Reparations for slavery: US government, pay up!

Reparations for slavery: US government, pay up!
Following the Rally 4 Reparations in Washington, Richard Sudan explains why the campaign is still so important given the continued impact of slavery in the US. Further pressure must be applied to force politicians to take action.
5 min read
13 Nov, 2022
National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a park built by the Equal Justice Initiative to pay tribute to thousands of African Americans who were murdered in acts of racial terrorism across America during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. [GETTY]

A rally of thousands recently took place in Washington DC, amplifying calls for the United States federal government to finally pay cash reparations to the living descendants of black American slaves.

Whereas other groups in the country have received reparations for atrocities suffered, the same justice has never been afforded to the community which is still living through the ramifications of one of the greatest crimes in history.

And, despite many on the so-called left claiming to be supportive of the right of foundational black Americans to receive reparations, since Joe Biden took office, all the talk of reparations from the political class, has simply fizzled out.

''Those communities who are directly descended from slaves and who continue to live with the ongoing effects of systemic white supremacy, nevertheless remain as committed as ever in demanding that the government finally address the crimes committed against them.''

The bill to ‘study’ reparations, known as HR40 remains stalled in Congress, while Biden’s claim to have “the backs” of black Americans upon winning office, seems little more than an empty promise.  The president could do more, but chooses not to.

The often repeated claim that the US does not have the money to pay reparations is simply not true.  Billions of dollars, if not more, have been swiftly allocated to support Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia, with no ‘studying’ needed.

Through the pandemic, billions of dollars were rightly whistled up in order to support efforts to curb the problem. It didn’t take years of empty promises.

Similarly, the US seems to have a blank check book whenever it comes to war, but not when it comes to addressing longstanding injustice suffered by tax paying black Americans.

Ultimately, there is no political will – a reality that is consistent with how the US government has always treated black people.

Those communities who are directly descended from slaves and who continue to live with the ongoing effects of systemic white supremacy, nevertheless remain as committed as ever in demanding that the government finally address the crimes committed against them.

Thousands of people of all ages and from across the country convened in the capitol, to make their voices heard.  They represent part of a much larger campaign which continues to gain national momentum. 

Despite this, both the mainstream media, with one notable exception, and the political class, have largely chosen to ignore the rally for reparations which in the long term will only reflect badly on them.

Filmmaker and activist Tariq Nasheed who organised the event within a few short weeks, talked about the significance of the event.

“I’m pleased that we were able to make history with this rally. Because this was the first time in US history that thousands of people came together at a rally to specifically push for reparations”.

While the rally may indeed have been the first of its kind, it likely won’t be the last.

And, in addition to highlighting and galvanising support for the cause itself, speakers like Tezlyn Figaro, outlined the practical steps and action needed to make reparations a reality, including  a grassroots push to get more candidates supportive of reparations into political office.

Jade Nicolette Harriell, founder of Victory of the People Movement, also made the case for reparations:

“Our ethnic group is owed lineage based reparations and we came to collect. The Rally for Reparations illustrated cultural pride, ancestral memory, and our unrelenting fight for economic justice shared by thousands of foundational black Americans. Now that we are mobilised around this issue, we’ll be hitting up local and federal lawmakers for specific policies that will empower us.”

Such calls for reparations are not an unrealistic fringe movement as some would have you believe, and have in the past been paid to Japanese Americans, were paid to Native Americans. They have even been paid to slave owners.

Reparations is not a controversial issue. But the people who claim to be supportive of the move, often hyping up their “progressive” credentials, usually around election time, amount to little more than hypocrites when it comes to action.

They are the same liberals who love to push a watered down version of Martin Luther King, conveniently neglect the fact that King himself was an advocate for reparations. For those in doubt, he made it clear in one of his famous speeches, that, “when we come to Washington we’re coming to get our check”.

Similarly, many misguidedly seemed to believe, despite the available evidence, that the election of Biden and Kamala Harris, was somehow going to miraculously bring about an end to structural racism in the country, and with that reparations would be back on the table.

Harris, however, has made crystal clear that she does not support reparations for black American descendants of slaves.

Reparations are possible if grassroots movements are supported to continue pushing the issue, and putting it on the agenda through organising and lobbying politicians. They also hold elected leaders to account, reminding us of the promises they made to win the black vote should they choose to ignore them once in power. 

In the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the physical destruction of statues of historical figures who directly profited from slavery, and calls for the decolonisation of education in the US and beyond, it is clear that younger generations are renewing calls for reparations. They are unlikely to stop until they’re heard, and we should not only encourage that rage, but join them in amplifying the long-standing demands.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Follow him on Twitter: Follow him on Twitter: @richardsudan

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.