My Word | US is obligated pay reparations

The word of the year is reparation. Its meaning is to repair a wrong, to compensate the wronged entity to help make right that wrong. Is there any reparation that can ever make right what has been done to those that are called black in this country? The suffering and inequality of those people didn’t end when slavery ended, it is ongoing and present today.

When slavery ended the ex-slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule and virtually none of them got that or anything. The slave owners received reparations for the loss of their slaves. This country was built by slaves and their generations of offspring. By 1836, more than $600 million, almost half of the economic activity of the country, came from the cotton produced by about a million slaves. Those slaves got nothing from that but the brutality of slavery. With the end of slavery came the birth of Jim Crow.

The free people of America had long justified slavery by telling themselves that humans were divided into races and the “white” race was the superior race in every respect. It is now commonly known that there is no such thing as race, there is only the human race and there are different skin colors and features due to environmental influences. Dark skin developed in Africa as a protection against absorbing too much vitamin D. We are all descended from those early humans in South Africa. But the bigotry bred by the early justifications of slavery lives on in America and there are still people who believe that light skin is a sign of superiority.

Jim Crow laws began in the late 1800s and enforced racial segregation until 1965. Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans and other people of color. Although touted as “separate but equal,” there was virtually nothing that was equal about segregated facilities. These laws guaranteed that people of color remained disadvantaged in every way.

Having a voice in the political system was not something the people in power were going to share with people of color so battles to make the vote accessible were being waged as recently as the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s and due to the magic of gerrymandering are still being fought.

The middle class in America was built up by an increasing number of people being able to purchase property, to have a home of their own. When that started to happen, a few people of color tried to buy homes and that was seen as a threat. White people were convinced that property values would go down so some canny whites started buying homes and selling them to African Americans as contract sales. A down payment was paid to the seller and monthly payments made but the seller retained the ownership till the last payment was made. If the buyer missed one payment they lost everything, they had no equity, no nothing. These sellers would often end up selling a property numerous times and getting rich but people of color had no options. The FHA-insured mortgages were not available to African Americans, the only option was a contract purchase. The result was that white homeowners who bought homes like the Levittown homes for $8,000 to $10,000 had homes years later that sold for $300,000 to $500,000, an investment that put their kids through college and more.

The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth 20 times as much as black households and only 15% of white households have zero or negative wealth while more than one-third of black households do.

The United States has a history of reparations, particularly after wars. That we, as a country, should be obligated to pay reparations to all people of African American heritage should be self-evident. We, as a country, as a government, have been actively complicit in preventing any real equity of opportunity for the generations of survivors of slavery. These are a people who to this day face bigotry in countless forms everywhere in this country. They are imprisoned at a far greater rate than any others, they live looking over their shoulders everywhere they go. It is not possible to grow up as an African American in America without being emotionally and mentally negatively marked. As the richest country in the world, we need to look at creating the educational, economic and social equity needed to make right what is owed to those we have wronged.

Sylvia De Rooy is an Indianola resident. 

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