“I keep trying to write the crowd-pleasing slavery joke and the crowd-pleasing reparations joke, but any time you mention slavery or reparations in any detail, it seems to bum lots of people out. That’s a challenge I keep putting in front of myself.”

comedian Kamau Bell

Bell, who has a CNN series, is entirely correct. Slavery and reparations are not a laughing matter.  

Almost everyone, other than fanatics, acknowledges the wrongs that were done to both Native Americans and blacks (see below). But few US citizens can take the next step and acknowledge that highly targeted reparations are needed for these two groups.  

In my mind, there is a lack of support for reparations because there is little understanding by the US public about what this nation did to these groups as it grew. Or what can be done to lift large numbers them out of poverty without a politically dead in the water give-away of cash. I will go into how publicly “acceptable” reparations can be structured in this column. 

However, due to length, I’m not going to address the first point, how this nation has treated these two groups. There are a multitude of fine books and scholarly works out there that go into great detail on the subject. What I will say is that we cannot expect Native Americans and blacks to compete when they have had been at a competitive disadvantage for hundreds of years.  

In the vernacular, if you have a 1000-meter race and one contestant has his feet tied together for the first 500 meters, he will inevitably lose. Blacks and Native Americans are the equivalent of that contestant. They are starting from a standpoint of greater poverty, much less inherited wealth, and poorer education. Plus, the enduring negative societal and cultural factors that come with all of these negatives. 

Many see this entire problem as overwhelming. Some just want it to go away, as is obvious from much of the rhetoric coming out of GOP politicians. On the other hand, a few black and Native Americans have proposed rather outrageous direct financial settlements to descendants which will never be accepted by the majority of Americans, many of whom are either immigrants or descendants of relatively poor recent immigrants themselves. 

But the way to build a railroad is one rail at a time. And key pieces of the puzzle are minority business and educational opportunities. I propose that we have a national “Upward Mobilization Act” zeroing in on these two priorities, education and business. We must bring educational achievement up to a new level for these two minorities. Due to length, I will deal with this issue in a separate column. This column will deal solely with the business aspects.  

The US currently has a much too broad definition of minority businesses. We currently throw in Asians, Latinos, women and so on, all of whom have real discrimination grievances (as do some other minorities).  

However, based on the impact of the wrongs this nation has perpetrated, the minority definition must be narrowed to include just these two groups. This is not to say that these other groups have been treated well. But the nation should zero in on the two groups that have seen the most long-term oppression. 

The Small Business Administration (SBA) should be given adequate resources to expand its aid to black and Native American owned businesses. This would include bank loans guaranteed by SBA at 90% for carefully qualified entities with excellent business plans. 

The SBA should also be given additional funds to expand the current business development activities of SCORE and SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers), targeting these two minorities. Many minority businesses are unaware of these services. SCORE is essentially a free mentoring service run by unpaid volunteers and funded by the Federal government. Small Business Development Centers are 501-c-s run through the university system and funded on the Federal level. Marketing SCORE and the SBDCs specifically to these two groups is key and must be fully funded. 

But there must also be a redefinition of services provided. For example, SCORE could serve as an official referral agent, screening and sending up-and-coming businesses to SBDCs. SBDCs would continue to be fully staffed by paid specialists who would not charge for their servicesb but their role could be expanded. These SBDC employees could become much more involved with these businesses, writing their business plans with them and providing on-going intensive consulting services.  

According to a recent Monmouth poll, 63% of Americans believe racial and ethnic discrimination is a “big problem”. Others are in the middle, while only 20% don’t believe it to be a problem at all. Isn’t it about time we deal with it in a reasonable way? 

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Editor's Note: This is part one of a multi-part series. Click here for part two.

Image Credit: the feature image of Juneteenth reparations rally to demand reparations from the United States government was taken by Fibonacci Blue (flickr/Creative Commons).

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.