What’s scarier to racists than the idea of reparations for slavery? I’m Francesca Fiorentini, and in this episode we’re talking about another Reconstruction. Like the one after the Civil War. I know, I know, remembering the Reconstruction from 11th grade history is tough because we were all high. It’s okay. Our teacher probably did what the nation did and basically skipped right over it. For the first time in a long time Americans are talking about reparations. You know the “40 acres and a mule” type reparations promised to former slaves after the Civil War. Although in today’s money it’d be more like a 2-bedroom apartment and a brand new Honda Accord. A very reliable apology car. But of course you can’t have an honest conversation about reparations without a whole lot of Dishonest white pundits weighing in The reparations thing eventually as the decades go by becomes ridiculous. This term “reparations” is just a nice-sounding word for shake down. They keep blaming America for the sin of slavery, but the truth is throughout human history slavery has existed, and America came along as the first country to end it within 150 years, and we get no credit for that. Okay, okay. Let’s just peel off one layer of that idiocy. America gets no credit for ending slavery? That’s as asinine as saying, “Hitler never gets credit for killing Hitler.” While 58 percent of black Americans support the idea of reparations, it’s an incredibly difficult discussion to have with many white people. If only there were some soft-spoken white woman like a life coach or therapist or presidential candidate who could look Americans right in the face and say We have not lived and we are not living on the principles on which we purport to stand. One of these areas is the issue of race. I propose a hundred billion dollar plan of reparations. Okay, Becky with the good incense. Oh, no, I’m starting to unironically love her. Quick, someone dig up an old tweet of her saying something weird about vaccines. Look, reparations for two hundred and fifty years of systemic violence, mass murder, torture and rape that killed millions and inflicted generations of collective trauma shouldn’t be controversial. And no I’m not even talking about Native Americans. If you think reparations are controversial, go watch “12 Years a Slave” again, or for the first time if your name is Tanner. The US has given reparations before back in 1862 to former slave owners. Yeah, that’s right. Those who did the enslaving got $300 per slave freed. That’s like telling Jeffrey Epstein. “Sorry you can’t fly your plane to Pedo Island anymore. Here’s Micronesia.” The fact that we can’t even talk about reparations without a national freakout is indicative of how far we have to go in dealing with our racist history. Also the fact that this is our president. Some say we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for slavery. Something similar to South Africa’s when they took stock of the atrocities committed to maintain apartheid. Others are looking at this special moment in whiteness and seeing it as part of a familiar pattern. A racist reaction to whenever black people get… …anything. The little mermaid included. And dealing with that might require something bigger: Perhaps a Reconstruction. The part of American history that Bill and Ted, like, totally skipped over, dude. So this is Franifio’s Less Than Excellent Adventure [Bill and Ted voice] Excellent! [electric guitar solo] How did we go from the Emancipation Proclamation to a hundred years of segregation? Well, that actually wasn’t the initial plan. The initial plan was something called the Reconstruction. No Way. Way. The Reconstruction was essentially the federal government’s plan to ensure equality to newly freed people right after the Civil War. It was what Harvard professor and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls “The maximum period of black freedom in the history of this country.” Yeah. The Reconstruction was such a critical moment in this country the many also call it “The second founding of America.” Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act and the new constitutional amendments fundamental to American democracy: the 13th 14th and 15th. And black men got unprecedented political representation. By 1877, 16 black men were in Congress. And to think that’s a full hundred and thirty-nine years before Hamilton. Many, like the leader of the Poor People’s Movement, Reverend William Barber Call the Reconstruction “an experiment in interracial democracy.” African-americans join hands with white former farmers in the South. They rewrote state constitutions, they guarantee public education as a constitution right in the south, they were talking about labor rights in 1868. This is 1868. Blacks and whites working together. That’s incredible. It’s like we were building a more perfect U— —But. How’d I know that was coming? Many former Confederates saw the black citizenship and black leadership connected with white leadership as inherently illegitimate. Yep, the whole plan ultimately failed, mostly because of southern white terrorism. The KKK was formed and began attacks soon after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed. No way. Way. The Reconstruction also failed because Lincoln was assassinated, and his vice president didn’t actually believe in it at all— in fact Johnson was impeached and nearly removed from office over his support for white supremacy And to think 150 years later we can’t even do that much. The federal government under hipster dreamboat Ulysses S. Grant tried to protect the black population in the south with federal troops, but the economy nosedived, and the government decided it was too expensive to keep them there. So even though black people were free, there was no mechanism to protect them, which is insane. That’s like when your parents brought you to Chuck-E-Cheese, but gave you no tokens for the arcades… And the ball pit was made of snakes. …racist snakes. To politically rollback the Reconstruction state legislatures in the south created Jim Crow laws that segregated whites and blacks and chipped away at the new amendments, forcing people to pay a poll-tax or pass a literacy test to vote. No way. Way. That’s why there was another Reconstruction ninety one years later, also known as the Civil Rights movement, which tried to establish what the first didn’t. It dismantled a hundred years of Jim Crow policies and got the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed. But the movement actually became broader. It became about critiquing war, capitalism, patriarchy— No way. Way. It’s actually pretty cool. You should like Wikipedia it or whatever. The importance of this second Reconstruction is so powerful even Trump paid tribute to the life of MLK, even though until recently he probably thought the MLK Jr. was an item on the Burger King menu. I love the MLK jr. but why is it only available in February? And just as after the first reconstruction, there was a violent white backlash to the second: Assassinations by white supremacists and repression by police. Bogus. Okay that’s just insensitive. The backlash to the second Reconstruction has also taken forms like Bill Clinton’s welfare reform or the war on drugs, which grew the prison population into what Professor Michelle Alexander calls the new Jim Crow. Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850. No way. Did you say it? But the backlash gets even more insidious. It took forms like Nixon’s Southern Strategy: appealing to southern white racism. Just listen to Ronald Reagan’s advisor, Lee Atwater, back in 1981 talking about how Republicans can get the racist vote without sounding racist. You start at 1954 by saying n[bleep]er, n[bleep]er, n[bleep]er. By 1968 you can’t say n[censored]er—that hurts ya. Backfires. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes and all of these things you’re talking about a totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse and whites. “We want to cut taxes” is much more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell more abstract than “n[censored]er, n[censored]er.” Oh, yes quite abstract. You might say that Reagan was the Picasso of racism whereas Trump is the macaroni art of it. That racial coding around social program continues today. “Entitlements,” “poor work ethic,” and other coded language. I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. Okay, well that’s code in the same way that this is code for “Table for five.” The pattern is clear. Every time there’s a fight for black rights, it goes deeper than the last. And each time black people gain a bit more power, especially executive power, there is yet another backlash. Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? Wouldn’t you like to see one of the NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.” Look how much African-American communities have suffered. You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. What the hell do you have to lose? Your dignity. So if the first Reconstruction was fought against, and the second did a bit of what the first was supposed to do but continues to be rolled back, especially now with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, maybe what we really need now is something bigger than reparations—something even scarier for racists: We need a third and much bigger Reconstruction—one that Reverend Barber sees us in the middle of. You got fight for 15, young black and white, Latinos coming together in this country all over. That’s the sign. You have moral Mondays. You got Black Lives Matter. You have the environmental movement happening. Signs that we are seeing a third Reconstruction. The third Reconstruction is picking up where the first two left off: Tackling voting rights, but also bigger, structural changes around the economy, the environment, in our justice system because in many ways the fight for black liberation is at the center of a lot of other fights to protect our constitutional rights and expand democracy And understanding that scares the powerful all whole lot. So think on this long but fascinating history the next time you think about reparations. But also the next time you think about Bill and Ted. [electric guitar solo] I don’t know how to air guitar. What’s supposed to move? [electric guitar solo] Thanks again for watching Newsbroke. make sure to like, share, subscribe Aw, what are the other ones? Follow. Do all that, and let me know: Did you ever learn about the Reconstruction in school? Because I just finished reading “Grant,” the like, very, very long book—his like biography, and I learned about it for the first time I think because I was high. …And uh, yeah. I forgot what I was saying, but I’ll see you next week.