The battle for reparations-financial compensation paid to black descendants of slaves by the U.S. government-has been a side note in the media for quite sometime now. Though not a new demand, several black Americans, mostly on the East Coast, have made significant strides in bringing this movement to the forefront.
As talk of reparation demands for descendants of slaves and the lasting effects of slavery continue to rotate in and out the public discourse, I find myself on the fence but certainly leaning toward the idea.
But first, reparation advocates making formal complaints should address all the individuals that helped the proliferation of slavery. Reparation supporters should not dismiss Africans who sold their own people to whites for profit.
They should also not lose sight of the fact that Arab traders were the middlemen in slave transactions. The British, who took 1.2 million slaves to the West Indies (where my ancestors originated from) and to other colonies in North America, cannot be ignored either. Second, the intentions of the compensation and how it is to be collected must be clearly presented.
I am convinced that black Americans deserve a formal acknowledgement from the U.S. government for the lasting complications and scars that 246 years of enslavement have left in many black communities.
How can we deny the fact that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and Jim Crow laws set the stage for the 21st century and the policies of entrenched racism that have emanated from all branches of the United States government?
Police torture and murder, poverty, miseducation, inadequate housing, unemployment, welfare, voter discrimination, political prisoners, and the assassination of prominent leaders are endless injustices that blacks endured and continue to endure. Needless to say, all this is unfair and is part of the systematic repercussions of the legacy of slavery.
Reparations payments are not foreign to the U.S. government. In 1997, compensation was given to survivors and families of the two decade long Tuskegee, Alabama syphilis experiment and in 1994, reparations were given to the survivors and relatives of those who lost their lives and property in the destruction of the all-black town of Rosewood, by a white mob. Payments to Japanese American citizens interned during the WWII were also made.
Instead of making collective amends to its own black citizens, the United States often chooses to play the good samaritan in other countries. In 2000, officials from the United States joined Germany and other European states in signing a $5 billion agreement to pay Holocaust reparations to Jewish slave laborers and their families.
A warranted move because the Holocaust was definitely an atrocity; however, at the time, Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s statement to mark the occasion was never applied to one of the biggest atrocities that occurred on U.S. soil.
“The deal was the first attempt to compensate those whose labor was stolen or coerced during a time of outrage and shame,” Albright said. “It is critical to completing the unfinished business of the old century before entering the new.”
Slavery has been abolished for 137 years now, and as the U.S. government continues to sweep it under the rug as if it has never happened, black Americans will and should pursue some sort of formal acknowledgement that slaves did in fact help build this nation, and that the legacy of slavery has indeed cemented itself in the mental and economic progress of black Americans.