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April 29, 2021 33 mins

It’s mourning' time in America. Erika and Whitney reflect on their reparations journey and calculate the personal toll it's taken. The great Reverend Barber resets the room and builds a powerful theological case, through the lens of “The Five Pillars.” A case that exposes the moral repercussions of reparations, and what the bondsman's price will be if America continues to ignore the bill. Then, after 28 years, Erika returns to her father's grave at Rosemont Cemetery in Elizabeth, NJ to share her personal theory on individual moral justice, while also looking to absolve her father's case for debts paid in full, through his own pain and suffering. And finally, we get an encore visit from Erika’s mother, Ms. Sammie, who gets the last word and gives us a Star-Spangled Banner 'drop the mic' performance. Step back, Mahalia!

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
This episode is dedicated to Sarah Miller Arnon, mother of
our producer Ben are Not. Sarah was a loving mother, wife, teacher,
and guiding light. We love you, Sarah until we meet again.
I'm Erica, Alexander that I'm Whitney Down. Welcome to Reparations.

(00:22):
The Big Payback a production of Color Farm Media, I
Heart Radio and The Black Effect Podcast Network. That theme
of paying back is also a very deeply church theme.
When I grew up, there was a sol week, Same call,
hey Day's coming after a while, and there were a
number of songs that suggested that injustice just doesn't get away. Now,

(00:46):
when I think about the moral piece of this, I
want to look at it through two lenses. One lens
is the religious land judo Christian perspective, and then the
other is from the constitutional lands. And the third one
might be that many people don't realize Erica, that for
years there was no separate study of economics in this

(01:11):
country or in the world, that the study of economics
was a part of moral philosophy. No ways you you
would study. Did you hear that? Did I hear what?
Reverend Barber? No? No after after Rivern Barber, that silence yes,

(01:37):
I heard it. Why are we listening to silence? Erica? Well,
you know, as a reminder of where we're all going
at this brief life's in, you know. And the other
day we went on a field trip to visit my
dad's cemetery out in New Jersey, and I hadn't been
there in over thirty years. And we'll get into why
that is. But remember after we talked, before we left,

(02:00):
we just stood there for a little while and listened
to the silence. I remember that. But why do you
think about that right now? Because we've been going so fast.
We threw ourselves into this big reparations world and all

(02:22):
that comes with it. So maybe we need a moment
to settle down and just listen, stop talking, and if
we did, maybe we be able to hear the angels speak.
I don't know. Maybe I mean also to remember why
we wanted to do this. What do we want to
get out of it? What did you want to get
out of it? M hm? Well, I think that I

(02:53):
wanted to get a couple of things out of it,
something for myself that I wanted to get as a
deeper understanding of this idea of reparations and what it
might mean for our country, because I think that so
much of the time you think you understand something and
you don't really understand. You have sort of a vague
idea about it, and once you dig into it, you

(03:14):
realize that's so much more complicated then something I want
on on a larger scale. I really I've always talked
about Eric. I know you laugh at it, but this
idea that I'm trying to say white people and I
really want what I mean by that, I want to
bring white ears to this story that I think that
so much of the time white people think that the
story of reparations really is something for black people, but

(03:35):
so they could hear themselves in that story. And I
think if you can bring white ears to the story,
you also have the opportunity to bring white hearts as well.
It's kind of like Reverend Barber, who's decade is Life
to the Poor People's Campaign, and the worker Martin Luther King,
and he has the school of fusion politics, and what
that means is that the fates of black and white
people are linked together. They're fused together, that we aren't

(03:58):
on these separate journeys, that we're connected. And so what
affects one affects the other, and I think sort of
what we've done here, Erica, I hope we've done is
we've kind of been trying to do fusion storytelling, where
we show that the black and white story are intimate
linked together and you can't understand one without the other.
M h. Yeah. Well it's been a hell of a journey,

(04:21):
and I gotta give it up for the race advocates,
people like Reverend Barber, the Poor People's Campaign, He's amazing.
I don't know how they all stay sane in this world.
It's exhausting. I mean, we're definitely not the same people
we were when we started this, or perhaps we were
always our same selves, and this process created extraordinary conditions

(04:44):
to test the outer limits of who we thought we
were versus who we really are. As you can see,
I've become confusions in between all this. But yeah, stress
it's a purifier. Pain and suffering too. But what do
you mean by that, Erica, that it's a purifier, Like
who's a pure fine? I don't know. You know, that's
actually a deep question, because if you know, if stress

(05:05):
and pain could purify something, you think the United States
would be in a better space. But I think it's
been so successful at what it's done in terms of
the oppression on people of color and black people, that
it really hasn't experienced the pain enough and suffering of
that to change. I really don't. But before our trip

(05:27):
to the cemetery, had I ever told you about my
dad's death. No? We've talked a lot about your family,
of course, your mom, but no, not specifically about your
father's passing. Why do you want to talk about him now? Well,
because my father's story is a tale of morality, and
that topic indirectly is relevant to what we're talking about.
What lies underneath this whole reparations talk is one of

(05:50):
personal character and accountability morality. So okay, let's talk about it,
and let's talk about our road trip. You know, Glad
we took Rivern Barber along with us to sit shotgun.
He knows a little something about the road we were traveling.
He certainly does. In fact, he lived the way you
would study moral philosophy, and as a part of moral philosophy,

(06:14):
you studied economics because the suggestion was there was no
way to be moral if you were imral with your
money and imral with the way you treated people. Based
on their relationships with money and wealth that was separated
in America in large part due to slavery, because you can't,

(06:34):
on the one hand, say that the economics is a
moral issue when you be able a system on slavery
that has five underpinnings, and the first of it is
evil economics and an evil economics. And I've kind of
coined these five evil economics, meaning that the end justifies

(06:55):
the means. So if your goal is to get wealthy
and to exceed other nations that have been in existence
thousands of years before you, and the only way to
do that is to turn people into property, then the
end your wealth justifies the means, which is a form
of evil economics. Do you know where the grave is?

(07:20):
I have no idea. She said it was under a
big oak. I was hoping that there would be somebody
here we could ask. So, Erica, how did your dad died? Well,
it was pretty brutal. Uh. Let me put it to
you this way. If he had been an animal, they
would have put him down years before, just to end
his suffering. But I don't know, Whitney. The details are

(07:43):
like pain pornography, and I don't want to get into that.
So we're just coming out of the Holland Tunnel into
New Jersey. Mha. We're at Rose Mount Cemetery in New Jersey, Elizabeth,

(08:08):
New Jersey, and my father is buried here. And I
don't know exactly where, but my mother said it was
in front of a oak tree. In the office is closed.
There's a lot of trees here. I think that there's
a big oak tree over there. Yeah. So the identifying
marker of this place is that everything is flat. There
are known like standing graves. I don't know if that's

(08:30):
just what they decided so they can maybe put more
people here, but it's not the prettiest place. His name

(08:50):
was Robert Lee Murray Alexander. It was a preacher and
he lived a tough life. He was also a complicated,
fascinating person. Born in the South of West, he was
an orphan and his hopebo preacher life certainly took its toll.
And in his short life he ran fast, but he
wasn't built for speed. I don't know where it is.

(09:14):
In fact, I haven't been here, and over thirty years
he died and uh we uh buried him and I
haven't come back. Since he was born with a bad heart.
He died of congestive heart failure and adult diabetes. He

(09:36):
was I think fifty years old and he passed away
in East New York, Brooklyn. We lived in the parsonage
where my mother Sammy, also an orphan and seemed to
be a widow, performed her vow to death do us part,
and she took care of him until he breathed his last.
And it wasn't easy because towards the end of his
life his legs started to rot and turn gang green

(09:59):
because of the circular lation. It was so compromised. He
died January, just before I was going to start the
Cosby Show, and funeral director had an interesting comment that
he said to my mother. He said that my dad
must have been paying a debt because it marked his
flesh and bone is fair trade. He told my mother

(10:21):
that he had never seen a body that had gone
through as much pain and suffering in all his years
of undertaking. Wow, I see. The next one issue would
be sick sociology, and that is that people can be
around each other physically, but there has to be a hierarchy.
There has to be a us them. You cannot have

(10:43):
an equal society. The third pillar would be political pathology,
and that is that all of your politics are designed
to protect this evil economics and to protect this sociology,
so much so that when you even write your founding documents,
you have to make sure that the system of slavery

(11:04):
is protected, because you can't even have a unity or
a constitution without that. The last two bad biology. So
in the seventeenth century of French scientist came up with
this idea. You can read about this in one of
Cornea West's book called prophet Side Deliverance, in which they
said you could determine brain size by skin color. You

(11:25):
saw some of this in the movie Django, and people
thought it was just the movie. It was actually real.
There were scientists who suggested that you could determine brain
size by skin color. Therefore skin color became a sign
of one's lesser humanity, or actually one's lack of humanity.
And then the last one is heretical ontology. Ontology is

(11:50):
the study of God's intentions. And so the argument was
that God intended the evil economics, God intended the six geology,
God intended the political pathology, God intended the bad biology.
God intended the system of slavery, which is in itself
a hereld harrassing. It is the abuse and missus of theology.

(12:14):
So when you asked that question about a moral perspective,
I just wanted to lay that out first. Now, to
be clear, my father was no Hitler, no pol Pot,
no Dick Cheney, and yet in an unfair way here
he was in East New York. Mythology, now that's near Brownsville,
and this is the early nineties. It's a real rough place.
That his physical body looked so tortured that it was

(12:36):
a standout visual for pain and suffering steep. But why him,
Why did my father, a local preacher, What did he
do to deserve that? In my best guess is that
he didn't do anything. He's just how life is. Life
is unfair, imbalanced, it's cruel. Right. He was a star

(13:04):
in anyone's room. He was very charismatic. He was very smart.
He was intelligent. He was a genius. He could pick
up languages quick. He was very good at reading rooms,
reading people. He was a healer. He was an extraordinary healer.
Pastors noted how gifted he was, but also touched by
the spirit. It was more than just a calling or

(13:25):
something that his grandmother said he'd do. He was really
made for it. But we try to make sense of
these things. So I rethought about it, and this is
what I came up with. That my dad had violated
a moral honor code and that the ramifications of that

(13:45):
debt penetrated another dimension, and he would not be allowed
to leave his human life without paying that bondsman. My
great grandmother, who was present at his birth. She was
a very powerful woman, they say, with a very very
deep voice. Maybe that's where I get it from A
little bit, saw signs of his anointing and declared that

(14:06):
he was special and that he was to be, in
her words, a man of God, and that marked him
with the brand. And my father was special. He was
mostly fulfilled that mission as far as I'm concerned. But
when his life choices morally didn't add up to his
destined mission, the universe served him up a world of

(14:27):
pain that matched the likes of job as payment for
undelivered services. So America may be in the same situation.
She may have to pay the reaper a hard price
for failing to fulfill her mission. I really believe there's
a bounty on America's head for the sin and failure
of being so immoral. And if there is a God,

(14:51):
then maybe in death my father has earned his place
back into his good graces. But it was going to
have to be through great pain and suffering. In Jadeo
Christian thinking, in the Old Testament, there was always reparations,
always reparations. You never just took from people. In fact,

(15:11):
every fiftieth year there was something called the season of Jubilee,
and in that season of jubilee, all slaves were to
be free, all debts were to be canceled, all people
were to be restored. And there was a thinking among
the earlier Jewish rabbis and all that if that ever happened,

(15:32):
if it ever actually happened, that the Kingdom of God
would come in its fullness. In the New Testament, Jesus
clear they taught that if you stole from somebody, you
didn't just replace what you stole. You had to replace two,
three fourfold what you stole. And until that happened, there's
a very powerful story of a tax person in the script,

(15:54):
and that says he wants to follow Jesus. Jesus doesn't
say go get baptized. Jesus doesn't say put some all
on your head. Jesus doesn't say, say how they nulia.
Jesus doesn't say that. He said, who have you stolen from?
Zack kids, And he says like, well, I stole this.
And he said, okay, go and return to the folks
that you have stolen from. And he goes out and
he returned. He said, I've done even more than just

(16:16):
what I took. I restored three four fold. And then
Jesus said, now salvation has come. Now what he couldn't
just say I stole from all those folks, but oops,
now I want to be saved. Can you accept me?
And Jesus has said you're forgiven? No no, no no
no no no, they're you have to restore what you're
stolen and then salvation. So, whether we look at it

(16:39):
historically or constitutionally or from a religious perspective, the issue
of reparation is a serious theological, moral, and constitutional issue.
How do you feel standing here? It's a not a

(17:01):
nice place. It's pretty ugly. I feel like it's a
Soviet type of compound. You know that it's everything's flattened,
the grass is patchy, and I don't know if you
didn't know graveyards here, you just think it was a
really badly unkept yard. And my father, who didn't pay
attention to those types of things, probably would have liked

(17:23):
to be in a nicer place. It's too bad he's not.
There's no headstones, it's all flat markers, and you're just
the only thing that's vertical are some of the flowers
that are poking up around. She were pretty close by
the airport in the highway. Well, thank you for bringing

(17:46):
me here. Thank you, And Dad, I'm sorry we don't
have a marker for you. But he didn't. He doesn't
live here anymore, so it doesn't matter what's here or
not here. Took a reparations documentary and a discussion about
race to get me back to see my father, which

(18:08):
is interesting. Yeah, anyway, this journey's bigger than us. It's
bigger than the sound of our voice and our understanding.

(18:30):
But it is not bigger than a vision laid out
long before we arrived here on this hot, blue, spinning rock,
you know, America. In the context of this conversation about morality,
this idea that people often say that people shouldn't be
judged by the worst thing they've ever done, are they
asked that question? Should people be judged by the worst
thing that they've ever done? And I think sort of collectively,

(18:52):
that's what white Americans are grappling with now. Are we
as white Americans? Can we escape this thing? Can we
escape this immoral thing of slavery that's our legacy? Are
we somehow captives to this worst thing we've ever done?
Can we ever outlive it? Can wever outrunning? We ever
change it? As reparations something that could even change it.

(19:12):
We're living in this time of reckoning right now. And
is there anything that we can do that will balance
the scale? Is there anything we can put on the
other side of the scale that will equal the sins
of the past. Oh, well, that's a human thing. That's

(19:34):
why reparations is a heavy subject, because it's weighed down
by centuries of hand wrangling and debates over what it
is to be human? Who gets to be human? And
alongside the idea of debt and repayment between disgruntal parties,
we're also talking about moral debt. Again, this is outside
of cash or gold or diamonds or oil. It's a

(19:55):
moral repayment restitution. It's one that perhaps can men fences
and create bridges to a more perfect union. And that's
epic stuff. We'll need more silence going forward so we
can listen as we search and try to rescue the
ingredients that can make our nation, in all its glory,
a reality. It's important to ask the big questions, how

(20:18):
do we do reparations? Well, that depends on us facing
a national moral reckoning and thinking about my life and
others I know who may be dealing with existential crises
can lay the blueprint of how we approach these difficult
questions and come up with better answers. Yeah, better answers.

(20:40):
Where do I always come up with better answers? I know?
I'll ask my mom Sometimes like demands more of us
than we can give. And I was thinking, sometime we
are malnourish, are under nurtured for the lives that are

(21:01):
forced upon us. And I think that Robert gave what
he could. Sometimes I believe that he might have been
induced two things because of his male nourishment in life
and looking at others wishing that he had this or that,

(21:24):
and feeling inadequate. Sometimes you know deeds didn't match up
because you're trying to reach for that ring grab and
sometime you fall, but I won't be harsh and how
I judged his commitment. I think he wanted very much

(21:47):
to be a leader, a person that gave, and those
were the sentiments of his last days. That's the reason
I say you look at someone's heart, because you can't
really say you love someone unless you are willing to
look at the whole of that person. They're good, they're bad,

(22:11):
their failures, their successes. I don't think that he became
the person that he wanted to become for many reasons.
I think that there were times that life hid him
so hard and he was so discouraged that he couldn't
bounce back. He was afraid to say yes to life

(22:35):
many times, and I think that that was one of
his greatest regrets. Do you feel, because we've been talking
about reparations in the United States, that black people are
kind of like in this really unholy marriage, that they
feel the same way. That is very difficult to walk
away from something that's not working for them, that actually

(22:57):
harms them, that can actually do harm to them and
continues to and they are unwilling to because of their
ultimate humanity or what do you think is going on? There.
I think we stayed for very complex reasons, just as
one would stay in a marriage for very complex of reasons.

(23:17):
And most of us have come to realize the sacrifice
and the toll that our four parents paid in their
own blood. And to walk away from this country, and
no matter how hateful and onerous it may be, to

(23:40):
walk away, would be to ignore their sacrifice, to say
that it was in vain. That is the way I feel.
They were not paid. But they built a country, they
fought for a country, shed their blood, and we're treat
it less than human beings. If I walked away before

(24:06):
their descendants had gotten their due in every way by
having a full measure, that would be the greatest dishonoring
of their sacrifice. So yes, I stay. And I can't
just live on the laurels and say my poor parents sacrifice.

(24:30):
It means that I must constantly work. There is a
scripture in the Bible says you must work out your
souls salvation. So to me staying in this country, contributing
to it, seeing saying to it, no matter what you
do to me, how you dishonor me, I will honor

(24:55):
what belongs to me. If we walked away and just
it said we're giving up on this country. It's never
going to be what it should be. Then all of
that would be lost. We can't allow that. Lastly, I
want to talk to you about morality to America's personal

(25:18):
responsibility and immorality and moral calling that they put in
their constitution. What would you say to the government now
that they have the opportunity to step forward into that light?
What is the forward motion for us all for America
the government? Morality and immorality. Well, there is a lesson

(25:41):
that we need to reckon. America tout itself as being
a Christian country in large part, but we seem to
have lost our moral compus and now the word democracy
is threatened. You're hearing people say that our constitution is

(26:06):
ow dated. You're hearing people say that it's all right
if one particular group are a majority group, does whatever
they wished at the ends, justify the means, And that
the God that we have created and is not the

(26:29):
one that has created us, and we seem to serve
that God, to prefer to serve that God, then the
one that says to us, love your enemy, do unto
others that you would have them do unto you, Be
just toward every man. Stand fast in the faith that

(26:52):
was once delivered to you by your ancestors. Teach your
children who that I have done for you, and to
you how I brought you, so that they will worship
me and they will recognize the hand of God. All

(27:13):
of those things are in the Bible, setting a light
a path for us. But we have chosen to create
our own God, one of God, one of silver, one
that says, take what you wish. It doesn't matter if
the other fellow starves, It doesn't matter if the other

(27:35):
fella doesn't have a home. That's our morality. Now. Our
morality is, don't worry about righteousness getting you into a kingdom.
You can always bribe Peter at the gate anyway, who
believes in heaven anymore. Our heaven is right here, and

(27:57):
we can make hell for those folks whenever we want to.
So now they say, oh, you can't protest anymore because
it's getting dangerous for me. Not because you don't have
a right to your voice. You don't have a right
to any action that says you can take what belongs

(28:19):
to you. We say survival of the fitness, but we
don't want to test the fitness of certain people. You know,
we have a morality that says one thing does another.
The Native Americans said, we speak with the four tongues.
I sometimes say we speak from both orifices, and none

(28:43):
of that is beneficial. So I think that America is
soon coming to the time when she will be called
to redeem herself or to fight for whatever new existence
that she says she wants to maintain. You know, you
will either give in and say to the people of

(29:07):
all races, all drash us of life, you have a
right to exist and we will live in peace, or
we will say no, you will be annihilated, and only
as they say the Crimins day like crimp, We'll survive
and we'll see. I think were fast coming to that place. Mom,

(29:31):
one last thing, could you sing a little bit of
the star spankled banner? Oh say? Can you see by
the donder love? What's up? Yeah? Yeah h. This podcast

(31:48):
is produced by Eric Alexander, Ben Arnon and Whitney Down.
The executive producers are Charlemagne the God and Dolly s. Bishop.
The supervising producer is Nicole Childers, and the lead producers
Devin Mavick Robbins, The producer writer sree Castle, and the
Associate producer is Kevin Fan, with additional research support provided

(32:08):
by Nile Blast. Original music by d J d P
p Oh Oh Oh Go, Mom, Step Back, Mahelia a

(32:45):
Stars Board, HA Reparations. The Big Payback is a production
of Color Farm Media, I Heart Radio and the Black
Effect Podcast Network in association with Best Case Studios. For
more podcast from I Heart Radio is at the I
heart Radio app, Apple podcast, or wherever you listen to
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