Black ExperienceNational

Scholar Frames Reparations Movement in Global Context

The current reparations discussion has brought to light deep-seated sentiments among those who identify as American descendants of slavery (ADOS) that their Black immigrant counterparts can’t identify with, and have been complicit in the perpetuation of, their ongoing struggle.

In recent weeks, Pan-African scholars and activists have challenged, on social media and through opinion pieces, what they describe as an ahistorical narrative. Some have gone further, mulling over how best to define and secure true reparations for victims of chattel slavery, colonialism, and their modern-day iterations.

“If you look at the African struggle as a whole, the only political issue that unites [Africans across the world] is reparations,” said Raymond Winbush, research professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore and author of “Should America Pay? Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations.”

In 2001, Winbush attended the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, where participants drafted a declaration that took the United States and Western European nations to task for their role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and colonialism. The issue of how to include the issue of compensation in the Declaration pitted that bloc against an African-Caribbean-Asian-Latin American coalition.

Despite increasing pressure, elected officials, and even comedians, would continue to dismiss reparations as an African-American desire for some quick cash for several years.

Winbush noted that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” and Randall Robinson’s scholarship on the matter more than a decade prior shifted the focus to how chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, redlining, blockbusting, and other modern-day oppressive financial policies collectively drained Black Americans of what’s estimated to be trillions of dollars.

“Right now, the Democratic presidential candidates are talking about something that Black people have talked about for several hundreds of years,” Winbush said.

He stressed that Democratic candidates who’ve expressed support for reparations would have to go beyond studying reparations, as former Rep. John Conyers’ H.R. 40 suggested, and specify how they plan to compensate descendants of enslaved Africans.

This spring and summer, organizations walking in the steps of Queen Mother Moore, Belinda Royall, and other pioneers of the reparations movement will focus on that very question.

On Sunday, the Afrodescendant Youth Network will host a Holocaust Remembrance Day at Joe’s Emporium and Cultural Center in Mt. Rainer, Maryland. In June, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) will host its annual conference in Detroit, themed “400 Years of Terror: A Debt Still Owed.”

Such events come as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders denounces reparations as a viable solution for systemic inequity. In recent months, he has answered inquiries about reparations with a request for a definition.

Winbush said such postering shows a lack of regard for Black people’s suffering. As far as what reparations entails, Winbush said that it must not only be compensatory, but phycologically restorative. Examples he mentioned included the allocation of land stolen from ancestors, academic scholarships, and DNA testing that helps descendants of enslaved Africans learn their roots.

“Reparations is about more than a check and can spin off of a lot of things, like how the Voting Rights Act spun off of the Brown v. Board of Education decision,” Winbush said. “It can include people who got their land stolen in this country. It’s not just what right-wing people are saying. If I break the windows of your car and you want a repair, you don’t want a handout, you want justice.”

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