The issue of reparations for African people in general and in particular for more than 45 million Black Americans is an issue that began as a divisive topic. But it now receives support from a board cross-section of Blacks in America.
There are some who want to table a national discussion of reparations in the aftermath of the election of President Obama. Others argue that now is the most propitious time to accelerate the national dialogue about reparations because there is a “brother” in the White House.
Given the recent polarization around the calls for equal justice and fairness in the Trayvon Martin killing, it would be naïve to think that race will not play a factor in the upcoming elections. The truth is that race has been a social, economic, and political problem in America for more than 200 years.
What is new is how the victims of racism see themselves, and how the perpetrators of racism view themselves.
Good for all
Fortunately, renowned legal scholars such as Harvard’s Charles Ogletree and others have articulated a rational defense for reparations, which would be therapeutic not only for Black Americans, but also for all Americans. Reparations are also about repairing the damage that was done to millions of African people, not just in America, but also in the Caribbean, Central and South America, in Africa and throughout the rest of the world.
The United Nations is slowly working on establishing a permanent memorial to the victims of the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade. In Washington, D.C., the construction of the African-American Museum has begun. The United States Senate has issued an “apology” for slavery. And in my home state of North Carolina, Gov. Bev Perdue has just called for the state to spend $10.3 million in “reparations” to the victims of a vicious eugenics state program that sterilized thousands of people against their will. Most of those who were unjustly and savagely sterilized were Black.
No amount of money could ever justify or rectify that awful and callous past. Still, Gov. Perdue’s actions are the right steps at the right time. Healing is a long-term process, and the perpetrators of racism need a “repairing” of their minds and hearts.
Even amid the American economy’s recovery from the threshold of severe economic ruin, billions of dollars are spent by political candidates and campaigns like they have unlimited money-trees without reservation or limitation. So much of the “old money” and ingrained wealth of the nation came directly from the systematic economic exploitation of African people during 500 years of slavery and post-slavery institution-building.
That is why it will take a tremendous calculation to determine a full accounting of the financial and human toll of the slave trade and its aftermath. Harper’s magazine did a study that concluded that the U.S. owes Black Americans more than $100 trillion in reparations.
There is never a perfect time to raise this issue; today is as good as any time. We can begin by supporting the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), which will hold its national convention in Philadelphia, June 22-24.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis is senior advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options and president of Education Online Services Corporation.