Justice: Why More African Americans Must Talk "Reparations"

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Rep. Conyers has been a frontline general on a Reparations

By our unpaid labor and suffering, we have earned the right to the soil, many times over, now we are determined to have it.
Ask any African American you know “Do you feel you are due reparations? It’s guaranteed, all polled will answer “yes.” On the other hand, nearly seven in ten Americans oppose paying reparations to Black descendants of slaves for the harm and racial discrimination caused by slavery, according to an Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll commissioned by WGBH Boston. The poll’s opinions on reparations divide along racial lines.
Many Black intellectuals say that “the economies of developed, capitalist, industrial countries were built on backs of Black slaves. Black slaves were the engine that propelled Europe’s rise to global economic dominance. The toil of enslaved Blacks helped amass capital that financed the “industrial revolution.” The West’s wealth was built on the exploitation of Africans. It’s estimated that America owes Black descendents of slaves $5 trillion. Yet, the Point Taken-Marist Poll says White Americans “overwhelmingly oppose” such restitution.
Hardly anyone in America disputes that slavery is wrong. But hardly anyone dares to discuss righting the wrongs of slavery and legacy of injustices it brought about. Slavery can rightly be called our nation’s “original sin. And, the Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll illustrates its indelible imprint on America. Racial discrimination and inequity abound in America. The legacy of slavery continues to shape the nation's politics in ways that are not fully appreciated by a citizenry who would rather ignore its history in the vain hope that they might escape it.
In an irony of ironies, Black Americans, America’s most economically “disadvantaged” ethnic group, are very cavalier about reparations and “whether a debt is owed them.” In the Point Taken-Marist Poll, nearly six in ten Americans assert the current wealth of the U.S. is not significantly tied to work done in the past by slaves, although most consider the history of slavery and racial discrimination to be at least a factor in the gap in wealth between Whites and Blacks. Many Americans, 69 percent, including half of African Americans, think slavery and racial discrimination is part of the history of the United States, but it is time to move beyond it. 27 percent believe slavery and racial discrimination is a wrong that still needs to be made right by the U.S. government. Millennials, 57 percent, are the least likely of the generations to believe it’s time to put the issue of slavery behind the nation and are the most likely to report that it is still a wrong that needs to be made right by the U.S. government, 40 percent.
“Mainstream” influence has caused the subject of “reparations for slavery” to become “controversial” among African Americans. Most Whites don’t know, or recognize the impact of racism in America. Structural racism resists social change. In the poll, White Americans, 81-percent are much more likely than African Americans, 35-percent, to oppose giving monetary compensation to descendants of slaves.
The validity of the issue of reparations needs to gain more momentum among African Americans. Too many Blacks have put the issue on the back burner. More of us should talk about the issue on a regular basis and not let “Mainstream” issues subordinate financial and legal repairs owed to the descendants of slaves.
For their “economic equity” Blacks need to start regular conversations on reparation repairs. Black Americans are missing on an issue that could right what is wrong of our time in America.
Contemporary Blacks should use the “Roots” movie event as impetus to recognize the past and how it has shaped America’s race and race relations. We should talk about payment and ways to get it legally, legislatively and by decree.
The members of Congress most associated reparations and apology for slavery, are John Conyers of the Detroit area and Steve Cohen of Memphis. Conyers says: "It’s a fact that slavery flourished in the U.S. and constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of slaves' lives, liberty, and cultural heritage. As a result, millions of African-Americans today continue to suffer great injustices."

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via

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