That single word has the power to bring forth memories of slave screams, blood-shed, lynching, raping and the unrepentant theft of generations of successful Black families by the United States of America.
It also has the power to breed resentment, as the 40 acres and a mule that Black Americans were promised by General William Sherman at the close of the American Civil War were snatched away by President Andrew Johnson and returned to their White owners.
Watch the 2008 presidential hopefuls debate whether African Americans should receive reparations here:
Primarily left landless, fragmented, disconnected from our culture, and uneducated with little-to-no chance of gainful employment, the dregs of slavery and Jim and Jane Crow continue to poison our communities in both tangible and intangible ways.
During her investigation into the wealth — or lack thereof — in the African-American community, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien spoke with Rev. DeForest B. Soaries of First Baptist Church in Lincoln, New Jersey, who made the sharp correlation that “debt is slavery”:
“When I’m paying last month’s bills with next month’s check, that’s slavery. When I ‘m writing a check hoping that it doesn’t bounce, or when I pull out my credit card praying that it’s not rejected, then I’m living in financial bondage.”
Watch Minister Louis Farrakhan discuss what America and Europe owe to Blacks here:
What becomes clear when the imbalanced economic scales in this country are tilted further by institutionalized racism, is that we are still very much living within a system that profited immensely from the blood, sweat, and tears of slave labor, while refusing to make good on the loan of our livelihoods and collective economic value. According to Harper’s magazine (November, 2000), the United States stole an estimated $100 trillion dollars for 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865 with a compounded interest of 6 percent.
In lieu of these tragic numbers, Dr. John Hope Franklin, renowned historian and author of “From Slavery to Freedom,” voices his contempt for the pseudo-apologies that the U.S. government has given for an institution that has left Black America in a perpetual race, with many having no idea why we seem to never make significant and collective economic strides:
People are running around apologizing for slavery, he said. What about that awful period since slavery — Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and all the rest? And what about the enormous wealth that was built up by Black labor? I think that’s little to pay for the gazillions that Black people built up — the wealth of this country — with their labor, and now you’re going to say, ‘I’m sorry I beat the hell out of you for all these years’? That’s not enough.
It’s definitely not enough.
In a system that relies heavily on what many consider to be Dixiecratic handouts, vilifying those who are forced to accept them, while simultaneously and condescendingly stating that, “Rising tides lift all boats,” this country has to reach a point where reparations is not viewed as a joke or some unimaginable occurrence. If the boats have historical, psychological, and economic holes blown through them by Jim Crow and Uncle Sam, rising tides without life rafts do nothing but drown us deeper into debt.
In his 1970 book, “By Any Means Necessary,” Malcolm X (aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) spoke of reparations not as a choice, or a last resort, but as the only way to rectify the inhumane atrocities committed against Black Americans:
If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your father’s estate, you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of White Americans are in a position of economic strength…is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay…. We were sold from plantation to plantation like you sell a horse, or a cow, or a chicken, or a bushel of wheat…. All that money…is what gives the present generation of American Whites the ability to walk around the earth with their chest out…like they have some kind of economic ingenuity. Your father isn’t here to pay. My father isn’t here to collect. But I’m here to collect and you’re here to pay.
In the next weeks, NewsOne will speak with Black leaders on the topic of reparations and how exactly the concept can be contextualized in a contemporary narrative. More importantly, we will ask for feedback from our readers on the possibility of reparations and what we are willing to do – if anything — to ensure that it comes to fruition.
What do you think?