I've never been an avid supporter of reparations for slavery. One, you don't have to go as far back as slavery to find civil rights violations for which reparations should be paid and for which you can find identifiable victims. For example, the banking industry, complicit with the federal government, made sure that mortgage loans weren't made to black homebuyers in the 40's and 50's seeking to buy in white neighborhoods and, in many cases, in black neighborhoods, too. The wealth transfer that a home represents, or the failure to be able to transfer such wealth, makes a tremendous difference in economic advancement. For those who can prove that their grandparents or great-grantparents were denied home loans based on their race, it wouldn't be too far of a stretch for the federal government to pay reparations, as it would be relatively easy to determine the value of the intergenerational wealth transfer that might have happened had they been able to buy a home and pass that home or the equity in it down to subsequent generations.
That said, if I had my way, instead of reparations for race-based housing discrimination, I would support just giving those who can show that their generation was affected by this housing discrimination an 800 FICO score. Why? Because with the mortgage meltdown (and you're fooling yourself if you think it's only the subprime mortgages that are going into foreclosure), I predict two major economic shifts in the financial landscape of black folks: 1) Lower FICO scores; and 2) Reductions in net worth as a result of being upside-down on mortgages.
And, with the mortgage meltdown and ensuing credit crunch, black folks are going to have a harder time getting access to capital to start businesses, especially with damaged FICO scores.
That is, unless they're of Jamaican or Trinidadian ancestry. Because Jamaicans and Trinidadians know something that those of us with Southern roots might not know: The power of the sou-sou.
What's a sou-sou, you say? A sou-sou (the Trinidadian term, I'm told) or a partner (the Jamaican term, I'm told) is nothing more than a saving circle. Each person in the group contributes a fixed amount on a regular basis, with each person taking a turn at getting the entire proceeds contributed for that installment. For example, if you have four people contributing $250 weekly, each person take turns getting $1,000 each week until every person has had a turn getting the entire week's contribution. It's not a Ponzi scheme or "Friends Helping Friends" -- and don't act like you don't remember "Friends Helping Friends." I think I was the only black person living in Oakland in the 90's who wasn't in "Friends Helping Friends." Anyway, assuming everyone in your sou-sou or partner can be trusted, everyone should get the benefit of a large payout. A sou-sou is a common means of helping someone start a business or pay off debt. And we all know that businesses are the key to wealth accumulation.
The sou-sou, I'm told, has its origins in West Africa. And it may be the cultural alternative to banks in these hard times to come. Whether we were greedy or just ignorant, many of us got taken in during the housing bubble run-up and are paying for it with lowered FICO scores, depleted savings, depreciated assets, and no access to capital. We might have no choice but to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, remember that "a bought lesson is a learned lesson," and turn to each other for the capital needed to start over. We might just learn something from our West Indian and West African brothers and sisters.