Who's 'Black Enough' For Reparations? : Code Switch Black History Month is here, which means we're diving into big, sticky questions about what exactly it means to be Black. So this week on the show: Who is 'Black enough' for reparations? Because you know...we got some bills to pay.
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Who's 'Black Enough' For Reparations?

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Who's 'Black Enough' For Reparations?

Who's 'Black Enough' For Reparations?

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What's good, y'all? I'm Gene Demby.


I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. And this is CODE SWITCH...

DEMBY: ...From NPR.

Shereen, it is somehow - somehow February already.

MERAJI: I don't know how that happened. It's not just February. It's February 2021.

DEMBY: The future.

MERAJI: So that's just a lot for me to process. But it's also, in case you didn't know, Gene, Black History Month.

DEMBY: Shereen, I knew that.


MERAJI: Of course you did.

DEMBY: Of course I knew that. Also the shortest month of the year - don't think we ain't notice.

MERAJI: It is - not fair, although at least it's one entire month and not half of one month and half of another. But I digress.

DEMBY: Like Latino Heritage Month - that's (unintelligible).

MERAJI: Yeah. So Black History Month - let's drop a little history on everyone for Black History Month.

DEMBY: Oh, wow.

MERAJI: Way back in 1926, the historian Carter G. Woodson wanted to bring new attention to all the ways that Black people had shaped the world, so he started something called Negro History Week in early February. Why February, though?

DEMBY: I'm glad you asked, Shereen. Both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were February babies. They were both born in February.

MERAJI: Shout out to all the Aquariuses in the house - the Aquariai (ph).

DEMBY: (Laughter) Of course.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: And at that time - I didn't know this - but at the time Woodson started Negro History Week, Black folks were already in a festive mood because Abraham's birthday, Frederick's birthday were big deals that people used to celebrate together.

MERAJI: Abraham and Frederick.

DEMBY: Yeah. Black people used to celebrate them.

MERAJI: You're on first-name basis with them.

DEMBY: Oh, you know, me and Freddie D.

MERAJI: I like it.

DEMBY: Yeah, you know.

MERAJI: I like it.

DEMBY: You got to remember, though, that, you know, 1926, when this is all going down, this is not long after the rise of the second Klan. Plenty of formerly enslaved people are still very much alive. So, you know, Negro History Week was a massive reclamation project for history or histories, I guess, that were very intentionally covered up or misremembered.

MERAJI: And you know I love hyperbole, Gene.

DEMBY: You do.

MERAJI: But it is actually not hyperbole to say that you can't understand U.S. history and the way life here is organized without understanding Black life. Why do election laws and neighborhoods and school districts look the way they do? So this week, we're going to revisit an episode from our back catalogue where we talk to really smart people grappling with a fundamental question - when we say Black, who are we talking about anyway?

DEMBY: Right - because, OK, the Black population here in the United States has undergone some really dramatic changes over the last few decades. You know, a growing number of people do not trace their ancestry back to slavery in the United States, which was the case in Carter G. Woodson's day. And that's made discussions around all sorts of things like affirmative action, like reparations, a lot trickier, if not outright contentious. I mean, it's even complicated questions like, well, what should we - we being Black folks - even be calling ourselves?



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I identify as a Black male.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I identify as African American.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I regard myself as African because I'm a descendant of Africans.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I'm half Indian and Guyanese.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: It depends on the audience.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: But I'll say Black.


DEMBY: We hit up some folks in St. Louis and outside the Blacksonian (ph) here in D.C., where I am, back when, you know, we could actually go outside. Remember those days?

Black folks obviously describe themselves in a bunch of different ways. But throughout the course of American history, Black folks have been officially referred to in a bunch of different ways depending on the political moment.

MERAJI: That's right. During the first U.S. census back in 1790, they were referred to as slaves.

DEMBY: In 1840 - free colored males and females and slaves.

MERAJI: In 1890 - Black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon.

DEMBY: In 1950 - Negro.

MERAJI: In 2020, it's Black or African American with the option to write in a country of origin. And just like that nomenclature on the census, what it means to be Black and who counts as Black in the United States has always been in flux.

DEMBY: And being on one side of that line of Blackness or the other, wherever it landed at a given political moment, has always been enormously consequential. To underline this point, Shereen, I need to tell you a story. We got to go back to the mid-1990s.


MERAJI: If you listen to this podcast enough, you know that Gene and I make a lot of references to the mid-'90s. In 1995, I was a freshman in college. I had just been introduced to Nas' "Illmatic" album. My mind was blown. I was rocking baggy overalls - ah, good times. But this isn't about me.


DEMBY: It's at this time that a certain Philly girl - whoop, whoop (ph) - is also about to start her first year at Tufts University in Boston.


CHRISTINA GREER: It's, like, the week before school starts - you know, sort of like a pre-orientation if you want to go.

DEMBY: That's Christina Greer.

GREER: I usually identify myself as Black American.

DEMBY: And back then, her university was offering, like, this onboarding session for incoming Black students.

DEMBY: So already, you get to sign up as to whether or not you want to be with Black students for a few days before school starts.

MERAJI: Uh-huh, right - to take part in the, here's-what-y'all-need-to-know-about-life-at-a-PWI real-talk session.

DEMBY: Exactly.

MERAJI: And for those who are not in the know, PWI stands for predominantly white institution.

DEMBY: All right. So at this time, Chrissie's (ph) freshman class is the Blackest class in the history of Tufts. It had a whopping 60 Black people, Shereen - 60 Black people.

MERAJI: So the Blackest class, that was 60 Black people out of how many?

DEMBY: Twelve hundred.

MERAJI: What? That's the Blackest class in the history of her university?

DEMBY: Again, PWIs - it's a very low bar you got to clear.

MERAJI: Right. You're right.

DEMBY: So during one of the sessions at this orientation thing, one of the people running a discussion asked everyone in the room a question.

GREER: They asked the students to close their eyes and raise their hands if their parents told them that when you get to, you know, school, don't be messing around with those Black kids. And I thought that was a really odd question, so I opened up my eyes. And I realized that everyone's hands were raised except for the Black Americans on the trip.


DEMBY: Christina says most of the people in the room had their hands up.


DEMBY: Yes, exactly - except for the six Black Americans like her, who weren't immigrants or the children of immigrants. They were what, you know, Christina called JBs for just Black. And of course, Christina knew all about these stereotypes. She said at her mostly white private school, sometimes people would say some sort of slick stuff to her and assume that she must have been Caribbean because she was such a strong student.

GREER: But I didn't realize the extent to which parents - Black immigrant parents told their children certain things about Black Americans. And that sort of rattled me my first week of school.

MERAJI: Very understandably.

DEMBY: Very understandably.

When classes started, Christina kept noticing these distinctions between JBs like her and the Black immigrants.


DEMBY: Like, she was part of the big, large Black student group, the sort of Black student union. But Caribbean students, they still had their own separate affinity group. The African students had their own affinity group, as well. And of course, some students belonged to more than one group at a time.

MERAJI: Yeah. So sometimes the students in those student groups saw themselves as part of one community altogether, and sometimes they saw themselves as distinct. That was very similar to when I was in college. We had La Raza, which was sort of this umbrella Latinx organization, and then there was MEChA, which had more of a Chicano focus. Berkeley had an organization called Accion Boricua y Caribena (ph), and that was for Caribbean Latinos. So yeah, it's very similar.

DEMBY: Right. A lot of people have had this experience in some way. Right? But those experiences stuck with Christina, like, for the rest of her career - like, these questions about how people of these different Black ethnicities thought about each other, how they felt they could work together and when they saw themselves as at odds. In the larger world outside of college campuses - I was going to say real world, but you know, I don't want to shade the college students.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: In the larger world outside of college campuses, which of these boxes of Blackness you slide yourself into could mean whether or not you have access to social capital, to safety or, potentially...

WILLIAM DARITY JR: Somewhere between 10 to $12 trillion.

MERAJI: Ooh, that's a lot of money.

DEMBY: It is a lot of money. I know, Shereen. Some of it might even theoretically be mine. And you can't hold none, sorry.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

Well, we're going to get into all of that after the break.

DEMBY: Stay with us.

MERAJI: By the way, Gene...

DEMBY: What's up?

MERAJI: ...Sharing is caring. Didn't you ever learn that?


DEMBY: Gene.

MERAJI: Shereen.


DEMBY: OK. Before the break, we threw this staggering number at y'all.

DARITY: Somewhere between 10 to $12 trillion.

MERAJI: That's T-R - trillion.

DEMBY: Trillion.

MERAJI: All right. Where is that staggering number from?

DEMBY: That number is how much reparations for Black people is likely to cost, at least according to one person who has studied it for a very long time.

DARITY: I'm William Darity Jr.

DEMBY: Better known as Sandy...

DARITY: I identify as Black. I sometimes use African American, but definitely not the other categories.

DEMBY: Sandy is an economist at Duke University. He has been one of the most prominent voices on the subject of reparations for Black people, which is what his brand-new book, which is out right now, is about.

DARITY: The book is called "From Here To Equality: Reparations For Black Americans In The Twenty-First Century." And it is co-authored with Kirsten Mullen.

DEMBY: Kirsten Mullen, by the way, that's his wife.

MERAJI: Ah, props to a couple that can work together - that's all I'm going to say.

DEMBY: I cannot imagine. I cannot.


DEMBY: So this time last year, back, you know, during the outside times, there was a grip of presidential candidates in the Democratic field, and several of them were talking really openly about looking into reparations and how it would work. Well, Sandy was advising some of those campaigns, and he says the goal of a federal reparations program for Black people would be to put a huge dent in the racial wealth gap.

DARITY: Black Americans constitute approximately 13% of the U.S. population but have less than 3% of the nation's wealth.

DEMBY: So to fix that, Sandy says...

DARITY: Based upon the data that we have, it would require somewhere between 10 to $12 trillion.


MERAJI: I just did some quick Googling. That's, like, three times the annual federal budget.

DEMBY: Yes, that is a big-ass number.

MERAJI: Oh, yes.

DEMBY: It's, like, inconceivably large. But it also sort of gets at the scope of the racial wealth gap, right? And the price tag would be controversial by itself, but it's this other question that, like, naturally arises out of that big-ass number that is probably just as controversial, which is who would be eligible for those trillions of dollars?

MERAJI: Right.


DEMBY: All right, y'all. So some really big caveats here before we go forward - this is not a conversation about whether reparations is good or bad or about the current political viability of reparations or looking at how different models of reparations have worked in the past. There are so many things we could go into in this episode, but we can't because this episode is not about those things. Those are going to be in a very different episode.

MERAJI: This conversation, however, is more specifically about the question that any reparations plan would have to address, which is who gets them.

DEMBY: Right. You might ask, who is Black enough for reparations? - although everyone we spoke to said it's not about how Black you are, although it may be about the type of Black you are.

MERAJI: And you will find disagreement on this point even among the people who support the idea of reparations. Would every Black person be entitled to reparations? Should every Black person be entitled to reparations?

DEMBY: So Sandy is like, no. He does not think so. One of the reasons we talked to him is because, of the many people who have really big thoughts about reparations, not many of them have outlined who they specifically think should get them. Sandy, though, has some specific criteria. No. 1...

DARITY: An individual must have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States of America.

DEMBY: And No. 2...

DARITY: For at least 12 years before the enactment of a reparations program, an individual would've had to have self-identified as Black, Negro or African American.

MERAJI: So in order to get reparations, according to Sandy, you would need one enslaved ancestor who was in the United States, and you have to have identified as Black on official documents for at least 12 years.

DEMBY: Right.

MERAJI: All right. Let's start with No. 2 - why the 12 years of identifying as Black on official documents?

DEMBY: OK. No. 2 is, like, the somewhat easier question. So Sandy and his colleagues said that, you know, at first that the number was going to be, like, 10 years. And then he said, well, it would probably need to be two Senate terms, so 12 years is two Senate terms. But the specific time is not really the point, right? They said the bigger functional reason why you need a time period is because it would make sure that people were calling themselves Black way before there was a chance that they might, you know, actually be paid for being Black. Plus, it also gets around the janky ways that people talk about, like, racial lineage gleaned from, like, DNA tests.

MERAJI: Right. So you can't say, oh, hey, I did this test and it says I'm 8% West African. Where the hell are my reparations? (Laughter).

DEMBY: Right.

MERAJI: You'd have to actually consistently show that you identified as Black for a certain period of time.

DEMBY: Exactly.

MERAJI: All right. So the first part of Sandy's criteria, the enslaved ancestor part, that seems a little tricky.

DEMBY: That's an understatement.

DARITY: The first distinction is one that I think makes people uncomfortable, so it's not my gentlest argument.

DEMBY: And his argument gets right into some of these differences we've been talking about when it comes to Black ethnic groups and identification.

DARITY: The first argument is that there is a difference in the way in which more recent immigrants came to the United States and the way in which descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States got here. And so the first group essentially has come in some respects on a voluntary basis. So if you voluntarily migrate to a racist society, are you eligible for compensation for the racism that exist in that society? So that's the rhetorical question I'd like to pose.

MERAJI: All right. So if I'm hearing him right, if you chose to come to the U.S. and you presumably knew it was a racist place and you don't have the same right to be paid as people who were brought here against their will in chains and enslaved for hundreds of years.

DEMBY: That argument he's making makes sense in the context of the second part of his rationale. Sandy is thinking specifically about reparations as redress for a particular injury that goes back to the slave period in the United States.


DARITY: The second is probably one that I think would have greater resonance with folks in general. In our research, the foundation that we identify for the racial wealth gap is set by the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the 40-acre land grants that were promised.

MERAJI: So he's talking about that 40 acres and a mule order that was promised during the Civil War. And I'm going to do a quick explanatory comment here. In 1865, as the Civil War was drawing to a close, General William T. Sherman issued an order that would have given 400,000 acres stretching along the coast of South Carolina to Florida to newly freed Black people.

DEMBY: Yep. So Sandy said they calculated what that land would be worth today in 2020. It would be something around 6 trillion - again, T-R - dollars. So Sandy's argument is based on the cumulative ramifications of that broken promise to newly freed Black people.

DARITY: And so it is the descendants of the persons who were enslaved who should have received that 40 acres who have a claim on America for reparations. And so that's a unique distinction between more recent immigrants and folks who we might refer to in some way as native Blacks.

DEMBY: So Shereen, I think you already can anticipate where this is getting tricky. So about 10% of the 40 million Black people in the United States are immigrants or the descendant of immigrants.

MERAJI: Which means Sandy's plan would exclude them. That's around 4 million Black people who would be ineligible for reparations.

DARITY: There is an ethnic distinctiveness associated with being a descendant of persons who were enslaved in the United States and that that is the population that merits reparations from the United States government.

DEMBY: And Sandy says, look; you got to remember that Black immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon. There have, obviously, long been Black immigrants in places like Miami and New York. But...

DARITY: These communities were a very, very small share of the Black population prior to 1965. In fact, the nondescendants of folks enslaved in the United States were less than 1% of the Black population in the United States up until the mid-1960s.

DEMBY: And Sandy said, look; I'm open to considering reparations for people who are descendants of Black immigrants who came to the U.S., like, during the Jim Crow period. He also feels that Black immigrants who are not descendants of enslaved people in the United States, they do have very legitimate claims for reparations for racial subjugation, for exploitation. But he says that their claims don't lie with the United States government but with the former colonizers of their countries of origin.

MERAJI: So if you're Haitian American, your reparations fight is with France.

DEMBY: Yeah, exactly.

MERAJI: If you're American with Afro Cuban ancestry, your fight is with Spain; if you're Bajan American, your fight is with the U.K. - that sort of thing.

DEMBY: That sort of thing, right.

MERAJI: That is - whoo, that's a lot to keep track of.

DEMBY: It is. It is. But to turn to Sandy's other point about choosing to come to the United States - that really sticky point there - it is true that voluntary immigration has affects on the educational and economic outcomes of Black immigrants, right? Like Sandy said, obviously, there are differences depending on where people live in the U.S. depending on the countries of origin.

DARITY: But on average, yes, that's a more highly educated community than the general American population, not just the Black American population. And it's also a community that has higher occupational status, on average, than most Americans. And that's because this is an immigrant community that is hyperselected.

DEMBY: So just for example, Nigerian immigrants to the U.S. - they're the largest group of immigrants from Africa - are twice as likely to have bachelor's degrees or higher than Americans as a whole. That's according to Pew.

MERAJI: So Black immigrants have higher-paying jobs and are more educated than Americans as a whole, which is what I see with lots of immigrant groups, right? I'm thinking about Iranians and Indians, for example. And this is in very large part because of how the screening process for immigration to the United States works.

DEMBY: And by contrast, Black Americans in the aggregate have lower-paying jobs, have lower educational attainment than the country as a whole.

MERAJI: Right. And I'm assuming you're talking about what Christina calls JBs here.

DEMBY: Yeah.

MERAJI: Just Black people and then - or what Sandy calls native Blacks.

DEMBY: Right.

MERAJI: You know, it's interesting 'cause it is fairly easy to point out high-profile Black Americans, at least in politics, whose parents are immigrants. The most obvious (laughter) is President Barack Obama. But then you've got Kamala Harris, Colin Powell.

DEMBY: To your point, Sandy is like, this is very much a thing. He says, obviously, proportionately, the children of Black immigrants are overrepresented in positions of prestige, in colleges broadly but especially at top colleges like we saw with Christina, in Hollywood, in the halls of power. And all of this, of course, is, like, a little harder to quantify because when you're talking about, like, all these spaces, you're necessarily talking about, like, small numbers of people who are very, very prominent.

MERAJI: Yeah. I brought up politicians, and there have only been 10 Black senators in the history of the United States. So you know, saying 20% of them, for example, were children of immigrants, it sounds like a lot, but you're really just talking about two people.

DEMBY: But that prominence is part of the context. I mean, we're talking about reparations in this conversation, but you can hear or read some iteration of this set of concerns all the time, like, very easily. Like, say, when Black actors who aren't from the United States get cast in these big Hollywood movies about slavery in the United States, you know, there's this discomfort, even this resentment. They feel that the experiences of Black immigrants are not representative of Black Americans, or JBs as Christina would call them, even though Black immigrants are very often in these high-profile positions in which they quite literally represent Black Americans to the world.

MERAJI: Yes. I'm hearing all of this, but also, Gene, you know, we talk all the time on this podcast about the broadness of anti-Blackness in housing, in education, in policing, in health outcomes, which we're seeing really dramatically right now. And that shadow, it doesn't skip over Black immigrants or their kids.

DEMBY: Right. And that's a point that Sandy acknowledged when we were talking.

DARITY: And I would agree that the police don't ask you where you're from if you're Black.


DARITY: You know, there's no question that all Black people are weighted by the freight of American white supremacy. But the degree to which people are freighted by that is somewhat different.


DARRICK HAMILTON: Black Americans are the anchor by which we have identified the worst-off or the wretched in the American context. But it is the case that we are not alone in that oppression.

MERAJI: New voice, who dis (ph)?

DEMBY: (Laughter) That is Darrick Hamilton. He is also an economist, and he's a professor of public policy at The Ohio State University.

HAMILTON: I mean, I'll be frank, if I would not be ridiculed in public, I would categorize myself as a Negro.


HAMILTON: And, I mean, I guess I shouldn't say that and then say if not be ridiculed in public because I just did it in a public way.

MERAJI: Wow - very pre-civil rights of him. Also, that was a census category that appeared in 1950.

DEMBY: Yes. It was actually on the census until 2010. Like, the census was like, we're going to take Negro off. People are like, why is Negro still on the census? But Darrick said he liked Negro because it's linked to slave descendants in the U.S. and this history of oppression.

HAMILTON: So I embrace the term Negro because I'm proud of that heritage. And I think that far too often, people distance themselves from that heritage.

DEMBY: So Darrick has also been thinking big thoughts about reparations. He's a big proponent of them. Last year around this time, he was advising some of the Democratic hopefuls on economic policy. He says that we really need to, like, sit in the messiness of a lot of these questions we're raising. Take, for example, Sandy's point about the difference between involuntary and voluntary immigration. Darrick wonders, well, I mean, what exactly do we mean when we say choose to immigrate to a racist country?


HAMILTON: I think we would need to interrogate that notion of self-selection. You know, I guess if you were fleeing a war-torn country or if you were of refugee status, whatever reason that you came to America, whether it's a pure choice or not, I think one could interrogate that a little further.

MERAJI: I agree. And I think that's a good point. Even if you're not fleeing violence necessarily, the choice to come to the United States is often very, very complicated on a personal level. Maybe there are other serious ways that your life is constrained in your home country...

DEMBY: Yeah, absolutely.

MERAJI: ...Or you know, maybe all of your closest relatives and loved ones have relocated to the United States, so you have no one left in your home country. Maybe you were brought here as a kid, and you didn't have a choice to come here.

DEMBY: Right. That's exactly right. Those are all really important points. And even kind of just knowing intellectually that a country has certain problems - like, in this case, we're talking about, you know, white supremacy and anti-Blackness - it's a lot different than experiencing it for yourself and understanding it for yourself once you've lived through it. But the larger point that Darrick was making was there is basically no way around this. Like, whether you draw the line where Sandy draws the line or you look at another reparations plan and you draw the line somewhere else, there is going to be trade-offs in how you define the class of people who should get reparations.

HAMILTON: With any public policy, you often have the case where some people who were intended to receive the policy by the mechanisms of design end up, in error, not receiving the policy.

MERAJI: OK - so a very professorial way of saying not everyone who should get reparations will get reparations.

DEMBY: Or depending on how you slice it, not everyone who gets reparations deserves reparations.

MERAJI: Like the aforementioned non-Black person who I guess has a Black ancestor that they found on one of those ancestry sites.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Great-Great-Grandpappy Leroy.

HAMILTON: And then you might ask the question, which type of error would I be more willing to live with?

MERAJI: I can't help but think about Sandy who wants to have a narrower definition here but was also saying, you know, he really wants federal reparations to help close the racial wealth gap. So doesn't all this anti-Blackness affect wealth prospects for both JBs and Black immigrants and their kids? That's what I'm thinking right now.

DEMBY: Yeah. I mean, that's complicated. Like, we actually don't know a whole lot about that definitively. We know that Black Americans in general face downward income mobility between generations. But we actually - we're not clear what that looks like for Black immigrants and their children. So I kept pressing Darrick. I was like, so where would you draw the line when it comes to reparations?

HAMILTON: You know, in all earnest, I don't know. I don't really have the answer. I know I have changed my views on this. But here's the fundamental thing - whatever position one comes up with, it need not be one based on being vindictive or being exclusionary but rather one that is grounded in some morality, some notions of what is just and what is moral.


DEMBY: So on a strictly practical level, the lives of Black Americans and, you know, Black immigrants are deeply implicating each other, right? Like, one thing that is true for Black immigrants that is not true for other immigrants is that Black immigrants live near Black people. So it's really hard to neatly disentangle Black people from Black immigrants. So even when we move away from conversations about reparations, there are a lot of ways that Black people's fates get tied up with each other.

GREER: There's a real specific anti-Blackness that is part of the fabric of this nation that Black immigrants get caught up in because they're with Black Americans.

DEMBY: That's Christina Greer again.

MERAJI: She's originally from Philly. We heard from her at the beginning of the podcast. She was telling us that story about when she was a freshman in college in the mid-'90s.

DEMBY: Now she is a political scientist at Fordham University.

GREER: Black immigrants - largely from Africa, but many from the Caribbean as well - they're roughly 10% of the undocumented population but 20% of the deportations because Black immigrants tend to live in Black communities with Black Americans. Those communities are hypersurveilled and overpoliced. What some people would just argue as a - not a big deal, it's just a stop and frisk, you know, or it's just a quick search for some marijuana can turn into an ICE arrest and completely upend a family and a community.

DEMBY: So Christina wrote a book about how Black people of different ethnic groups think about each other. It's called "Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, And The Pursuit Of The American Dream."

GREER: You know, it's a long legacy of people coming to this country trying to assimilate as quickly as possible so that they can become American, whatever wild, diverse definition that is. But this was the first time that I had spoken to people who were saying, no, I'm choosing to actually remain immigrant if I can because to become American for a Caribbean or an African means to become Black American.


MERAJI: Yeah. And to become Black American means you're more vulnerable. You are in danger in this country.

DEMBY: Yeah. And it sort of casts a slightly different light on all those people in the room with Christina when she was in college who raised their hands, you know? Like, the - what the motivations of their parents were. Like, obviously, it just makes it a little more complicated. She says that Black immigrants draw these lines around their identities differently all the time, just depending on what they need to get by from day to day.

GREER: So if you live in a community that's predominantly Black, we saw that certain respondents would say, well, I'm Jamaican or I'm Trinidadian or, you know, I'm Ghanaian. But if you have a large white population and there's a sprinkling of Black people, depending on, say, class or how people are accepted or treated, you may just say, yes, I'm Black, just like the five other Black people in my class. Or to separate yourself from those five other Black people in your class, you may say, I'm actually, you know, Jamaican or Haitian or Ghanaian.


MERAJI: I think Christina's findings are all really interesting. But I can't help but wonder where she lands on reparations and who should get them.

DEMBY: Right. So she didn't answer that question exactly. But she did say, OK, so undergirding this sense that Black folks of different ethnic groups are in competition for, you know, college spots and money from the government and all sorts of other things - right? - is this idea of scarcity. Like, it's this idea that we've internalized. And she says that scarcity is not actually a real thing. Like, our country is too rich for there to be scarcity. And she told me this story about how she thinks about Blackness more broadly.


DEMBY: It takes place right where we started sort of. It's at a university. Only this time, you know, Christina is a college professor in New York City.

GREER: My dad came to visit me in my office last year. And we were going out to dinner, so he came to pick me up. And I was like, come upstairs so you can see my office. And, you know, he hadn't been there before.

DEMBY: And so she shows her dad around. And then they get all bundled up because it's cold out, and they go outside.

GREER: We leave the building. And I say, Dad, sorry, we got to go back in. I forgot to introduce you to the lunch ladies.

DEMBY: So Christina did to not go to school with a lot of Black kids growing up. But her parents stressed to her if something ever goes down - right? - you don't go to a cop; you don't go to just any adult - you find a Black person.

GREER: The headmaster at my private school was not Black, and the janitors and the lunch ladies were.

DEMBY: Those lunch ladies and janitors, they were a lifeline. They were the people who looked out for her, the people who asked after her.

MERAJI: Right.

DEMBY: So during her father's visit to Fordham...

GREER: My dad's like, of course, like, we've got to go meet the lunch ladies, right? And so we go in there. And, of course, you know, a lot of Caribbean and Black American women who work in the dining hall and some of the brothers who came from the back, who I say hello to, but, you know - I know them, but I don't know them as well as I know my ladies who were the cashiers. And they, you know, of course, dap up my dad. My dad's 72 years old. But they, like, dap up my dad, and he daps them back.

DEMBY: And right as they're about to leave, one of the guys who works the grill turns to Christina's dad.

GREER: And he looks my dad in the eye while they're holding hands and he says, if anything ever goes down in this building, we got your daughter.

MERAJI: Oh, yeah.

DEMBY: Yeah. Christina says that is how she thinks of this peoplehood of Blackness.

GREER: Where it's like it crosses class and it crosses ethnicity and it crosses, sometimes, geographic space - where it's like, you know, I care about what goes on in Haiti, I care about the Caribbean, I care about what's going on the Congo, I care about Rwanda.

DEMBY: Because those are her people, too.

GREER: So it's this larger idea of Blackness that's, like, as small as the lunchroom and as big as the globe.


DEMBY: All right, y'all. That's our show. Please follow us on Twitter. We're at @nprcodeswitch. You can follow Shereen at @radiomirage and me at @geedee215. We want to hear from you. Our email is codeswitch@npr.org. And subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

MERAJI: Oh - and if you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter, too. That's npr.org/codeswitchnewsletter.

DEMBY: Also, special thanks to Tiffanie Drayton and Michael Hicks for the help on background for this episode. And also a big shout-out to our play cousin, our guest - play sister, really - Andrea Henderson, a former CODE SWITCH intern who is now a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

MERAJI: Yay. Gene, I think Andrea might be too young to remember the movie "CB4."

DEMBY: (Laughter).

MERAJI: It was a very popular comedy during our youth.

DEMBY: It was.

MERAJI: And there is a song from that movie that is giving me life after listening to all this. I don't know about you. Let's hear it.


ALLEN PAYNE: (As Dead Mike, singing) I'm Black, y'all. And I'm Black, y'all. And I'm Blackety Black, and I'm Black, y'all. And I'm Black, y'all.


DEMBY: I remember going to Blockbuster Video to rent the movie. Man, I feel old as hell after saying that. Yikes.

MERAJI: Starring Chris Rock.


PAYNE: (As Dead Mike, singing) And I'm Blackety Black, and I'm Black, y'all. And I'm Black, y'all. And I'm Black, y'all. And I'm Blackety Black, and I'm Black, y'all.

MERAJI: This episode was produced by Jess Kung and Leah Donnella. It was edited by Leah and Steve Drummond.

DEMBY: Shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam - Kumari Devarajan, Karen Grigsby Bates, LA Johnson, Natalie Escobar. Our interns are Dianne Lugo and Isabella Rosario. I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Wash your hands. Stay safe. Be easy.

MERAJI: Peace.


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