Did you hear the news?! Gee golly gosh, only every national news agency was quick to pick up the story out of li'l ol' Evanston, ya silly goose.
Have no fear, black people, the Evanstonians are here!
In case you missed it, on Monday night the Evanston city council agreed that everyone who lived in the town of Evanston until 1969 was so racist that everyone living in the town of Evanston currently needs to atone for how racist everyone who lived in the town was in the past. But that's not all...
With their vote last night, the Evanston city council and everyone who voted for them must actually believe they're sooooo much better than their black residents that they have to force themselves and their racist neighbors, whose ancestors and/or they themselves may or may not have had anything to do with that racism at all, to give their black neighbors money because, presumably, they actually believe that while they themselves are capable of earning what's required to live in Evanston they don't believe their black neighbors to be capable simply because of the color of their skin. Not only that, the Evanston city council and all who voted for them are so racist and they trust those black residents so little to do with that money as they please they're only allowed to spend the money they see fit to give them on housing because the Evanston city council and the rest of the townspeople who voted for them are so racist they think black people can't possibly know any better or how to help themselves or have the ability to figure out how to make it in Evanston as individuals without the city council and the other racists in Evanston telling them what to do and how to spend their money. What's more, you ask? Evanston's city council and everyone who voted for them are currently sooooo racist they actually believe that black people in Evanston have so little personal agency and are so incapable of understanding the concept of individual responsibility that there is no possible way that black people could possibly figure out how to overcome and succeed in Evanston on their own merit without all the Evanston racists being forced to pay black people REPARATIONS for their racism.
Honestly, can you believe how racist everyone in Evanston must be to let this get this far? The people from Evanston are so racist they actually allowed this vote to happen and actually be passed. With barely a whisper in defense of themselves, barely a whisper of argument, they agreed to this. By not only electing this racist city council but by barely intervening at all in this process, the racists in Evanston must actually believe they are racist.
There's simply no other way around it. There's no point in sugar coating it anymore.
If you're from Evanston, you and those who came before you, were and are now racist, per official policy. If you choose to live in Evanston from this point forward, you are, quite literally, a racist who is paying your black neighbors money because you don't believe black people to be capable of achieving because of the color of their skin, per official policy. Everyone who sits on the Evanston city council and everyone who voted for them are currently the most racist people in the United States.
Congratulations, Evanston! You did it, heroes! You're #1 at racism!
See, kids? Anyone can spin anything to fit a narrative.
All right, let's get a little more serious.
To be as transparent as possible, I am not a resident of Evanston nor has my family ever been a resident of Evanston. I've been to Evanston many times, of course, I even briefly dated a girl from Evanston when I was younger, but no one in my family has ever voted or paid anything to the city of Evanston beyond sales taxes and a parking ticket I received once when dating the aforementioned girl from Evanston.
Knowing that information, you may ask yourself why I would wade into this conversation? That's fair. Not only will my personal finances be unaffected by Evanston’s local decision, but more, I've argued many times in the past that it's a community's own prerogative to adapt and change and present themselves to posterity as they see fit. And I continue to believe that.
Still, we consider the Chicago Journal to have a focus on the political and cultural issues relevant to the city of Chicago and the surrounding metro area. As we mention in our Glossary, to define the area we use the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area defined by the United States Census Bureau, of which the city of Evanston is most definitely a part. As we further mention in the Glossary, we use this definition because this area represents the extent of the labor market pool for the entire region and this area is heavily tied together through its connection between significant rail and road transport lines as well as its commercial and industrial links.
Further, it's part of our mission to never shy away from the conversations, even the most difficult. It's part of our mission to challenge ideas, challenge perceptions, and challenge ourselves with honesty and thoughtful deliberation and that it's the most difficult conversations that deserve that respect.
If anything, it's likely only a matter of time before the conversation comes to the city of Chicago and neighboring towns. In fact, presumably as a result of Evanston's program, the Chicago City Council was urged last week to begin debate in an already formed subcommittee exploring reparations in the city. Sooner or later, we'll have to start talking about it again.
Evanston's proposal is nothing remotely close to what anyone who has grown up in America since 1865 would qualify as REPARATIONS. In reality, it's a housing program. A small housing program. And, even if those behind it began with the best of intentions, this small housing program does next to nothing to address the wealth inequalities that presently exist let alone be considered REPARATIONS. And, even if they did somehow manage to deliver a figure that could possibly be quantified as REPARATIONS, the way this program is setup is not only ripe for corruption but is likely to exacerbate these issues and further divide neighbors along racist nonsense and arbitrary classist ideological lines.
But, I suspect, that last part is the real goal.
Here are the basics:
- Evanston’s city council has committed $10 million over the next 10 years, up to $1 million annually, to pay "reparations" to black residents for use in home repairs, down payments, or mortgage payments.
- Recipients are eligible for up to $25,000, which can be split but can only be used on home costs like those listed above (ex: $15,000 toward home repairs + $10,000 toward mortgage payments is allowed).
- Couples living together are both eligible for payments, and one househould could receive a maximum of $50,000.
- Black residents are eligible if they, or their ancestors, lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 or if they can show they suffered housing discrimination due to the city’s policies.
- Recipients of the program will remain eligible for other assistance programs and the funds can be used in conjuction with other assistance programs.
- This money will be paid for by a new tax on cannabis sales.
Okay. We have some questions...
To review, up to 40 black residents in Evanston are eligible for the maximum home assistance each year. While I've never been good at math, that would mean that 400 black residents would be eligible to receive the maximum over the next 10 years. The city of Evanston's black population is currently estimated at approximately 12,000 people for 2021 and the city estimates approximately 9,000-10,000 black families lived in the town during the 50-year time period in question.
Is choosing 400 out of 12,000 enough to really call this REPARATIONS? Is choosing 400 current or potential black residents out of who knows how many ancestors that could potentially qualify (50,000? 100,000?) enough to really call this REPARATIONS? Who chooses the 400? Who does the pre-qualification? Who chooses the pre-qualified? Are the banks involved? Are only people able to afford a mortgage? Will they be chosen using some sort of lottery of the pre-qualified? Will it really be a lottery? Will it be a public lottery or will it all happen behind closed doors? Is it an elected official who will be choosing the recipients? Is it a committee? Is it a committee chosen by an elected official? How is the committee chosen? Who chooses?
To be fair, Evanston's documents do not indicate that eligible recipients must receive the maximum payout so, I suppose, up to 1,000 people could theoretically receive $1,000 in one year, which would mean potentially up to 10,000 people could receive $1,000 in home assistance over the next decade. But all of the above questions still apply. Is giving 10,000 current/former/potential black residents $1,000 really enough to call this REPARATIONS?
I mean, just so we're all clear and on the same page here, we're talking...REPARATIONS reparations, right? I mean, it was the Evanston city council who chose the word we're using, not me. So...we're talking...like...actual REPARATIONS here? For the horrific injustice of slavery, the discriminatory Jim Crow laws, and redlining policies over 50 years type of REPARATIONS that people mean when they discuss REPARATIONS, right?
Hmmm...kinda seems a little cheap, no? I mean...if we're going to go ahead and call this REPARATIONS...and all that...I'm just sayin'...seems pretty cheap, no?
Other residents in Evanston have already noted this and Evanston's 5th Ward Alderwoman, Rue Simmons, the driving force behind the proposal, admits as much in the many interviews she's given on the matter. Using only one source for now, she told ABC News, "...relative to the injury, it's not nearly enough. And I get that." To the local ABC affiliate, she said, "If you are measuring just this one initiative as a settlement for repair it is certainly not enough. It would be an insult to think $25,000 is enough."
We'll leave some extra questions for another time. Questions like, considering the average home price in Evanston is currently just over $400,000 in value and the ability to own a $400,000 home or greater in almost every city in America would place any family, regardless of race, firmly in the middle to upper middle class in most areas, are wealthy black families who can afford and are already living in Evanston not deserving of REPARATIONS? This proposal doesn't give a limit on income, after all, and it doesn't even limit the person to be a current resident of Evanston just that, if accepted for the program, their primary residence needs to be in Evanston. Should a wealthy black family from California whose grandfather lived in Evanston in 1920 be allowed to apply for $25,000 to purchase a $1,000,000 home in Evanston? Why or why not? At what level of black family wealth is the racism they experienced acceptable to where don't deserve any REPARATIONS?
But let's ignore how they could even fathom choosing which residents or potential residents are to receive this money, because that's not even the half of it...
It's the thought that counts...
"Come on, Craig," you may be thinking. "It's a start...at least Evanston is doing something..."
Is it a start? Is it really something? I mean...if we're going to go ahead and call this REPARATIONS...I mean...for the horrific injustice of slavery and discriminatory Jim Crow laws and redlining policies over 50 years? Is it really?
Consider, for the last few years and for fiscal year 2021, Evanston's annual budget has hovered around $300 million. Even if they extended the program indefinitely, committing $1 million per year to REPARATIONS, that's only 0.333% of Evanston's annual budget.
To put that figure into a more manageable perspective, the average household income in Evanston is $80,000. So, for the horrific injustice of slavery and discriminatory Jim Crow laws and redlining policies over 50 years prior to the Fair Housing Act in 1968, Evanston city council and those who voted for them believe black people deserve about $250 in REPARATIONS. You know, on average.
$250 of cold, hard, historic justice cash baby.
Put it another way, a family household earning $80,000 per year will, over the next decade and if their income remains constant, earn approximately $800,000 in total and they voted to toss black people $2,500.
Put it another way, you know, for the horrific injustice of slavery and discriminatory Jim Crow laws and redlining policies over 50 years prior to the Fair Housing Act in 1968...per $100 a person from Evanston has in their pocket walking around at any given time, they're willing to toss about $0.30 towards reparations.
"Hey, um, sorry about that racism and stuff...don't spend it all in one place..."
But let's ignore the fact that if the city of Evanston paid every black resident the maximum $25,000 benefit of REPARATIONS, the payout would be $300,000,000 which, if you've been keeping track, is the entire annual budget for the city of Evanston.
And let's ignore the fact that a place like Northwestern University, which has called Evanston home since the early 1850's and which also participated in racial discrimination in refusing to house black students with white students, has over $12 billion in its endowment. Let's ignore that Northwestern University and its board was awfully quiet during this process even though they could liquidate that portfolio and give every single black resident of Evanston $1 million right this very second if they wanted, but they'll certainly tell you it's far too complicated for that and they'll dress it up that they have a "fiduciary responsibility" for its dedication to education, et cetera, et cetera, blah blah blah, and other casuistry they'll use to excuse themselves from the great moral crusade of our age.
But let's ignore all the silly money stuff. It's just money and it's just a small amount of money, after all. What's the harm?
To continue to be as transparent as possible, I'd guess you've figured out by now that my argument has less to do with any amount of money for reparations and more with being against the concept of reparations, yes? Let's get on with it then.
I read the report published by Dino Robinson Jr. and Jenny Thompson, Evanston Policies and Practices Directly Affecting the African American Community, 1900 - 1960 (and Present). It's quite detailed and leaves no doubt to any reader that there were definitely racists in Evanston from 1900 - 1960. No doubt about it.
But did anyone need such a report to convince them there were racists in Evanston from 1900-1960? Did anyone believe there were zero? Was this report a shock to Evanstonians? And, besides racists, does anyone in Evanston or elsewhere still need further convincing that black people have historically had a hard time in this country?
Of course not.
There is no word sufficient for what the ancestors of the black descendents of slavery experienced in this country, and unfair is not a strong enough word to describe the discriminatory policies of Jim Crow and redlining. None of those should have happened and I wish they never did.
But I didn't do it. My grandfathers didn't do it. The Polish immigrant family who just moved to Evanston didn't do it. The Jewish family, the Mexican family, the Irish, the Indian, the Somali didn't do it. But now, in Evanston, they are required to pay. Even the families of black descendents of American slavery who do not qualify for Evanston's REPARATIONS* is now required and forced to pay. By law. It's their tax dollars, too.
While this amount may be small, these are still tax dollars that could be used to fund Evanston public schools. These are still tax dollars that could pay for roads, bridges, or infrastructure repair that everyone in Evanston uses. These are still tax dollars that could improve Evanston public parks. But now, these are tax dollars being taken from Evanstonians who had nothing to do with anything that came before them and they're being redistributed to a group strictly based on the color of their skin.
The reality is, of course there were and are racists that live in Evanston, and this reality is hardly limited to Evanston's city limits.
Just as you can show me the man and I'll show you the crime, show me the town and I'll show you the same. There was and is a racist that lives in every town all over the United States and there was and is a racist that lives in every town all over the world. There are white racists, black racists, asian racists, and latin racists. There are racists from Beijing to Brussels, Sydney to Singapore, Rio to Riyadh, Montreal to Mexico City, Johannesburg to Jerusalem. Racism has no border. You name it, there's probably a racist.
I know, I know, you're clamoring to comment on whataboutism. Tu Quoque, you say in your head.
Does this excuse racism? Of course not. Does this mean we should ignore racism or not continually work to eliminate racism and reexamine and correct policies that have disproportiante impacts upon a particular groups, including groups associated by race if that's where the discrimination is occuring? Of course not. Does this mean we stop trying to better our society? Of course not, don't be silly.
I am not against charity. Quite the opposite. If Alderwoman Rue Simmons and all involved in this REPARATIONS plan choose to devote the rest of their lives to running charities and foundations and non-profits, if they want to dedicate their lives to criss-crossing the country and traversing the halls of power and hounding every prominent businessperson's phone number they can find, encouraging and convincing and leading others to give and help those less fortunate than they are, I would applaud them wholeheartedly and I would encourage any and all reading this to do the same.
I am against the legislation. I am against the enforcible requirement by law through taxation. Because neither this small amount of money nor any amount of money can fix what has been done if forced.
People these days seem to have forgotten, confused, or purposefully misconstrued that a government, a good government, is not a charity. It is not a piggy bank. And that goes for both sides of the aisle and lingers in all so called economic classes.
You can not and never will be able to legislate prosperity. Government can not legislate equality of outcome. You can not give prosperity to one without either taking the prosperity or the freedom from another. Good government can only protect equality of opportunity and protect all person's freedom and ability to create their own prosperity how they want and how they see fit for themselves and their posterity far into the future.
And yes, bad government is what happened to black people in this country. Their freedoms were taken from them under bad law and thus their ability to create their own prosperity was taken from them.
I'm sorry that happened. I understand that time can never be given back.
But bad law in response to bad law does not fix bad law. It's just bad law.
Making good law is fixing, editing, refining, and correcting until it best serves both the individual and societal benefit. Good law lifts the limitations on individual abilities while protecting all the individuals in the society. And good lawmakers continually work to stop bad law from ever being written again.
What really happened?
Maybe I'm lucky?
Maybe I'm lucky because the black people I know are just as intelligent and talented and capable of competing in the local and global marketplace as I am and they're most certainly wise enough to know that even the most abhorrent crimes and most suppressive discrimination is not an excuse for bad policy to make amends for the bad policy that came before? Maybe I'm lucky because the black people I know understand that good intentions don't mean good results and that bad policy replaced with bad policy is bad policy? Maybe I'm lucky because the black people I know are perceptive and rational enough to see through this program for what it really is?
Hopefully the people of Evanston can meet a black person like I know sometime.
As REPARATIONS, Evanston's small housing program is a lie. I know "Small Housing Program" doesn't deliver the same headlines as the big, bold "R" word I've plastered all through this piece on purpose and "Small Housing Program" doesn't get plastered in headlines of magazines such as Newsweek and People, national news programs like ABC News and NBC News that drew actors like Danny Glover to speak at a local church, and even tabloids across the pond like The Sun and The Independent all too gleeful to publish. And "Small Housing Program" doesn't put ambitious names in the press the same way the big, bold "R" word does for political wannabes and ladder climbers. It's a lie all the same.
Using the word REPARATIONS as the descriptor for this program was a choice. A political choice. Describing this plan as anything akin to actual REPARATIONS is simply a disguise. A masquerade. A charade. It's the political equivalent of your high school or college buddy's puffed up résumé that lists you as an old boss in the references when the only task they ever agreed to do for you in your life was to pass the beer bong.
At best, it was an overzealous person who wanted to help the community that got out of hand and, at worst, it was a dastardly premeditation in order to take advantage. Either way, it was a choice that I argue Alderwoman Rue Simmons and the rest of Evanston's leadership and the people who voted for them will eventually learn to be a grave mistake.
Who in their right mind would ever want to move to a community that does this to its residents and represents its citizens this way? What business in their right mind would ever want to call Evanston their home headquarters? The latin family or the asian family would want to move to this place? What black family in their right mind would ever want to move to a community who so doesn't believe black people can make it and prove themselves on their own merit that they need to force their neighbors to pay them money to live there?
The worst part is the alarming dearth of people in Evanston willing to argue against. There were some, but they were mostly people who agree with reparations like Sebastian Nalls and Evanston's 9th Ward Alderwoman Cicely Fleming. While Sebastian and I disagree on the concept of reparations entirely, at least Sebastian had the wisdom to not only see that this was hardly what anyone should call reparations but Sebastian had the courage to say that publicly. And while Cicely Fleming was the sole vote against this plan she, too, believes in reparations and her vote against it was simply because this proposal was not enough.
Where were the business leaders? Where was anyone involved in Northwestern University? Is there no white man or woman with the courage to stick their head up and, at the very least, make an argument? Not even a meek one? Is there no black man or woman who'd prefer to be judged on the content of their character?
Is there not one person on either side of the color line that is insulted in Evanston?
Was this simply a case of a relatively small community like Evanston being oblivious to what's going on around them? Maybe, but I doubt it. Was this simply a case of a relatively small community like Evanston falling for a scam or swindle like a Lyle Lanley monorail or Harold Hill band instruments? Maybe, but I doubt it. I don't doubt there will be no Meredith Wilson-esque happy ending.
To the outsider it appears to be simply a case of a relatively small community like Evanston being taken advantage. A wealthy, suburban, historic, university town of residents simultaneously terrified and praying they stay out of the national spotlight/cultural zeitgeist of the moment while, at the same time, content to hide out and desperately keep their head down hoping that no one notices while they plan their escape to cities and states far, far away. Long gone when the bill comes due.
That's no way to live. Not for you or the people you leave stuck in your town under your bad law that you're quick to ditch for elsewhere.
Let this nonsense in Evanston be a lesson for every city council member and business leader in big communities like Chicago and small towns across the rest of the country when the critical race theory and the race hustle comes to your town like the big top circus of old. Don't be like Evanston. Do not elect leaders desperate to keep their heads down so they stay out of the spotlight and do not elect leaders so narcissistic their policy making first principles are to try and steal the Great Virtue Spotlight in the Sky and use you and your town for the historical equivalent of Facebook "Likes". Do not allow the race hustle to take advantage of you.
I know this critique sounds harsh and I'm not trying to pick on Evanston...just kidding, yes I am, because they're a bunch of racists.
But hey, it's okay, Evanstonians, you have to look on the bright side.
Now, when we all learn about racism, we don't only need to contemplate places like Montgomery or Selma. We don't need to reflect on what happened in Little Rock or Greensboro. You know, the places where the genuine physical and ideological civil rights battles were fought for and won?
No, no, Evanston. You all snuck your foot in the door there just in the nick of time.
Yep, now when we think about the great struggle for civil rights in America, Evanston, Illinois will be on the tips of our tongues. All school children will know the name of Evanston and learn how racist you all were and how you all jumped right in there to declare yourselves so racist you were the first town to provide REPARATIONS!
Reparations! Which you all so graciously reached into your pockets and gave all you could spare...
Don't spend all that virtue capital in one place.
“City of Evanston.” News List | City of Evanston. Accessed March 26, 2021. https://www.cityofevanston.org/Home/Components/News/News/5226/17. ↩︎
Byrne, John. “Chicago Aldermen Begin Debate on Reparations for Descendants of Slaves.” chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, March 12, 2021. https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-chicago-reparations-city-council-20210312-z2a337nbdfg67g66pya3fzldxm-story.html. ↩︎
“City of Evanston.” Evanston Local Reparations | City of Evanston. Accessed March 26, 2021. https://www.cityofevanston.org/government/city-council/reparations. ↩︎
Brown, Ashley, Emilie de Sainte Maresville, and Allie Yang. ABC News. ABC News Network, March 1, 2021. https://abcnews.go.com/US/1st-us-city-fund-reparations-black-residents-making/story?id=76118463. ↩︎
Pathieu, Diane, and Will Jones. “Evanston Reparations Program Approved as City Becomes 1st in US to Do so; Some Say It's Not Enough.” ABC7 Chicago. WLS-TV, March 23, 2021. https://abc7chicago.com/society/illinois-reparations-evanston-becomes-1st-us-city-to-offer-program/10443028/. ↩︎
Stephen, Hagerty, and Storlie Erika, eds. “City of Evanston Fiscal Year 2021 Adopted Budget.” City of Evanston, January 1, 2021. https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showpublisheddocument?id=61146. ↩︎
“INVESTMENT OFFICE.” Beneficiaries of the Endowment Fund Payout: Investment Office - Northwestern University. Accessed March 26, 2021. https://www.northwestern.edu/investment/owners-of-the-endowment-fund.html. ↩︎
Robinson, Dino, and Thompson Jenny. “Evanston Policies and Practices Directly Affecting the African American Community, 1900 - 1960 (and Present).” City of Evanston, August 1, 2020. https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showpublisheddocument?id=59759. ↩︎
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