Professor Baruti Kopano
English 101, Section 14
6 December 2015
There is a Kenyan Proverb that says, “Until lions have historians, hunters will be heroes.”1 In this case, the slaves are the lions, and the slave owners are the hunters. In his 1993 monograph Paying the Social Debt: What White America Owes Black America, Richard America makes a forceful argument that reparation for Europe’s enslavement of Africans in the United States is an idea which is long overdue. People say that slavery is over, hence, African Americans are not owed anything. But slavery was a system that gave birth to Racism, and racism is a belief that exist till this day. Therefore, African Americans deserve reparations for the 250+ years of slavery in America that fathered racial discrimination.
Reparations for slavery was originally a pan-Africanist idea. Pan-Africanism was a movement that grew out of the desire of Africans and people of African descent to promote unity among themselves, and can be traced back to the period of the slave trade. It originated during the struggles of Africans against enslavement and colonization, and this struggle may be traced back to the first resistance on slave ships – rebellions and suicides – through the constant plantation and colonial uprisings and the “Back to Africa” movements of the nineteenth century. However, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that Pan Africanism emerged as a distinct political movement initially formed and led by people from the Diaspora (people of African heritage living outside of the Continent).
From a political stand point, in order to ensure national unity and fairness, reparations should be paid/made to the descendants of enslaved Africans. But still you might wonder, why should black people get their reparations? It is common knowledge in the political circles that Germany paid reparations to the Jews for the Holocaust and the United States paid reparations to Japanese Americans for putting them in concentration camps following the bombing of the Pearl Harbor. The United States also paid millions, if not billions, of dollars in reparation to Japan for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. Considering this information, it is only fair that the United States of America, a country established on the principle of fair play and justice for all, pays for its horrendous crimes against people of color. As said by Molefi Kete Asante, “The only remedy for such an immense deprivation of life and liberty is an enormous restitution.”
Africans did not enslave themselves in the Americas. It was of European origin. Slavery in its entirety was brutal and was developed in its greatest degree of degradation in the United States. According to the numerous reports over the years, slavery was NOT romantic, but it was evil, dehumanizing, brutal and ferocious. It was a very corrupt way of life. In fact, there were laws that more or less stated that the white man could do to his ‘property’ as he pleased. Looking at a white man straight in the eye would have resulted in the thorough whipping and/or slaughter of the onlooker. The man, woman, or child was at the mercy of the master and the woman, or her spouse, who resisted the master’s advances was courting death. The slaves were beaten, raped, hanged, burned alive, tortured, mutilated and in some cases, buried alive. Although no amount of payment in the world can suffice for this degree of inhumanity, African Americans have earned all the retribution they can get.
Slavery also resulted in a huge loss of African heritage and the dignity of Africans and people of African descent. The Africans taken directly from their homeland were either victims of trickery or kidnap. They were snatched from their homes and robbed of their identities. They were forced to learn/speak a foreign language and were severely punished for reverting to their ‘savage’ ways. They were forced to work with no pay and were abused, physically, mentally, and in the case of women and young girls, sexually. This is one of the numerous reason why in David Walker 1829 “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World”, he argued that “the White Christian Americans” were the most cruel and barbarous people who have ever lived. I do not want to slander one of America’s favorite presidents, but slavery was not abolished because the countrymen had a sudden sense of morality. Slavery was abolished with purely economic intentions.2 The North had no slaves and had to pay for their labor, meaning they needed to request specific amounts for certain jobs from contractors. The South had hundreds of slaves, meaning they were very flexible with the cost of their business since they had no other pockets to worry about but their own, so the south got more business than the north. Therefore, slavery was abolished with the intention of balancing out the economy. African Americans have never been seen as more than a source of revenue to the country’s coffers. It is only fair that they be given their share of everything.
But most people will say, “You cannot punish a child for the sins of the father.” Most White Americans look at slavery through this jaundiced eye, while others are just oblivious the whole gist of the issue. They see no reason why the country has to pay for the sins of its founding fathers. “Let bygones be bygones” they say. “Slavery is over so let’s not talk about it anymore and pretend it never happened.” But why do they not say this for the Jews that were victimized during the holocaust? Why do they not say the same for the Japanese families placed in concentrated camps during the world war? The truth of the matter is the subconscious belief that Africans are inferior to whites and therefore do not deserve compensation for their labor or anything else. But I say, if the Jews and the Japanese are good enough for reparations, then so are African Americans.
The highest form of law exhibits itself when a system of law is able to answer for its own crimes. Hence, we must continue to right the wrongs of the past so that our current relationship will improve. Reparations will bring a piece of mind to black Americans and would pave the way for national healing and unity. For once we have come to terms with the basis of reparations, we, as a whole, can begin to overcome the legacy of slavery.
America, Richard. "Paying the Social Debt: What White America Owes Black America." 1993. Web.
Asante, Molefi Kete. "The African American Warrant for Reparations: The Crime of European Enslavement of Africans and Its Consequences." 21 May 2009. Print.
Asante, Molefi Kete. "The Slave Trade and Reparations: Closing the Gates." 22 June 2011. Print.
Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Dutton, 2000. Print.
Schuchter, Arnold. Reparations: The Black Manifesto and Its Challenge. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970. Print.
Winbush, Raymond, ed. Should America Pay? Slavery and the Raging Debate over Reparations. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.