The recent historic opening day of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture represented a moment in time in the U.S. when Americans were made aware of the countless contributions of people of African descent and the place where they can now see and hear the stories of how those contributions came to be, despite all odds, cruelties and barriers.
It was a recognition that was long overdue, but one that proves why it was necessary for the General Assembly of the United Nations to declare 2015 to 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent.
The U.N. group noted, “In many cases, [people of African Descent] situation remains largely invisible, and insufficient recognition and respect has been given to the efforts of people of African descent to seek redress for their present condition. They all too often experience discrimination in their access to justice, and face alarmingly high rates of police violence, together with racial profiling.”
Disturbed by recent reports of killings of African-Americans by police, a U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, established nearly 14 years ago, issued a report in which they condemned the actions by police and labeled the situation “racial terrorism” akin to the lynchings of Blacks during the Jim Crow era. They are demanding an end to the killings and calling for the U.S. to pay reparations to people of African descent who have endured a long history of racial violence going back to slavery.
“Whether as descendants of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade or as more recent migrants, people of African descent constitute some of the poorest and most marginalized groups,” the report said. “Studies and findings by international and national bodies demonstrate that people of African descent still have limited access to quality education, health services, housing and social security.”
Following visits to several U.S. cities over the past year — including Baltimore and D.C., where the group met with city officials and community groups — they concluded that U.S. people of African descent are still experiencing the vestiges of slavery — a crime against humanity — and thusly deserve reparations from the U.S. government. Discrimination in housing, employment and education, they assert, should lead the U.S. government to offer reparations by way of “a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation.”
U.S. officials have no obligation to act upon the U.N. group’s recommendations, but it should provide momentum to the advocates of Bill H.R. 40 introduced by Rep. John Conyers that establishes a commission to study reparation proposals for African-Americans. It should not remain dormant any longer.