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The big shakedown

By D. Paul Thomas
web posted March 1, 2021

As I look out my second-story, home-office window onto Cold Spring Road in Indianapolis, Indiana—“Crossroads of America”—a young woman, driving a silver, late-model Chrysler, pulls off to the side of the road, gets out of her car, takes a gas tank from the back seat, opens the car hood, puts out a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and leans against the driver’s door in leisured anticipation of her first mark.

Within seconds, a car turns the corner off of busy Michigan Road and the woman jumps into action. Grabbing the gas can, she places herself in the middle of the road, arms flailing in desperation. The driver, a man who appears to be in his sixties, has only two options: either stop and help the lady in distress, or, assuming there is no oncoming traffic, veer to his left to avoid hitting her. He stops in his lane, rolls down the window, and listens to the woman’s anguished cries of “I’m out of gas” and “I gotta pick up my daughter from school,” which I hear clearly through my open window. With no need for further explanation, the man gets out his wallet and hands her a bill. She summarily takes it, stares at him, then puts her hand out again until the man reluctantly hands her another bill that she hastily takes, quickly waving him on as she eyes her next target coming around the corner.

While many steer clear of her and drive on, one of our grifter’s preys is kind enough to fill her empty gas can at the local station down the road; another Good Samaritan quickly leaves, only to return with a Starbucks coffee and a few bucks for good measure; many others give our victim water, but it is the “hard cash” she’s really interested in. After a dozen or so have stopped over the course of an hour and given her money, our budding thespian abruptly slams the hood of the car, places the gas can in the trunk, lights up another cigarette, hops in the car and speeds off.

From my birds-eye view, I’ve witnessed this serial shakedown dozens of times over the past ten years, and while the dramatis personae change (black and white, male and female, young and old), the emotional tug on the heartstrings remains constant. Some of the con artists use walkers to elicit sympathy, which are quickly thrown into the trunk after the curtain falls; others use young children strapped to their car-seats, their innocent faces seen clearly through the open, rear window, immediately prompting a cash transaction. Regardless of the props, there is little variance to the dominant themes at play: victimization, desperation, and intimidation. And that leads us to the “big shakedown” of Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The stage has been drearily set by Ms. Hannah-Jones and her colleagues in The 1619 Project, unassailably positioning themselves and all African Americans as victims of white supremacy over the past 400 years. It is a bleak, inescapable landscape, where rampant racism permeates the very air we breathe. With broad-brush strokes, they paint an historically fragmented montage of relentless brutality and endless oppression, giving scant attention to the 400,000 “boys in blue” (including 40,000 blacks) who shed their blood to end slavery, and glossing over the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the past seventy years. Why emphasize such trivial details if it diminishes a person’s victimhood and grants leniency to the oppressor, running the risk of pardoning past sins and the subsequent debt owed to the victim—the very basis for reparations.

As written in What is Owed (The New York Times Magazine, June 28, 2020), Pulitzer Prize winning Hannah-Jones chronicles the financial disparity between whites and blacks and concludes that “individual cash payments” will be necessary “in order to close the wealth gap.” Where will all this money come from? Not to worry: “White Americans are not the ones who will pay for them,” she assures us. “It is the federal government that pays.” Please, someone lead me to this bountiful, federal money tree that will obviate the cost of reparations from the pockets of hard-working, American taxpayers—white and black! Persistently so, even with the minimal cost of reparations estimated in the high trillions, Ms. Hannah-Jones insists that “the root” of our racial problem “is the lack of wealth,” and that “restitution is owed” to “mitigate 400 years of racialized plundering.” Narratively, what a coup de théâtre! The “root of all evil”—money—now becomes evil’s savior, atoning for the sins of our fathers, and of our fathers’ fathers.

Personally, I’m not buying into this collective “guilt quilt” so craftily stitched together by Ms. Hannah-Jones and her fellow revisionists—nor am I paying for it. I may freely, of my own volition, give Bishop Desmond Tutu a $100,000 to battle apartheid in South Africa (it was money from a “privileged” inheritance), but I will not assume the sins of my forefathers and be shamed into paying “hard cash” for thosesins. In the tried and true words of that old hymnist, Horatio Spafford, “My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. It is well with my soul!”

Not unlike our petty con artist who sent her victim on a fool’s errand for gas, Nikole Hannah-Jones will continue to lead us on a Byzantine path of victimization and intimidation, ceaselessly demanding reparations for America’s past sins until the inestimable debt of racism is paid in full, potentially bankrupting the nation in the process. For those still in doubt, here’s what’s going on: exoneration and redemption in exchange for money; under any other name, it’s called extortion.

Turning away from this coercive, collective guilt, I prefer to rely upon a prophet rather than a beguiling journalist for my redemption: “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right…the son will not share the guilt of the father…The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him” (Ezekiel 18:19-20, NIV). ESR

D. Paul Thomas is an actor, playwright and essayist. Currently, he is Creative Director of TGA Productions - tgaproductions.org. Reach him at: dpaul@tgaproductions.org.

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