To make reparations, is to repair or make right a situation in which someone has been harmed, and you have played a role.
A lot of folks don't seem to understand what reparations are. So lets remove race from the picture all together for a moment. Let’s imagine you are pet sitting for your very best friend.
Imagine you are out walking their dog, and decide to let the dog off the leash in a field to play fetch. Unexpectedly a car backfires nearby, and startles the dog. The dog runs away. Imagine you unintentionally lose their beloved pet.
Would you stand there and do nothing or would you try to make the situation right?
Likely, you would try to chase after the dog. If you couldn’t catch the dog on foot, you might drive around looking for it and calling it’s name. You might ask people in the area if they saw the dog. You might make posters, or contact local shelters. You’d probably google “how to find a lost dog”. There would be many avenues you’d try to make things right. Eventually, you’d have to fess up to your friend.
Now what if the dog was hit by a car and died? The situation then might feel a bit more irreparable, because all chances of restoring your friend’s connection with their dog would be lost. In this case, would you set aside your own feelings of guilt or shame in order to comfort your friend through their grief? Might you grieve with them? Would you offer to get them a new dog when they were ready even though you knew you could never replace the old dog? Would you try to make things right, even if your friend was angry, in deep suffering, and found it hard to forgive you?
To make reparations, is to repair or make right a situation in which someone has been harmed, and you have played a role. Making reparations is not about nullifying a harm that has happened. Its not about minimizing, or erasing the guilt of having participated in an act (willing or unwilling) that resulted in someone’s suffering. It’s about making things right.
Although you did not cause the car to backfire in this imagined scenario, you did take the dog off the leash, and so ultimately you played a role in the dog running away. Likely, you’d feel partially responsible for the loss of the dog.
In the same way you may not have created white supremacy, certainly you have been in indoctrinated into it (we all have, regardless of race), and if you are white or even white-passing, you benefit from it. How?
When you get pulled over, and the police give you the benefit of the doubt and don’t shoot you over a burnt out tail light.
Even if you do commit a crime, you’re more likely to be arrested, receive a fair trial, and be allowed to be accountable for your actions instead of being murdered by police. You even benefit from the chances that the people on the jury and the judge look like you.
When buying undergarments, makeup, and band-aids in “nude” and your skin tone is within the range of assumed nude. You benefit from being able to buying shampoo that is made for your hair type at the grocery store rather than an expensive specialty shop.
If you own a nice car, you get the benefit of the doubt that you did not steal it. If you own a nice apartment, no one assumes you’re trying to break into the building, even after you show them your key.
Another benefit is going to the movies and seeing futuristic worlds, and romance stories, and heroes that look like you as the default.
You don’t have to earn these privileges. You didn’t even ask for them, but when the structures of a society are rooted in white supremacy you naturally benefit from being white or white-adjacent. This isn’t to suggest your life hasn’t had it’s challenges if you are white, it’s just that race hasn’t been an additional contributing factor to your struggle.