Cynthia Nixon is best known for playing “the smart one” on the ultimate chick-com Sex In The City. She played that role for so many years that she finally graduated to a much bigger stage and is now playing “the smart one” in American politics. All things considered, her upgrade in roles has been remarkably smooth and she could wind up being elected the next governor of New York. Who knew that an entertainer with absolutely no public policy experience whatsoever could be taken seriously enough as a candidate to win an executive public office?
Not only that, the sassy red-head formally known as “Miranda” has formulated one of the smartest and most creative public policy ideas in decades. Very early in her campaign, she made a proposal that promises to improve race relations, the criminal justice system and urban economic development – all in one shot. Here is the Cliff’s Notes version: Ms. Nixon floated the idea of legalizing marijuana in the state of New York and then letting that industry be the sole province and property of African-Americans as reparations for slavery and its institutional and cultural legacy. I am a black man in America who knows absolutely nothing about weed – either using it or dealing it – but I know this is a BRILLIANT idea.
Of course, the first reaction from my liberal kin-folk was outrage because that is what we do best. As a matter of fact, we’re so good at being outraged that it seems like we’d rather be outraged than actually win elections, take control, and solve problems. Evidently Ms. Nixon thinks differently and when she offered an actual IDEA that was new and that offered a concrete solution to many serious problems – including race, the Grand-Daddy of them all – that threw us way off balance. But to hell with our balance, we need to get behind Ms. Nixon with all we’ve got. If any other politician in America is attacking real problems with such aplomb please let me know. I try to never miss aplomb when it shows up and I haven’t seen it since #44 was in the House.
Breaking News: Race is a problem in America. Our old play-book of solutions has taken us even further than we ever imagined but it’s still not far enough. Racial stratification has gotten worse since the crowning social achievement of Barack Obama’s election and so-called conservatives will tell you with a straight face that it was HIS fault. This only serves as painful affirmation that race has been the scourge of our society from the very beginning and we just got slapped in the face with the rancid reality that unless we make a radical change in our approach, we are never going to escape it’s grip. In case you have somehow forgotten the sting of that slap, it landed smack in the middle of our faces in November of 2016 when our nation decided to follow the miraculous and majestic presidency of a dignified black man with the destructive and dispiriting presidency of an embarrassing white man.
It was as if the prospect of such lasting and substantive progress on the racial front was just too much for America to tolerate so it had to take a big wet piss all over itself to ruin it. When that happened, we were faced with a binary choice: We can be satisfied with the political hop-scotch game of “two steps forward and one step back” or we can actually move forward so that we can ultimately evolve beyond race. Stated another way: we can continue to be hostages of history and prisoners of the past, or we can choose to finally be free.
And by “free,” I mean we can enter a future where the weight of race is so diminished that it is no longer a reliable proxy for identifying the socioeconomic, political or geographic circumstance of any American. That is what everybody claims they want but it’s like Wyclef Jean says everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. And while we were busy being outraged by the faintest scent of racism in Ms. Nixon’s proposal, we should have been giving it some serious consideration as a practical solution.
If there is a rational argument that America owes NOTHING to the slaves that worked and suffered to build its wealth for centuries I haven’t heard it yet. And I’ve been listening since I was an enraged and terrified 6 year old watching the original network broadcast of Roots. It is impossible to engage in an intellectually honest discussion about the issue of reparations for the descendants of slaves without acknowledging up front that there is an outstanding debt. It is undeniable that the logistics of slavery reparations are daunting. Identifying who gets what and who pays them is a financial enigma sitting on top of a quagmire wrapped up in a riddle.
But it is a lot easier to track the legacy of slavery in the form of discriminatory exclusion from economic opportunity. In every municipality in America the legislative archives are crawling with evidence that black people were intentionally impoverished by operation of law. That is what Ms. Nixon is attacking because she sees that there is both legal precedent and broad social acceptance for righting the wrongs of blatant institutional racism. Our Japanese, Jewish and Native American citizens have all tapped into this well of rationale to quench the thirst of injustice and there is no reason for black folks to continue to be thirsty.
It’s not like we all don’t know there is a debt to be paid and we’re never really going to get right until it is. That is how we got the limp-dick half-measure known as affirmative action. We all know that affirmative action could never really balance the scales and pay that debt because the underlying premise still stands on a white institution passing judgment on a black person’s worthiness to join their organization and work for them on their terms. It’s nice to get a good job and all but how empowering can that really be?
Can a man leave his corporate job to his daughter after he dies or sell it on the open-market to invest part of the profit in his son’s enterprise? That is how generational wealth is built and affirmative action just ain’t built to support that. To make up for slavery, black folk need WEALTH opportunities, not WAGE opportunities. Without a vested ownership stake anybody ever given anything on a wage basis continues to be vulnerable.
True empowerment, independence and freedom in America stand on ownership not on membership. Had America followed through on the original plan of giving every former slave adult male 40 acres and a mule we wouldn’t be having this discussion more than a century and a half later. But we know what happened: racists squawked and so the nation balked. The idea of giving black people a concrete opportunity to be free and equal was just too much to bear – a refrain that should sound quite familiar by now.
And that is why I love Ms. Nixon’s idea. It has its roots in historical context and at the same time is tied to future economic growth opportunity. It is geared toward earmarking opportunity as opposed to the quagmire of taking something from one group of people and giving it to another. To put it mildly, that is politically untenable and could even be dangerous. But the casinos that are owned and operated exclusively and successfully by Native American tribes are effective centers of economic development for those tribes and nobody thinks twice. They are participants in the broader economy and balancing the scales of justice contemporaneously.
Once American municipalities and institutions embark on a concrete payment plan of reparations, the entire conversation revolving around race and institutional racism will change – a change that is desperately needed. Whether a state, city or county decides to hand over the marijuana industry or some other asset of lasting value the bleeding will be stopped. Acknowledgement is implicit in such initiatives and it matters far more than most people recognize. Immediately, the discussion is forward focused instead of backward brooding. White men of marginal value in the workforce have been bitching and complaining since the end of slavery about black people taking good jobs away from them. Black people have been angry and bitter that no concrete effort has been made toward economic restitution for the horrific history of exploitation, violence, victimization and subjugation. On both counts reparations through preferred industry licensing can be effective, politically tenable and economically scaleable. Of course the devil is in the details but this is a case where the devil we know isn’t worth a damn. So its time to take a chance on the devil we don’t. Like a great night at a Mohegan casino, we just might get lucky and win big with that particular devil. I’m down with giving her a try.