The Sins of the Father: Reparations

By Bakari Akil II

On August 17, 2002, Washington D.C. will see African Americans arrive in droves to protest the transatlantic slave trade and demand reparations for the effects of hundreds of years of enslavement and oppression. After the United States government walked out of the World Conference Against Racism (2001) in a bid to delay the inevitable, supporters of the reparations movement will bring the issue to the nation’s front porch.

The ground swelling support that the United States and the world will witness on the 17th is the result of relentless efforts of grassroots organizations, groups and individuals. Organizations such as N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), NBUF (National Black United Front), the December 12th Movement and individuals such as Viola Plummer, Dr. Robert Brock, Conrad Worrill, Atty. Roger Wareham and others too numerous to name have labored tirelessly to bring this issue to the national spotlight.

Although the different groups and individuals have worked on various aspects of reparations, the goals are the same. Reparations are being demanded on the basis that Africans in America worked for hundreds of years without pay to build the infrastructure of the United States from the east coast to the west coast and were subjected to the most inhumane treatment in the course of doing so. Torture, beatings, rapes, forced breeding, lynching, maiming, defamation of character, the handcuffing of intellectual abilities, forced humiliation towards White Americans and the stealing of minds, bodies and souls were all integral features of the enslavement that Africans in America endured.

After slavery, African Americans continued to suffer the effects of such debasement and terror and have little to show for it. Compounded wealth from this period of time has allowed the creation of what Dr. Peggy McIntosh has famously labeled the “Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege”. Socially, politically and economically, White Americans have benefited and continue to benefit from past enslavement of Africans and the ensuing periods following slavery with the use of black codes, grandfather clauses, Jim Crow laws, chain gangs and more recently police brutality/profiling, prison industrial complexes, unfair allotment of tax dollars, voting frauds of 2000, unequal access to education, health care and questionable family planning programs.

Through the constant disenfranchisement of the African American, most resources of the past and those of the present continuously leave the hands of African Americans and into the waiting arms of European American communities and other various groups. Through continuous enforcement of both institutional and personal racism, African Americans in all segments and areas of society continue to experience the ramifications of the enslavement of their ancestors. Ramifications the United States and other “former” colonial countries refuse to address.

Opponents of this march and of reparations often use a “straw man” argument when trying to state why reparations should not be given, often citing other concerns and kicking them down instead of addressing the real issue. They usually state that it’s about a paycheck or ask, “Why should they have to pay for the actions of their great-great- grandparents? Some state all enslaved Africans are dead, my grandparents came to this country after slavery, I never owned a “slave”, if we paid reparations this country would go broke, Black people would just waste the money, etc., etc.

Usually, these arguments are used to dilute the issue of reparations and break it down into a simple discussion of African Americans wanting to get over. However, organizations such as N’COBRA and NBUF have been effective in ensuring that the issues of reparations are not broken down into simplistic sensationalized “radio talk show” nonsense. They continue to address and focus on the effects of former enslavement and continued oppression suffered by the African Americans masses.

In addition, although justification or clarification for wanting justice is not needed, the supporters of reparations repeatedly insist that they do not want money from US citizens; White, Black or otherwise. The US government, which sanctioned slavery, used “slave” labor and permitted and legislated other oppressive techniques is the one being handed the bill; and the rents due!

The issue of reparations for African Americans is not new and has been argued for since the first day slavery ended. The United States government cannot walk out, run away or stick its head under the sand and pretend this issue does not exist. As our ancestors demanded their just due and we now demand ours, it is evident that this crime against humanity will be addressed now or later, but it will be addressed!

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