AN ARGUMENT FOR THE PAYMENT TO DECENDANTS OF AFRICAN SLAVES
By Joseph S. Spence, Sr.
In the past Europeans with ill will almost entirely stripped and raped Africa of its most valuable resources: gold, ivory, diamonds and its people. The raping of Africa came in the form of disguises by those malevolent Europeans claiming that they were there to help the African nation. The resulting impact of the disguised "help" was the transportation of approximately fourteen million Africans from their continent as captives to the West into slavery. Since then many abolitionists have fought for the ending of slavery. The overt sign of the shackles are gone; however, the covert aspect of slavery still remains. The prevailing question that springs from the slave experience is that of reparations being paid to the descendants of slavery. As a result of the brutality, demoralization, genocide and other negative actions inflicted upon Africans because of the slave trade, including a devastating impact beyond the initial enslavement, we will see that reparations should be paid to the descendants of slavery.
Europeans of ill will went to Africa with the hidden intent of stripping and raping the country of its most valuable resources -its young people. Words of untruth were told to Africans. Promises were made with no intent to be kept. Deception was implemented to trick Africans into a trap of oppression. The hidden plans of the malicious Europeans were to capture and transport Africans as slaves to be sold in the West. The resulting impact is the kidnapping, beating, and forced taking of approximately 14,000,000 Africans and their descendants, and enslaving them in the United States from 1619 to 1865 (Conyers 1).
Africans and their descendants have suffered in the United States as a result of the slavery imposed upon their ancestors and elders. African-Americans today are still suffering from the "remnants of the badge of slavery." This came as a result of their ancestors and elders being stolen from their homeland, Africa, and being forced to work without compensation in a land foreign to them. Their slave owners and their descendants benefited from the fruits of the African enslavement. On the opposite hand, Africans had their culture, heritage, family, language and religion stripped from them. The self-identity and self-worth of the proud African people were destroyed by repression and hatred (Conyers 1).
African women were raped and forcefully seduced into sexual activities for the production of children into slavery. African men who resisted being sold as slaves and sought freedom from captivity were hunted down, captured, whipped and killed at times. African boys and girls were sold into slavery for a little or nothing as chattel for their so-called masters. Many slave owners became wealthy as a result of slave labor from Africans working in fields, farms, barns, and the like, and have refused to pay for the wealth produced by African slaves. Why should those who profited from such outrageous actions continue to reap the benefits? Why should those who reaped wealth resulting from such unconscionably inflicted woe upon Africans continue to live the high life while the descendants of slaves continue to suffer from covert slavery? Granting reparations is a just, fair and equitable action to take as a corrective measure to alleviate the physical, mental and social wrongs inflicted upon Africans and their descendants by those who profited from such injustices.
Those who continue to benefit from the spoils of slavery, and refuse to make things right, have raised some objections to reparations. For example, some have argued that all the slaves are dead, and the slave masters are also dead; therefore, it is not a good idea to pay reparations to the present generations because they were not slaves (Carroll 2). This argument is flawed and illogical because reparations over the years were paid to many within our legal system. For instance, the families of individuals who have died as a result of medical malpractice by a physician are entitled to just and fair compensation for past and future pain and suffering, loss of consortium for not experiencing the love and affection of a loved one, loss of income, and other benefits one would classify as reparations. Furthermore, a precedent on reparations was established when Japanese-Americans were paid reparations for the pain they experienced in World War II interment camps in the United States (1). Such interment does not compare to the captivity of Africans who suffered gross injustices from the actions of imposed slavery.
The Jews were also paid reparations as a result of their imprisonment in concentration camps and their indentured servitude to the Germans. The injustices experienced by the Jews do not compare in any way, shape, or form to the oppressions and degradation suffered by Africans at the hands of Europeans and Americans during and after slavery. Those in opposition to the payments of reparations have argued that Americans did not make such payments; neither was the Jew enslaved by America. Upon examination, negative arguments of this nature are senseless. For instance, in December 1999, officials from Germany, Eastern Europe and the United States signed a historic agreement to pay $5 billion in reparations to Nazi slave laborers and their families (Love
1). The Unites States was intimately involved in the Jewish reparations process. Ask yourself, is it right for America to help those in foreign countries obtain reparations, while in the same breath it refuses to help African descendants on its own shores here at home who have suffered greater fates?
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who discovered late in life that she is of Jewish descent, spoke on the reparations event. She classified the agreement as the first serious attempt to compensate "those whose labor was stolen or coerced during a time of outrage and shame." She also states, "it is critical to completing the unfinished business of the old century before entering the new." America in this instance pressured the Swiss and German nations to correct the sins of their past (Love 1). Isn't this the perfect example of Washington making amends for past wrongs to others? Was this accomplishment made possible because the Jews who suffered were not Africans and had a greater political lobby and wealth? Who will convince America with the truth to pay reparations to African descendants? Or is America so set on not paying reparations that it turns a blind eye to its own internal problems while policing the world?
There is a feeling among many that before any consideration of reparations is made, America must first apologize to African-Americans for the oppression inflicted upon them as a result of slavery. Some African-Americans state that they deserve more respect and will accept respectful treatment as reparation instead of monetary payments. Others state that they would rather have monetary payments as reparation instead of an apology or a statement of respect, since such actions do not put food on the table, nor pay the bills. However, there should be a national recognition of the wrongs fostered upon Black people by the forced captivity and slavery they had to endure (Jemel 1). Will America come to grips and ever say, "I am sorry for the past wrongs inflicted upon Africans and their descendants"? Is there so much pride involved here that a simple apology, which will satisfy some, is even too hard to make? It is obvious that without overcoming the initial stages of denial, reparations may have a long way to go before becoming a reality for African-Americans unlike other groups that have received reparations.
The issue of how reparations are to be paid is another common objection by the opponents. It appears that some have decided to negatively argue this issue, with the hopes that if a decision is not possible the problem may go away. Other opponents believe that they have found a "soft spot" by which to stop the advancement of the reparation issue. They have decided to use this in their favor to derail the advancement of reparation payments. Other opponents are under the presumption that if enough disagreement is created between African-Americans and White-Americans on the payment issue, the initial question of reparations may be dead on arrival. However, many advocates have proposed viable solutions and recommendations (Jemel 1).
Several attempts have been made in the past to obtain reparations. States across America have now taken up the issue of reparations with serious debate. Boston University has even held a debate on reparations. During Boston University's debate, those who argued against reparations were actually arguing for some form of reparation other than monetary payments. Congressman John Conyers even sponsored a bill on reparations in 1989 known then as HR 40. During testimony Conyers stated, "I haven't been able to hold a hearing. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is my biggest stumbling block." Conyers also feels that the opponents to his commission's study on reparations believe that they are being blamed for something they had nothing to do with (Harper 2). Based on these insights, it is obvious that politics has played a negative role in reparations. One would speculate that if Newt Gingrich was consulted on reparations over dinner, and if the Republicans had sponsored the bill, the opposition would not have been that great, and the reparation bill would probably have been approved.
Just like World War II was the war to end all wars, which did not happen, some Americans are under the misguided conception that the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery for African-Americans, which also did not happen. Wars are still being fought and African-Americans are still enslaved. The ratification of the constitutional amendments following the Civil War did not end the intense discrimination, degradation and depravation suffered by African-Americans (Conyers 2). The lasting effects of slavery have inflicted low self-esteem, lack of cultural identity and economic dependency on the descendants of former slaves. However, in the reverse, slavery has provided enormous profits to many White-Americans. They have enjoyed the benefits of their ancestors' unconscionable acts. Furthermore, they are still acting in an unconscionable manner by refusing to pay reparations to African-Americans. Additionally, to make matters worst, they are just doling out menial jobs to African-Americans are still working on a lesser level. As a result, while they go to their mansions and pent houses, African-Americans have to go elsewhere and live in conditions not as lavish as the descendants who enslaved their fore parents.
In a recent development to enhance the fight for reparations, The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America has announced plans to sue the United States government on the reparations issue. One must wonder why such an announcement is not shown on the major news media such as CNN, MSNBC, or even published in local news media. The organization currently based in Washington, D.C. is making headway in its preparation. Adjoe Aiyetoro, the group's attorney states, "our team is convinced that a solidly crafted lawsuit will help us achieve our reparations. Much like our ancestors who fought for 250 years to end chattel slavery, we cannot refuse to demand reparations in every forum because it appears that the government is unlikely to give it to us or that we do not have agreement as to what form it will take." (2). It appears that accomplishments by African-Americans in the past came at a price mixed with blood, sweat and tears. It also appears that this may be the path to take in the future.
In summary, African-Americans have suffered immensely as a result of slavery. Others who have suffered similar fates have received reparations. Why not African-Americans? The Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War and the constitutional amendments have not officially solved the issue of racism, discrimination, depravation, and reparations for African-Americans. Achievements made by African-Americans came with the cost of blood, sweat and tears. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America lawsuit may be a potential solution. African-Americans have made great progress by taking their plea to the courts of law. Tremendous achievements have been made in this arena. Hopefully, such achievements will continue in the future when a just, fair and equitable court decision is handed down on paying reparations.