“Little progress is made if we transform images without shifting paradigms, changing perspectives, ways of looking.” —bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation, 1992
The United States is built on anti-Black narratives.
The stories we tell about race, about Blackness, help inform our entire worldview about life—they construct the mental models that guide our behavior, laws, policies, and social norms. It is through anti-Black narratives, which asserted that African people were subhuman, that the institution of slavery was justified and upheld for centuries.
The abolition of U.S. chattel slavery and the brief era of Reconstruction did not bring an end to anti-Black narratives. In fact, they were altered and repackaged to substantiate an apartheid state through the rule of Jim Crow laws. This gave rise to the largest carceral state in the world where Black people now make up 38 percent of people in prisons and jails despite composing only 13.6 percent of the population.1 It also created an environment conducive to white vigilantism and state-sanctioned violence against Black people.
These anti-Black narratives follow Black people throughout their lives, from birth to death, and are apparent littered in every aspect of our society. It is why Black children are four times more likely to be suspended from school than white children2 and why formerly incarcerated white men are more likely to get a job than a Black man with no criminal record.3 It’s also why Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.4
At the same time that federal, state, and local policies helped grow white wealth, there were laws enacted that either helped to extract from or block Black wealth, which has created what long-time reparations organizer Nkechi Taifa calls the “racial wealth chasm.” Today, the average white family has ten times as much wealth as the average Black family.5
Entertainment, educational, political, and cultural institutions in the United States have not only created the aforementioned disparities but also continue to sustain and reinforce them through a matrix of related stories that shape how all people view Black communities. Stories regarding race have mostly served to degrade, dehumanize, or exploit Blackness while framing whiteness and all it encompasses as “normal.” The Black-led reparations movement seeks to upend this and radically transform the way in which Blackness and Black people are seen, understood, and accepted.
Doing this will require social justice movements, in general, to reframe common arguments against reparations, build a strong and powerful base of individuals who persistently advocate for reparations, and build enough power to shift white-supremacist and capitalist mindsets that have deemed reparations and other similar policies as radical or unobtainable. We’ll have to align around a set of narratives while organizing across communities to motivate our elected officials to ultimately introduce and pass reparations policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
Increasing support for reparations among all groups will require changing not only the stories we tell about reparations, but also about racism, anti-Blackness, colonialism, white supremacy, and the history of this country. It will require us to shift these stories from the current harmful ones—so many of which are based on outright lies and myths—to those that are cohesive, honest, and transformative. We believe this will only happen through an intentional and coordinated narrative and cultural change effort.
The Narrative House, along with this report, serves as an invitation to join the reparations movement and build power alongside old and new organizers. Our vision is for the Narrative House to be utilized as a tool by racial and social justice organizations and support their efforts in building internal narrative capacity so that we might expand the movement. The more organizations that align on a cohesive narrative will allow us to radically grow our “choir,” fortify our “base,” and move those who are “persuadable” closer to our side. This will foster an environment conducive to the passage of a comprehensive federal reparations bill.
We also hope that artists, cultural makers, and creatives who use their platforms or art forms to influence our understanding of race, racism, and white supremacy will use the Narrative House in support of their creative direction and artistry. It is through the saturation of these narratives within our culture that we will normalize reparations as a requirement to create a racially just world, and it is through organizing and building power around these narratives that we will secure a base of supporters for this movement.
The report’s title is inspired by the science-fiction writer Octavia Butler, who noted that “there is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” Over time, we have witnessed decolonial movements that have transformed our way of being and produced a new society that looks and feels radically different than the one it discarded. The reparations movement, in coordination with other liberatory and decolonial movements across the globe, has the potential to transform the world—to give rise to a new sun.
We hope the Narrative House and the research from the Lab laid out in this report will inspire you to join or participate further in the movement for reparations. What follows is truly an invitation to craft your own individual and organizational narrative, build power alongside the organizers carrying forth these narratives every day, and support the creation of a new and much more liberated world.