Reparations – Has the Time Finally Come?

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tags: slavery, racism, segregation, African American history, reparations

During a lull one afternoon when I was a high school student selling Black Panther Party newspapers on the streets of downtown Washington, D.C., in 1971, I sat down on the curb and opened the tabloid to the 10-point program, “What We Want; What We Believe.” The graphic assertion of “Point Number 3” particularly grabbed me:

“We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules … promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.”

The absence of justice continually flustered me because, even at that young age, I knew that Black people had been kidnapped and brought to this country to labor for free as slaves; stripped of our language, religion, and culture; raped and tortured; and then subjected to a Jim Crow-era of lynchings, police brutality, inferior education, substandard housing, and mediocre health care. I did not know then about the massacres in Rosewood, Florida, or Tulsa, Oklahoma; the merciless experimentations on defenseless Black women devoid of anesthesia that led to modern gynecology; or about the enormous profits from slavery made by corporations, insurance companies, the banking and investment industries, and academic institutions.

But on a psychic level, I could feel in my bones the enslavement era’s inhumane cruelty to Black children — its destruction of kindred ties and its economic exploitation and cultural deprivation. There was an incessant gnawing in my soul for amends and redress. I was passionate about injustice, felt the idea of reparations to be reasonable and fair, and vowed to talk about the concept whenever and wherever I could.  My analysis, however, had not crystallized beyond a check. But just to mouth the word “reparations” was a starting point to its validity. Thus talk about it I did, despite my views being often rejected, ridiculed, or otherwise summarily dismissed.

Standing on the street corner that afternoon nearly five decades ago, little did I realize that I would one day be in the company of leading academics, economists, historians, attorneys, psychiatrists, politicians, and more — domestically and internationally — promoting the right to, and the need for, reparations.

Read entire article at American Civil Liberties Union

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