot of work to be done, and we have to do it together.

(Note: Lawrenceville’s response to the controversy is here.)

Maya Peterson is a poet, rapper and activist. She will be a freshman at Wesleyan University pursuing a degree in Creative Writing and Sociology.


An Open Letter to Maya Peterson: On the Politics of Humor

Maya Peterson
© instagram—© instagram Maya Peterson

The first black woman president of The Harvard Lampoon addresses The Lawrenceville School's first black woman student body president—who recently resigned amid controversy

Hi Maya,

You don’t know me, but my name’s Alexis.

I recently heard you were forced to resign from your position as the first black, female student body president at Lawrenceville School—the most expensive private boarding school in the country—because you made fun of the typical “Lawrenceville boi” on Instagram by posting a photo of yourself in a Yale sweatshirt holding a hockey stick, adding hashtags such as “#confederate” and “#peakedinhighschool.”

Of course, it was meant to be a joke. It was meant to parody the sort of privileged, conservative, prep school boy who embodies the reason Lawrenceville did not admit black students until 10 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, and didn’t get around to women until 1987. It was you taking a satirical stand against the kind of people who apparently tormented you because of your race and sexuality, opposed your candidacy from the start, and called for the voting tally to be released just to be absolutely sure you had actually won that election.

I got the joke. I understand your context. As the first black female president of a historically white male institution, I knew exactly where you were coming from. Comedy, particularly in black communities, has always been a way of making fun of a system carefully rigged from its foundation to create success for some and failure for everybody else. Jokes at their best are both funny and enlightening, and that’s what makes them powerful. They can take the edge off and cut deep at the same time.

Your offended constituents, however, do not want to be cut deep—or cut at all. They do not want to be reminded of their context, your context. They want their “uber-diverse” President—but hold the controversy, hold the humor directed at their expense, and, please, eighty-six any real critique of the racist system that created this situation in the first place. Instead of lavishing praise on them for being “open-minded” enough to elect you, you showed them a reflection of themselves, and they were repulsed. How fitting that an Instagram was the tipping point because there is nothing more disturbing than holding up a mirror and not liking or recognizing the image that you see.

It is a harsh reality that the people who ushered you in are often the same ones who will revile you the moment you toe the line, the second you fail to reward them with enough politically correct Scooby Snax, the instant you remind them that racism and sexism and homophobia aren’t over just because you’re in charge.

To me, it is that power dynamic that made your Instagram post comical and harmless. And it is that power dynamic that allowed you to be stripped of your position for it. Because, as much as you are “in charge,” it is the people you mocked who have the capacity to remove that power, not the other way around.

So, from one black person who occasionally makes fun of white people to another, the system is rigged and I am sorry. I only hope that you do not let the persistent mechanisms of disenfranchisement make you ashamed, or fearful, or any less confident in your ability to make real change. In the words of Jesse Jackson, “Keep hope alive.” In the words of Mark Twain, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made School Boards.” In the words of Lily Tomlin, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”

That last one isn’t super pertinent. But it’s pretty funny.

All my best,


Alexis Wilkinson is a rising senior at Harvard College pursuing a degree in economics and psychology. She is the current president of the Harvard Lampoon.

TIME Football

This Powerful Anti-Redskins Ad Will Play During the NBA Finals

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long commercial during the NBA Finals

Sports fans will see more than ads for fast food, cars and beer during commercial breaks in Tuesday night’s NBA Finals. An anti-Washington Redskins ad will run during the game’s halftime, in the hope that the NFL will force the team to change its name from what many consider a racial slur.

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long ad, an edited version of the commercial above, which was created by the National Congress of American Indians. Adweek reports that a 30-second ad slot cost advertisers $460,000 in the 2013 NBA Finals.

The ad, called “Proud to be,” highlights tribes across the country. The final voiceover says, “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” before flashing to an image of a Redskins helmet.

While the Redskins name and logo has been a source of controversy for decades, it received particular bad press after Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life after his racist rant was leaked to the public. NFL player Richard Sherman told TIME’s Sean Gregory that he didn’t think the NFL would have the same response.

“Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins,” Sherman said. “I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.”

The Redskins is preparing for a political fight over its name, hiring a lobbying firm in May after 50 Democratic senators sent the NFL a letter asking for a name change.

The National Congress of American Indians praised the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for airing the ad during the NBA finals, and said it would send a “loud and clear” message to the league and the team.

“Contrary to the team’s absurd claims, this dictionary-defined racial epithet does not honor our heritage. The Change the Mascot campaign continues to gather strength every time that people are educated about the origin of the R-word and its damaging impact on Native peoples,” NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “By airing this ad during the NBA Championships, the message will be brought into the living rooms of millions of American all across the country.”


Europe’s Problem With Politically Correct Fashion

Pharrell wears a headdress on Elle U.K. cover
Elle U.K. Pharrell wears a headdress on Elle U.K. cover

It's not a coincidence that Pharrell's fashion faux-pas happened in a European publication—recent history shows a trend

Since moving from New York City to London six months ago, I’ve realized that fashion on this side of the pond is a different beast. On the street, there’s a more natural, less labored personal style—utilitarianism rules, and that American fondness for flash is nearly invisible. On the other hand, fashion is culturally held in much higher regard here; Dior, McQueen and Ghesquière score mention in the same conversation as Koons, Picasso or Michelangelo. Families with no ties to the fashion industry are just as likely to take in the Isabella Blow or Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibits as they might the new Matisse, all of which are given equally prominent advertising in subway stations, and critical attention in the arts sections of newspapers. And yet, for all the seeming cultural awareness, incidents like this latest one involving ELLE UK, Pharrell, and a Native American headdress seem to happen far more frequently in European publications than in American ones.

Only halfway over, 2014 has already been a banner year for European fashion editors’ bad judgment. In January, Dasha Zhukova, founder and editor of Garage (based in London) was featured in the magazine Buro 24/7 (an online Russian fashion publication) sitting on topless black mannequin so lifelike that upon looking at the image, it’s almost impossible to tell that the Bjarne Melgaard-designed “chair” isn’t a black model conforming to the pretty white lady’s tush. Buro’s editor was quick to issue an apology, explaining that Melgaard’s work was a “commentary on racial politics.” That the editorial had been released on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day hardly matters—King was American, so it’s not a memorial holiday over here. But that is part of the problem; if a society doesn’t take note of its mistakes, its horrors, it’s all too easy to forget how wrong things can go.

A couple of months after the Buro debacle,Vogue Italia, which has a long and complicated relationship with race, published “Abracadabra,”a multi-page fashion story featuring white model Saskia De Brauw in tribal paint, posing semi-nude, gape-mouthed with safari animals. Not surprisingly, the feature did not go over well internationally. When interviewed by The Cut about Vogue Italia’s repeat bouts of racism, longtime editor in chief Franca Sozzani was far from apologetic: “You can just take pictures like in a catalog so you will never be controversial, but that’s not my choice of life.”

Misguided as Sozzani may have been, at mainstream American fashion magazines, photo shoots are rarely if ever used as commentary on a serious subject like race or misogyny or religion. And there are plenty of reasons why. First, magazines live and die by advertising pages; the more advertisers you have, the more editorial content you can include. Today, advertising in print is a hard sell, so once you’ve clinched that deal editors, why do anything to jeopardize the relationship? In Europe, the major fashion magazines function more or less as art books, and are supported and embraced by an art-hungry culture. Second, the American fashion magazine audience primarily reads for aspirational fantasy and commerce. Does that mean the former is more willing to take a risk making a statement—the risk occasionally resulting in disaster? Maybe. A generalization to be sure, but having lived in both cultures and witnessed a marked difference between the content, I think it stands.

The Pharrell incident, in the grand scheme of fashion offenses, seems more a case of irresponsible styling than a political statement gone wrong. Karl Lagerfeld came under similar fire for placing headdresses on models at his Chanel metiers d’arts show in Dallas this spring. Again, Europeans do not have an intimate understanding of the atrocities committed against Native Americans. But the lesson learned is clear: next time, just don’t.

Johanna Cox is a writer living in London.

TIME celebrities

Justin Bieber’s Racist Joke Apology Actually Gets It Right

Justin Bieber
Roberto Serra / Iguana Press / Redferns via Getty Images Justin Bieber performs on March 23, 2013, in Bologna, Italy

The pop singer's mea culpa hit all the right notes

Over the weekend, when video footage surfaced of Justin Bieber telling a racist joke, the cycle of celebrity scandal kicked into high gear. The video was posted by TMZ in the morning; by the evening, the Associated Press had an apology out of him.

The only thing unexpected about the order of events? Even though the joke is awful — and in some ways made worse by the fact that he was unconcerned enough about it to say it in front of a camera crew — the apology itself is solid.

As TIME’s Katy Steinmetz reported last month, when Donald Sterling was the celebrity-apology story of the moment, there are a few points that experts look for when assessing whether an apology is forgiveness-worthy, a no-go or just plain weird. You can read Bieber’s whole statement over at The Hollywood Reporter, but here are the points that make it pass muster:

  1. Bieber states what he did wrong and admits that it’s wrong: “I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance.”
  2. He says he’s sorry and owns the mistake, rather than using cop-outs like refusing to take responsibility (“mistakes were made”) or placing blame for being offended on those who are (“sorry if you’re offended”): “I’m very sorry. I take my friendships with people of all cultures very seriously and I apologize for offending or hurting anyone with my childish and inexcusable mistake.”
  3. He explains why the error is not one that he’ll make again, along with his hopes that his apology will help others do a better job of not making the same mistakes: “I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again. Ignorance has no place in our society and I hope the sharing of my faults can prevent others from making the same mistake in the future.”

His only potential misstep comes with mentions of his age at the time, which can get a little close to making excuses or implying that the mistake was less bad than it seems. But, as a bonus, Bieber’s apology manages to fold in a nod to the deeper problem at hand, “the power of certain words and how they can hurt.” There’s no “I didn’t mean anything by it,” and he acknowledges that, even if he doesn’t think his joke was expressing a real racist sentiment, he was still participating in a larger history of racism. Even though he characterizes telling the joke as a “mistake,” he’s not saying that he accidentally spoke words he didn’t mean to say but that he didn’t understand what the words he said on purpose really meant.

So, kudos to Justin Bieber, or at least to whichever member of his entourage crafted the statement. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised: it was less than two months ago that he got some practice, apologizing for visiting a contentious shrine to Japan’s war dead.


Donald Sterling Visits Black Church In Los Angeles

The disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner joined the service after receiving an invitation from a pastor two weeks earlier

Two days after filing a $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA, disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attended a service in a predominantly black church in south Los Angeles.

Sterling, accompanied by his staff, attended the Sunday worship that emphasized forgiveness and said it was “fabulous.”

“I’m here to support this wonderful group,” Sterling said of Praises of Zion Baptist Church, NBC4 reports. The owner, whose team the NBA is trying to force him to sell, has been under fire ever since a recording emerged of him making racist comments about African-Americans.

Senior pastor J. Benjamin Hardwick told Sterling during the service, “I want my friend to know, we’re praying for you.”

Hardwick added that he did not believe Sterling was a racist.



A Legal and Moral Basis for Reparations

Unjust enrichment, and its counterpart, unjust impoverishment, give rise to the idea of restitution.

As recently as 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution belatedly apologizing for this country’s oppression of African Americans: “The Congress (A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; (B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.”

Sadly, these mostly white senators added a disclaimer explicitly barring African Americans from seeking reparations for the role of the government in this officially recognized oppression. Reparations is an issue that arises sporadically because of the three-plus centuries of slavery and Jim Crow on which this country is founded, and one that Ta-Nehisi Coates revives in this month’s Atlantic Monthly.

One rationale for reparations lies in the reality of the stolen labor and millions of African Americans enslaved until 1865, legally segregated from the 1870s to the 1960s, and who face much discrimination today. This theft of labor and lives was carried out for centuries by whites as individuals and by local, state and federal institutions backed by law.

A legal basis for reparations could rest in the concept of unjust enrichment, an idea traditionally associated with relationships between individuals. Unjust enrichment involves circumstances that “give rise to the obligation of restitution, that is, the receiving and retention of property, money, or benefits which in justice and equity belong to another,” according to Ballentine’s Law Dictionary. One can extend the idea of restitution for unjust enrichment to the conditions of large-scale group oppression.

Implicit in the idea of unjust enrichment is the counterpart idea of unjust impoverishment, the condition of those suffering at the hands of those unfairly enriched. From the 1700s to the mid-1800s, white families and communities were enriched directly, or by means of economic multiplier effects, by slave plantations and related economic enterprises. Economist James Marketti once estimated that the labor stolen from enslaved African Americans from 1790 to 1860 was worth in the range of $2.1 to $4.7 trillion (in 1983 dollars), after taking into account lost interest.

Those who have attacked the idea of owing back wages to African Americans, arguing those are too-distant debts, ignore the huge damages done to African Americans during the century of near-slavery during Jim Crow segregation. Millions alive today suffered severe losses under Jim Crow and can actually name who did much of that discrimination and unjust impoverishing. The current worth of all black labor stolen by whites through the means of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination (plus interest) is estimated by some economists in the range of $6 to $24 trillion. And this figure doesn’t include compensation for great physical and mental suffering and millions of untimely deaths.

Most whites whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations benefit from significant racial advantages their ancestors gained under slavery, Jim Crow or post-1968 discrimination. An examination of generational histories of white families and families of color by sociologist Jennifer Mueller found huge differences in the acquisition and transfer of economic assets: compared to families of color, white families had “more than six times as many transfers of monetary assets across generations.”

Large-scale homestead acts operating from the 1860s and federal housing and veterans programs after World War II also mean that many white families have benefited and secured significant assets from “white affirmative action.” The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 246 million acres of productive land, and wealth, for 1.5 million families over seven decades. Depending on calculations for things like marriage and childbearing, social scientist Trina Williams estimates that 20 to 93 million Americans, overwhelmingly white, are current beneficiaries of this one asset-generating program. In Mueller’s family histories, whites reported five times as many instances of garnering such government-derived assets over multiple generations than did families of color. Not surprisingly, the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances found huge racial differentials in family wealth. White families’ median wealth is about eight times that of black families, and this gap has grown in recent decades.

Most whites consider reparations for damages suffered by African Americans to be too radical, but white politicians, judges and ordinary citizens have accepted the principle of reparations for certain past damages. U.S. courts have required corporations to compensate deformed children of mothers who took drugs during pregnancies without knowing of harmful side effects. That those decisionmakers were long gone didn’t let the corporations off the hook. Significantly, the U.S. government has actively pressured the German government since World War II to make large-scale reparations to victims of the Holocaust, although those making the reparations were not part of Nazi governments.

The moral principle here is similar to that asserted in arguments for reparations for contemporary African Americans, whose socioeconomic conditions reflect damage done by past and present generations of whites. Additionally, federal appellate Justice John Minor Wisdom has argued that the anti-slavery amendments to the U.S. Constitution set a constitutional principle for government remedial action: “When a present discriminatory effect upon blacks as a class can be linked with a discriminatory practice against blacks as a race under the slavery system, the present effect may be eradicated under the auspices of the thirteenth amendment.”

Contemporary reparations might take several forms. One would be the gradual transfer of compensating wealth from unjustly enriched white communities to unjustly impoverished black communities, a government transfer linked to explicit restorative goals. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America has sought $400 million for both individual compensation and asset-generating programs enabling impoverished black communities to prosper. Substantial reparations would include providing well-funded government programs, over generations, at local and state levels for upgrading education, job training, housing and incomes for African Americans – as individuals, families and communities.

Many argue there is no money for such moral and constitutional action. Yet, the U.S. government found more than a trillion dollars to bail out private institutions in the Great Recession—and trillions for recent irresponsible military actions. A U.S. government that was heavily involved in sustaining slavery and Jim Crow, and is implicated in contemporary discrimination, can find the substantial amounts needed to meet this country’s moral and restorative obligations to long-oppressed African Americans.

Joe Feagin is Ella C. McFadden Professor in sociology at Texas A & M University, and author of Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations (3rd ed., Routledge, 2014).

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