By, Dr. Kerris Dillon
One of the hot topics for the 2020 election is reparations for slavery. I’ve heard presidential candidates talk about it and various Congresspersons express interest in a Congressional study. Mitch McConnell (the Senate Majority Leader) stated that as long as he led the Senate, he’d make sure no such bill ever made it to the floor. So, what are reparations for slavery and what would they look like?
To prepare for this piece, I read scholarly articles and examined various websites concerning reparations. In my investigations, I found the goals of reparation for African Americans (specifically slavery) are two-fold. The first part of a reparation would consist of an official apology by the United States government for the allowance of slavery. The second part of reparations would mean a Congressional study in which data would be collected concerning African American history.
It is because of the labor of slaves, the labor of sharecroppers, and the barriers of discrimination that certain companies, businesses, and families were able to build their wealth in America. The cost of slavery and discrimination has meant that African Americans have not had equal access to high quality education, housing, and healthcare. The Pew Research Center conducted studies showing that white families have 20 times the wealth that African American families do ( https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/3/11/18246741/reparations-democrats-2020-inequality-warren-harris-castro).
The United States government already paid reparations for Japanese Americans that were placed in internment camps during WWII. Companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Wachovia, Aetna, and the Lehman Brothers released public apologies for their use of slavery in the advancement of their businesses (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/point-taken/should-us-pay-reparations-black-americans/#intro). Isn’t it time for the United States government to at least announce a formal apology for slavery within the United States? The United Nations urged the American government to begin paying reparations for slavery after they examined the issue during an 11-day mission in 2006 ( http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/point-taken/should-us-pay-reparations-black-americans/#intro). Isn’t it time to at least begin Congressional studies gathering data concerning African American poverty, incarceration rates, and access to healthcare?
There is no doubt the data would be extremely telling. This is why there is such fear with actually doing so. Movements such as Black Lives Matter have been suppressed with counter-movements stating that All Lives Matter, but the counter-movement alone represents a further suppression of the discrimination that African Americans face. The Black Lives Matter movement was a well-needed and important protest against the enormous inequalities of incarcerated Black youth, a lack of adequate healthcare, as well as quality education. No matter the mode that individuals or groups attempt to gain equality for Black Americans, somehow the movement gets pushed aside or some type of obnoxious distraction becomes present.
When are we as Americans going to start to face the mistakes we’ve made and own up to the inequalities that exist within our nation? I was a high school history teacher for 10 years and I never sugarcoated the mistakes our nation made or continued to make as a country. I believe our children deserve the truth about how Americans have behaved in the past so that we don’t make those same errors in the future. Students who can accurately access history in a multifaceted way become adults that consider decisions using a variety of perspectives. Empathy is extremely important and making decisions that serve the greatest good will have the most successful outcome in the future.