To the extent that this country still has any luster, it was originally polished by the slaves to which these decidedly not United States owe their very existence. The American barbecue tradition, boasted about by cringey and fat white men, is a slave legacy, a means of survival, a triumph of resiliency, a prime example of spinning scraps into gold. The roots of our most popular musical genres are in the beats and rhythms that echoed from slave quarters on the one day of the week that the indentured were allowed to pretend to have fun.
All that America holds dear, save the illusion of freedom and choice, is traced to the populations that our forebears viciously stole from their homelands and forced into labor for the profit of very few, very white, very male people. To be clear, these brutal slave traders were not actually related to me: my ancestors were causing problems in other parts of the world. Yet it is not my genealogy, but rather my privileged existence that makes me complicit in the lingering crimes committed by these men, abetted by the silence and inaction of their women.
One need only look to the current regressive treatment of non-white, non-male, non-cisgendered persons to know for sure that the remnants of slavery inform the current moment. The ethos that motivated plantation owners is built into every one of our social, economic, and political systems. The vehemence of the opposition to critical race theory is inevitable: people react most strongly when they know they are wrong but refuse to admit it, scared that they cannot compete on a fair playing field. But we should not be dissuaded by the grumblings of a vocal, hateful minority from accepting what we already know: we cannot be a truly great society until everyone has equal opportunity. A serious investment of money is going to be needed to accomplish that end and unwind the tyranny of an unfair system.
Philosophically, I could not be more in favor of righting one of the most pernicious wrongs in history. It is the practicality of imposing the solution that has traditionally ended the dialogue as to reparations. Unlike me, most are not willing to take financial or other responsibility for actions originating hundreds of years ago. Others balk because it is hard to determine the spectrum of recipients for reparation payments. And, of course, there is a not inconsiderable part of the population that is just plain racist. But, I have no tolerance for refusing to find solutions because the problem seems intractable at first, second, or tenth blush.
I would love to say that I have solved this problem in its entirety. Maybe one day. But for today, I have a solid start: a funding source for reparations that is both practical and poetic. The good old boys and girls that seem to be driving our country these days are as ignorant of history as they are about science and economics. They posit whiskey as the original American spirit. But, owing to its production from molasses, it was rum with which the colonists drowned their sorrows and celebrated their triumphs. Every sip of rum was and is flavored with the blood dripping from the wounds whipped into the backs of the slaves that harvested the sugar cane.
Rum is therefore the ideal vehicle and catalyst for productive change in the lives of those lineages affected by its production. The imbibing of rum being voluntary, intoxicating, and delicious, it is ripe for imposition of a dedicated excise tax or similar percentage premium. By placing a specific surcharge on the purchase of rum and then using the proceeds of this levy to fund scholarships for minority students, we can take the negative impacts of rum’s historic trade and positively encourage the development of those descendants of oppression who would otherwise start life at a disadvantage.
Resolving centuries of subjugation will not happen immediately and this idea is but one small trickle in the flood of change that must occur. That it is not a comprehensive solution does not mean it is unworthy of consideration. It should not have much opposition, being a purely opt-in mechanism. If opponents of reparations don’t like the plan, then they don’t have to buy rum, not that they are likely doing so in large quantities anyway. Nor does the program need to be run by the government: in lieu of a tax, rum manufacturers can dedicate portions of their profits to the cause, akin to 1% For the Planet and similar programs. That way, those who want to support the renovation of our country’s foundations can do so without interfering with the rights of any other person and without triggering a cultural flashpoint.
Whatever the logistics, the symbolism and impact of a concerted effort to repair our country’s most dastardly deed is a chance to correct the course of our tenuous future. By committing our efforts to transmogrify the horrors of the triangular slave trade, we can turn the system into a polygon of an infinitely more positive type. #rumforreparations