Jeannette Muzima: Reparations for the crime of slavery
Published: 7/3/2023 1:32:40 PM
Modified: 7/3/2023 1:29:26 PM
Our legal system codifies compensation for victims of violent crimes. Could anyone possibly dispute that the horrific and long-lasting enslavement of millions of kidnapped Africans was not a colossal and catastrophic crime committed by the United States of America?
Reparations are basically compensation and an admission of culpability. It is not a new concept. There is is precedent for nations defeated in war to pay for damages or economic losses sustained by another nation as a result of hostilities. There also is a clear analogy between reparations and damages claimed when a person sues another person, or a class of people sue a corporate entity for injuries, and/or pain and suffering. This is not just an American concept.
Jews sued Germany for damages caused by their nearly successful attempt to commit genocide on the Jewish people. Germany paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Israel as well as individual Jews.
Paying reparations can be seen as an act of at – one – ment, i.e. atonement. When we, as humans, recognize and accept that we are responsible for a wrong committed.
It is curious that we humans will accept money from our ancestors in the form of an inheritance, (such money often the product of generational wealth created by the profits of slave labor), but we refuse to accept the much larger and overwhelmingly large inheritance of the heinous and odious crimes of our ancestors. Who would want to? But we have inherited it, it is present and palpable in the racism that infects our culture, the disequity among Black people in public education, health care, lack of environmental justice and economic opportunity, housing, and quality of life. It is an inheritance that we can choose to deny. Or we can accept its reality and try to help heal the trauma and economic deprivation carried by the succeeding generations.
At the very least, we need an acknowledgment of the crime of enslavement with an acceptance of complicity and responsibility, an apology, and reparations. These would finally be a concrete step toward contributing to the healing of this hideous crime, and a repudiation of its deadly effects. Why should the descendants of African slaves stand alone and not receive reparations? This would be a dishonorable aberration in the international recognition that reparations are warranted and necessary.
A sincere and long overdue apology by the President and the U.S. Congress, together with a well-designed schedule of reparations is the very least we can do.