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DIY Reparations Plan: Pay It Sideways

November 12th, 2020 by dk

Comedian Dave Chappelle has come up with a plan for reparations that doesn’t require anything from the government. It fits nicely with Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis’s vision for Eugene to become a City of Kindness.

Chappelle calls his plan “the kindness conspiracy — random acts of kindness for Black people.” Each of us can resolve to give Black people something better than they deserve. Not despite — but precisely because — they don’t deserve it.

Granted, targeting your kindness makes those acts slightly less random, but don’t get hung up on the details. You don’t need to know their family history or whether their ancestors were enslaved. Systemic racism is happening now. If their skin is darker than yours, chances are they’ve had fewer advantages.

We can do more than call this out. We can correct it.

“Randomness” matters less than “undeserving.” Chappelle: “That’s a very important part of it — they can’t deserve it. The same way all them years, terrible things happened to Black people, just because they’re Black (pause) and they didn’t deserve it.”

For years we’ve been having a national debate about reparations. It took a stand-up comedian to show that we don’t need government to right this wrong. We can take matters into our own hands. We can infuse our system with grace. We can model abundance and generosity to one another …

I’m interrupting that sentence to insert a short story about my first Oregon Country Fair visit. I was in line for Springfield Creamery ice cream. The guy ahead of me ordered an ice cream, but he really wanted strawberries on top. He was 35 cents short, so he just asked if anyone had 35 cents, so he could have strawberries. Yes. That’s what abundance and generosity look like.

… but also justice. Any government reparations program will necessarily excuse those of us who have had extra privileges from correcting things with our own hands. The world is not fair, but that doesn’t prevent us from correcting it.

This week we celebrated Veterans Day. Over the past decades have we taught ourselves to say, “Thank you for your service” to veterans we meet. It gave us something to say — an active acknowledgement — when they boarded the plane first or received a special store discount.

You’ve heard of “pay it back” and “pay it forward.” DIY reparations is “pay it sideways,” extending an advantage to those who have received fewer. It’s anti-racism in action.

Chappelle completed his explanation on SNL this way. “If you’re driving through the ‘hood one day and you see a Black dude, standin’ on the corner, sellin’ crack and destroying his community (pause), buy him an ice cream. He’ll be suspicious, but he’ll take it.” Chappelle then mimed a smile-scowl, warily licking the microphone-cum-ice cream cone.

If this kindness conspiracy grows into a movement, we’ll need to be given something to say. Eugene artisan Joe Valasek suggests: “Got your back.” The phrase is quick and it mirrors the traditional African flag colors: green, yellow, black.

We can make the world more generous and just, without a government program.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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