Life imitated school, when a class was meant to imitate life, as it so happens. This particular classroom simulation activity is meant to inspire the students to organize and unite to take over the means of production, the objective being that they understand the dynamic between workers and owners.
(Here is the link to the activity if you can’t read on without knowing all the details – Zinn Education Project – Organic Goodie Machine)
It worked well last year, and gave students an experience to reflect upon that illuminated the ways that authority, power, rules, divide and conquer all collaborate to make us feel powerless. This year I tweaked the design a little and said that the placeholder in the simulation could equal munchkins that I would bring to class the next day. It seemed like a good incentive to have them commit fully. But again leave it to thirty teenagers to make you see the errors of your ways.
It was incredibly illuminating, for the first class I had not inserted this munchkin twist, and for the later two groups, I told them midway that munchkins were in play, and this intervention had the complete opposite effect intended. The introduction of a real and tangible good made the students more selfish, insuring their own needs and sometimes those of their friends. It shouted out to me that words are easy, actions take effort, and sacrifice takes sometimes more than we have to give.
This is the major flaw with well-meaning liberal white peoples: they want to acknowledge their privilege, fawn over a Black intellectual, vote for a Black president, advocate for diversity but never do they want to sacrifice, never will they put the needs of others above their own. No white family offers to pay the college tuition of a young Black male, but they will criticize an ivy league university for not handling issues of racial tensions (yales-president-tells-black-students-we-failed-you.) White people will read the book by the latest safe Black intellectual (white people love Ta-Nehisi Coates), but pay for a Black families’ Comcast bill never comes up. This is different than charity, this is not the acts of moral amelioration, this cannot be written on a resume or offered as proof as being one of the “good” white people. Rather this is an honest self-assessment of one’s financial ledger, attempting to calculate what is owed to a peoples suffering centuries of insults, inequities, injustices, and straight out theft.
A government plan for reparations would have significant meaning as an official stance to attempt to reconcile one of America’s greatest travesties, but there is no need for anyone to wait. If you take an Uber and your driver is a Black person, leave an envelope of cash behind when you leave. If you see a Black security guard watching over your local drugstore, tell him that you are participating in the movement of D.I.Y. reparations and hand him a $100 bill. When you start your child’s college fund, start a parallel fund to pay for the education of a young Black person.
If this seems too random for you, it is supported by recent research (just give poor people money) and (Pew research – racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession) If you want to apply a logic to it, we have the tools at our disposal now, of both historical study, genetics and economics – accountants can be hired to calculate your exact financial gain from this nation’s construct of abuse and oppression of communities of color. And this debt has accumulated interest, so dividend payments ought to be distributed on a quarterly basis.
Please prove to me that my teenagers maneuvering to get more munchkins does not embody the state of our society, if you claim to be a person concerned with inequality in this world, take action, offer more than empty words, D.I.Y. reparations can happen tomorrow, can happen anytime. The only rules are that nothing, absolutely nothing can be asked of in return – remember you are settling an old account – and no awards, trophies, accolades nor celebrations can be given in honor of your actions – that would just be a waste of money.