America, can you help me? This is a key speech in a story I'm writing ('The Ballast of All Possible Worlds.') The character who speaks it is from the US. It is probably peculiar in all kinds of ways. But the thing I am really keen to avoid is any accidental British-isms. What do you think? Is there anything there that jumps out at you? Let me know in the comments or get me on Twitter.
Another fun fact. Black slaves built white America. Did it to spec and on time. But the check’s not in the mail. Let me be clear, Farah. The grind, the passion demonstrated by LAB’s allies – I’m speaking of the traditional slavery reparations movement here – the ingenuity, the courage, ain’t nobody going to question that. Ain’t nobody going to forget that. Yet LAB believes that the time has now come ... can I say, the time has now come for some of us more energetically to concern ourselves with the husbandry of the law.
That’s why LAB proposes a return to the aspiration of Cato v. the United States, 1984. Heard of it? Not sure? Don’t worry, you’re okay. A thing I hear a lot, and especially from white folks, is that we need to focus on the future. The future, not the past. We can’t let our history hold us back. Cato might agree. But maybe not the way they mean it.
Cato’s suit began with the forced ancestral indoctrination of Africans into a foreign society, and it pursued that original injustice, tracked it doggedly through history, right up to the present day. LAB does a lot of things, but the project closest to our hearts -- and because our hearts are forever falling, this project also is on the down-low! -- it’s a project in the algorithmic reparations space. Because you see, in the end, Cato’s complaint was judged to be too abstract. Too abstract, without concrete injury fairly traceable to concrete perpetrators. You can put a multinational in the dock, sure. You can put the government in the dock, if the government consents. Want to go a little higher? You want to put a system in the dock? That’s when you hear, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. We're not racist, but that’s too abstract.’ Abstract.
Tell me something, Farah. When you are excluded from education, from housing, when you get underpaid, deceived, banned, shunned, barred, ridiculed, enjoyed, hounded, permitted unfit food, unclean water ... when your lungs get forced to breathe a different air from white folks’ lungs ... when you are raped, tortured, sterilized, your reputation smeared, your dignities snatched away, tormented psychologically, swindled, your loved ones taken ... when you are entrapped, framed, hunted and snared ... fearful to drive, fearful to walk, fearful to stay at home ... taken to factories and plantations that call themselves prisons, while your transgressions, as often as not, are themselves a kind of side-effect of our peculiarly American system of recruitment ... when you get beat down, without concern for your survival, and when you get shot down, lawfully shot down, because you too swiftly heed a police officer’s instruction, or do not heed it swiftly enough ... now, will that feel abstract to you?
And I assure you, I am speaking as abstractly as I can manage. Farah, if the law construes these injuries as too abstract, could it be our job to make them more concrete? To quantify racism? And in so doing, to quantify its undoing?PS: The story, I should say, does not in any big way follow the provocation introduced at the end of this speech. Maybe in another story. Though I don't know if I'll ever be ready to write something like that.