This is the statement I read from at the March 22, 2021, City Council meeting to explain why I voted NO for this resolution. You can also find it on my blog.
Let me be clear: I am 100% in support of reparations. I come from three legacy Black families in Evanston who have suffered enough. I am one of countless such families across the country. Real reparations are long overdue.
But what is before us tonight is a housing plan dressed up as reparations. We must understand the definition of true reparations and its main goal: to do that, the People dictate its terms to Power, not the other way around. Rather, this resolution is dictating to Black residents what they need and how they will receive what they need.
This isn’t change that can be a beacon for the nation. It is a dim, weak light. And it will be a travesty for Black communities around the US if it becomes our model going forward.
As “Reparations in Name Only,” there is no autonomy for the community harmed. Instead of cash payments, which respect the humanity and self-determination of Black people and allow them to decide what’s best for themselves, this housing program is restrictive and only allows limited participation.
Many feel that this proposed housing program also is being rushed to vote. Despite many community members asking for more time to strengthen this proposal and change the name, this is still hastily moving forward. The community that has been harmed is not being listened to as they bring forth concerns.
More specifically, here are my three main reasons for my decision, which includes input from many Black Evanston residents:
1) Although Evanston is one of the first municipalities to attempt local reparative efforts in this manner, historical practices provide a framework for reparative compensation, and in no instance were the impacted parties denied cash payments or an opportunity to decide how their repair would be managed. This practice alone is based on a white paternalistic narrative that Black folks are unable to manage their own monies.
2) The proposal is being rushed to a vote as election season is here; it’s timeframe for passage is not being dictated by the People. Plus, the resolution was just published last week. We, as Black folks, have waited hundreds of years for our just due. Surely we can wait a bit longer to allow time for the concerns of many to be heard and resolved prior to moving forward.
3) The proposal lacks details and long-term, intentional thinking. While I understand the desire to move something forward, approving this plan with its limited scope, incomplete implementation guidelines, and minimal impact only diminishes the meaningful goal of reparations. Even marketing this as “the first of many initiatives…” is disingenuous since
- there has not been a feasibility study,
- there is no groundwork for future reparative options,
- nor have we firmly provided economic rationale for the $25,000 allocation amounts.
Evanston’s government is basically asking Black people whom they have harmed to “trust us… more is coming,” when we have not yet earned their trust. The mistrust is amplified by telling the entire world via interviews and press pieces that our actions are historic, precedent setting, and replicable. Again, they are historic IN NAME ONLY.
We can talk more about the program details, but I reject the very definition of this as a “reparations” program. Until the structure and terms are in the hands of the people – we have missed the mark.
I urge us to slow down and listen to the community voices who are from the impacted racial group. I know from long experience that this community can take it slow. My family is able to trace our Evanston lineage back to the early 1900s. We have contributed to the economic, social, education, and political fabric of this city for over 100 years. And we have done so as the city’s power structure has done everything in its power to stand in our way. I also want to remind this community that we spent ten years debating the use of a lakefront building because the community and council could not agree. Yet the issue of developing meaningful reparations due to Black residents who have been discriminated against in this community for generations must be decided tonight? We have to question why that is?
Let me suggest that it is because we are prioritizing outside interest groups, “progressives” desire for press, and an upcoming election rather than reversing the harm done to Black people for generations. This is the definition of the systemic racism our efforts are meant to combat. The actual result will be further marginalization of Black autonomy, opinion, and intellect.
Here is what we need to do instead:
- Go back to the people. We need to hear from the community (for more than just one night) and allow Black Evanstonians to tell us what they want. Don’t make them come to us.
- Reflect on the healing that reparations symbolize, and put some careful, creative, and intentional work into this effort. Think bigger. If the nation’s eyes are on us, give the nation something genuinely inspiring to see.
- Respect the people and follow their lead.
Understanding that not everyone will be satisfied, we still owe it to Black Evanstonians to develop a plan that is clear, fair, data based, and one that can truly start to address racialized harm, marginalization and discrimination. It is through this truth-telling and deliberate work that we can bring our community together.
It is with conviction, an obligation to honor my ancestors, and a commitment to good government that I will vote NO on this proposal. We can do better.
Cicely Fleming serves as alderman of the City’s Ninth Ward.