Monday, May 03, 2010

Skip-Ass Gates' Deliberate Mis-Read 
of the African Slave Trade
 I am posting a response to Harvard Professor's, Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, 22 April 2010 Op-Ed piece on the African collaboration in the multicentury long African slave trade. This response is from my good friend and great Miami-based activist/artist, Dinizulu Tinnie.

I would like to add, however - that the multicentury transAtlantic and TransAfrica slave trade was not static. It evolved over time from a crude grab and snatch level to a more nuanced and complex form as you described. Like these Gatesian folk look at Africa as a homogeneous
country, they also look at slavery as stuck in one period of its evolution as seen thru the mythical lens of white supremacy and deep Black Ignorance. --SEA
Dinnizulu Tinnie writes:
On or about April 23, I shared the NY Times article by Skip Gates which is at this link:
At the time, I promised (or threatened) a reply.  It is almost impossible not to reply to such a statement except in a lengthy way, unfortunately, but I would respectfully offer the following points for consideration.
Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. has what it is probably fair to say that most academicians lack, which is the quality -- for better or worse -- of being a showman.  He is credited, along with Dr. Cornel West, with having restored to American society the role and persona of the “public intellectual,” and they have done so with the added coup of making that role one that is dominated by African American scholars.  As a showman, Dr. Gates has demonstrated an aptly remarkable knack for attracting the spotlight of attention, as in the brouhaha of his confrontation with the Cambridge, MA, police as he “broke into his own home,” which even garnered the attention and involvement of the President of the United States.  This follows less publicized controversies, such as the television series of his trip to Africa, which left many of his African/American countrymen and women frankly embarrassed to have been represented that way to dignitaries and common folks of the Motherland. 
As a scholar, it is probably fair to say that he has been trading in the market value, to some, monetary or otherwise, of keeping the issue of “race” alive and important.  This is not to say that it is unimportant – as too many people every day pay the price of racist oppression, discrimination and exploitation.  But it is to recognize the scientific reality that our commonly held notions of “race” are a myth, as modern DNA evidence has proven again and again.  (The Human Genome Project revealed that fully 98.2% of all human DNA is identical, so that only 1.2% of our entire genetic makeup accounts for ALL of the differences we perceive among individuals, including height, body type, and certain personality traits, as well as what are called “phenotypical” [“racial”] characteristics.  Indeed, one DNA study showed that the two ethnic groups that were the most genetically similar were Australian Aborigines and Finnish Lapplanders.  So much for the “scientific” basis for genetic entitlement to unearned privileges.)

Not only is “race” an arbitrary and mythical construct which originated in the era of European exploration and colonization, with its doctrine of “White Supremacy,” as a tool of racism itself.  To keep the concept and the issue alive, by focusing on “race relations” is, in fact, a backhanded way of assuring the White Supremacists that they are still important, that they still have the power to control other people’s lives.  (Racism has a very hard time accepting the fact that, even during the slavery era, enslaved people had many more important things to think about and to do than the fact that they were legally enslaved.) 

That, from the lens through which I am looking, is the backdrop for this latest Gates flourish, entitled “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” which appeared in The New York Times of April 22, 2010.  The basic premise of the article is that the history of slavery -- and its continuing aftermath, which have engendered an inevitable discussion of reparations, has been skewed  by reparations activists to focus on the misdeeds of “white” people, while ignoring the role played by Africans in supplying the slave ships with captives in the first place.

 As a showman, Dr. Gates has found yet another topic to throw on the table that is guaranteed to be sensational, and no doubt will stimulate the kind of discussions and debates that will keep his name on the lips of many for some time to come.  (The Cambridge Cop coup had pretty much run its course anyway.)  As a scholar and public intellectual, he has put together a well-researched essay, worthy of both academic peer review and popular consumption, which addresses one of those historical realities that is bound to be “uncomfortable” for some, while perhaps being “comforting” to others.  In any case, it is hard to argue that it is not a topic whose time has come for an open 

 The questions that remain are whether this particular article contributes to the better-being of society by offering useful and constructive information, and, if so, what makes it useful.  The first of these questions has to be answered by society itself; the article is literally what we make it, but the answer to the second has much to do with what we can make of it.

Amongst the reactions that this essay is bound to generate, my own cannot promise to be of the same academic quality, and represents only one response among hundreds of millions of possibilities, but it is also the same response that I have offered for years.  We can begin by accepting the basic truth of Gates’ premise, that   a) Africans sold Africans to the so-called “slave traders,” and that this could not have been accomplished except with African participation and support; and   b) the question of reparations must take this into account.

Of course, none of this is new.  This point has been made many times in many places (Black conservative commentator Thomas Sowell made the same point, as I recall, back in the 1990s, for example) , but not perhaps with the impact of an article in a prominent newspaper with a showman-scholar’s by-line.  And the response to it is new either.  While it may be quite true that “Africans sold Africans,” this is frankly inane because it is like saying that Europeans killed Europeans during World Wars I and II.  The nations of Europe which fought wars and captured prisoners whom they effectively enslaved did not consider themselves fighting fellow Europeans who all shared the same culture or language, but as separate nations, as in Africa.

Why would it be logical to expect Africa, a continent several times the size of Europe, with literally thousands of different cultures and languages, to be any different.  As has been often observed by educators striving to undo old stereotypes, “Africa is a continent, not a country.”  Different nations of Africans fought and took captives from other nations.  Arguably, the same can be said to be true throughout the human race in one form or another. 

Moreover, the idea of ridding one’s country of its enemies and unwanted population by sending them on ships across the ocean was not unique to Africa.  It was common enough in Europe to dispose in this manner of convicts, debtors, indentured servants, persecuted religious sects, and others with a reason not to stay in Europe.  To this might be added the practice of “Shanghai-ing” sailors, who would awake from an induced drunken stupor or a knock on the head, aboard a ship far out at sea, as part of the crew.

These points may prove that the behavior which Dr. Gates ascribes to Africans might be more universally human than racist propaganda would suggest, but it does not negate his basic point that, if it is a matter of identifying the perpetrators of the crime of “slave trading,” then Africans must be included (just as Europeans must be recognized as the slaughterers of fellow Europeans).   However, he seems to ignore some of the factors that brought about this African involvement in this nasty business.  He states that “The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.” 

While he cites the works of distinguished and knowledgeable scholars like John Thornton and Linda Heywood, or David Eltis’ extensive database on slave ship voyages, he seems not to have consulted such authoritative works as Dr. Eric Williams’ classic study of “Capitalism & Slavery” or the late Dr. Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.”  Such works demonstrate how these “African elites” were often artificially created by being armed and enriched by the European traders in exchange for their collaboration.  Walter Rodney insightfully discusses the effects of such strategies as “economic blackmail”: essentially a proposition in which the trader says to a coastal African chief, “If you do not take our guns and procure ‘slaves’ for us, we will sell our guns farther down the coast, and those people will use them to capture you.” 

Rodney also even discusses the effect of inflation: Once the cowrie shell was established as a form of money, because of its rarity, trade could be conducted at established rates of exchange.  However, as European explorers found locations elsewhere where cowries were abundant, they could return to these old trading places and flood the local economy with money, thereby depressing the value of everything, creating poverty, and then exploiting that situation to coerce people to deliver “slaves.” 

And, of course, there is the basic fact, as pointed out by Dr. Alexander Falconbridge, the English ships’ surgeon who wrote the lesser-known commentary that accompanied the 1789 publication of the famous image of the Slave Ship Brooks, that there would have been no African participation in this “trade” in human beings if there were not slave ships creating the demand in the first place.

These practices, added to the depopulation itself that was caused by the “slave trade” succeeded in disrupting social organization and such systems as agriculture and defense, which became a downward spiral and a vicious cycle, of which we see the results today. 

The reality of these practices is not a denial of the fact that there were corrupt and greed-driven individuals who were only too happy to gain privileges by trading with the Europeans that their own people would never have accorded them, and to be made into a new “African elite.” 

While Dr. Gates suggests that “Advocates of reparations generally ignore” the fact of African participation, choosing instead to believe romantic notions of kidnapping by evil white men, the fact, at least as I have known it, has always been that Black people never denied African involvement.  Indeed, it has become something of a fixture in modern culture to remember that “some of those that willingly sold us to the ships are still with us,” as we witness the continued propagation of these collaborator “elites.”  This allegation of intellectual laziness and dishonesty on the part of those who espouse reparations borders on some unfortunate stereotyping on Dr. Gates’ part.

Maybe his suggestion is justified by the fact that the reparations issue, the second matter that his article addresses, has been bandied about so much by people who have not given it much more than superficial thought, and these may be the “advocates” to which he refers.  His argument would be much stronger if he addressed the more reasoned aspects of the debate, put forth by serious thinkers, but sometimes showmanship works better when it is knocking down a straw man that the performer himself has created, with a little help from his unknowing allies, than more honest debate.

In the spirit of full disclosure, while I may not be one of the most serious thinkers, I do believe that I am far from alone in considering this vital issue of Reparations beyond the lightweight level that Dr. Gates evokes.  For what it is worth, my own longstanding position on the Reparations issue may not be one that gets wide agreement, but it is one that I hope will contribute something useful and constructive to the discussion:
1)      Reparations are OBVIOUSLY due, as in any case of a crime against another person, causing physical and/or mental harm and depriving the person of rights and property;

2)      Although other groups of people have received payments as reparations for past wrongs, reparations for the African World cannot and should not be in money, for at least two  reasons: 
     a) There is simply not that much money on the planet, to pay for five centuries of slavery, colonialism,  and their continuing aftermath; and...

    b) The only way for the guilty parties to pay would be for them to remain sufficiently wealthy to do so, which  means continuing their existing practices, and all of the resulting existing problems, such as global sweatshops and militarism to defend their interests.

3)       Other groups who have received reparations payments have gained them as a result of successful legal action after the crimes – such as the Nazi Holocaust or the unjust internment of Japanese Americans – have ceased.  The crimes against the African World did not cease with the end of legalized slavery, but continued with terrorism during Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and continuing discrimination and exploitation, including “resegregation,” today.  Moreover, for this very reason, it is even questionable that a court can be found where a truly fair hearing of the case can take place.

4)      The whole notion of what constitutes fair reparations needs to be revisited and redefined, and must be on a global, not just a national scale.  Cancellation of all outstanding debt supposedly owed by African World nations, and the removal of all land mines from countries like Angola (and not by underpaid Africans being placed in harm’s way) might be a beginning.  The Reparations question is much more of a matter of “restorative justice” than, say, revenge, or arbitrary cash payouts with no real change in the system. 

5)      In other words, as with all social demands by the African-descendant population in the past, which have always benefited all segments of the population, the Reparations issue for African Americans is the last and ultimate one to be resolved.   And it can only be done in a way that all people benefit, and that the African World is restored to self-sufficiency and self-determination going forward.

That is all pretty much oversimplified, but it reflects, I think, a better basis for discussion than the false stereotypes and supposed “solutions” (such as cash payouts – since this is in someone else’s control) that can be only temporary at best.
As to the question of whether Africans owe reparations to those of the African Diaspora, as Dr. Gates points out, African leaders are among the first to recognize that wrongs were committed, but their situation is much different, it seems to me, from that of the actual enslavers in this country and elsewhere, and the difference is not just in their skin color.  The focus has to be on who profited the most from slavery, and what kind of “restorative justice” the various parties can offer in order to establish real equality. 

This is all very complex, especially while Africa is still being destroyed by situations like those in Darfur, Uganda, and the Congo, and recently in Rwanda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, all with the eager encouragement of foreign arms dealers.  Who can deny that there is African participation in all of these horrors, but this begs the question of how and why these conflicts began, and also of why the many heroic efforts, also with full African participation, to remedy or prevent these ills receive neither the support nor the press coverage that the perpetrators regularly receive. 

It is not about blaming “others” – as the title of Gates’ article suggests – but about solving a profound human problem that depends heavily on the destiny of African and African-descendant nations and peoples and how much they are being systematically prevented from having true independence and self-determination.  (A major tool for preventing this is precisely the artificial creation of outside-dependent “African elites.”)  No one can deny that this is a matter of African responsibility, even though African “elite” participation in it (like African participation in, say, heroin dealing or other destructive practices) is a fact of life.  The idea is to find solutions rather than perpetuate the problems, even by continuing to discuss them.  With solutions, the “blame-game” will take care of itself, with no finger pointing needed on our part.

What appears to be the consensus on this Reparations question, and why the focus is on European and European-descendant perpetrators of the crimes of slavery and “slave trading,” while appearing to avoid indictment of the African participants, is that the Africans  who were involved and their descendants are all very keenly aware of the moral and spiritual currency in which the accounts for past misdeeds will be reckoned.  (It is not for nothing that we see performances like what Gates describes on the part of the President of the Republic of Benin.)   Justice for African participation will, arguably, take care of itself. 

However, if Reparations continues to be an issue at all, it is precisely because “mainstream America” generally recognizes no responsibility for having committed an enormous crime (added to the genocidal “removal” of the Native peoples).   To hear most Americans, including the political leadership, all of that was OK, even God-ordained, as if nothing wrong was ever done. 

And this is the basic point.  It is ironic that Skip Gates' article talks about "ending the blame game" when what it really does is only to continue it.  African responsibility for its part in the "slave trade" has never been denied by any serious thinkers in the Black community that I know of.  If anything, in the tradition of "keepin' it real" and eschewing phoniness, it has always been fully acknowledged.  What this article seems to be aimed at is keeping America's myths of innocence alive, by "letting white folks off the hook," as it were, by reassuring them that they are absolved of the guilt, since it was, after all the Africans who sold the Africans and none of this could have happened if that were not the case. 

It is true enough that no living persons who might categorize themselves as "white" today had any hand in the crimes of "slave trading" and slavery, so there is no guilt anyway.  The challenge, however, is for the entire nation (and world, for that matter), having inherited the burden of that history and its continuing consequences (including the fundamental distribution of material wealth and political power, for example), to come to terms with this burden and whether we intend to pass it on to future generations (or even, by ignorance, unintentionally pass it on.) 

The single most dominant social factor in shaping the last five centuries of human history has been the doctrine of “White Supremacy,” concocted in the wake of western European exploration and colonial expansion.  (“Their gain shall be the knowledge of our Faith, and ours shall be such wealth as their country hath,” as glorified pirate Sir Francis Drake is quoted as stating baldly.)  This doctrine has no scientific or moral justification, and has only been maintained and supported by violence, whether actual or threatened, whether physical or psychic, but always present. 

In these recent centuries (a mere nanosecond of human history), this corrupted mindset has had global reach and a “white” face, but it is a timeless human challenge.  There will always be would-be and wannabe oppressors and exploiters of their fellow beings.  If there is any “blame game” to be sorted out, it is in how each one of us individually either resists or collaborates with those forces, or, conversely, asserts a society in which such impulses are contained by predominance of sanity.

Dr. Gates would serve our race – the human race -- much better if he had applied his formidable scholarly and showmanship skills to addressing this issue on a more serious and purposeful basis that would contribute to the solution rather than the problem.

"The Reparations Question" 
by Chester Hartman & Richard America

July/August 1994 issue of Poverty & Race

How to make white America comprehend and come to grips with the legacy of slavery? Is this a necessary precondition t, dealing with, and perhaps ending, current institutionalized racism, segregated housing, school and employment patterns, and the prejudiced attitudes and behavior of individuals?

A deeply felt strand of thought and strategic thinking in at least a portion of the black community, and among some whites a well, holds that a program of systemic and large-scale reparations is an essential threshold step, for which precedents certainly exist in recent US and world history. On the other hand, the philosophical, political and practical problems of remedying past wrongs on the scale attributable to slavery, an institution that was formally and legally ended well over a century ago, are immense.

We decided to raise the reparations issue and its problems in the form of an interview with one of its leading proponent: economist Richard America. Accompanying our interview is a supportive commentary by Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, sponsor c a bill to study the legacy of slavery and propose remedies; and a strong but friendly dissent, with an alternative proposal, by Temple University sociologist Howard Winant.

In the September/ October issue of Poverty & Race we will publish a set of additional solicited commentaries by a range c thinkers and activists. We also will consider publishing additional comments by readers, and so encourage you to add your thought 40"N this controversial issue - Chester Hartman.

Chester Hartman: Let's start with a definitional question: How exactly would you define the reparations issue? Who is to be compensated, and for what?

Richard America: Reparations isn't the issue. It's a conceptual framework, a way of looking at a set of related issues. The issues are economic, political and social dysfunction and the management of a large complex multiracial society that's competing internationally less than optimally.

Unjust enrichment based on slavery and discrimination causes this dysfunction. The country will not have a bright future if the problems stemming from past economic injustice and inequity aren't solved.

To improve overall performance, by including people who have been excluded and exploited, we need to provide more than palliatives. We need to invest heavily in them. But the rationale for doing that .has been unpersuasive.

The real question is, what is the present value and distribution of the stream of income that has been coercively and wrongfully diverted from blacks to whites through slavery and discrimination to produce lopsided income and wealth distributions by race, and, in doing so, has robbed too many blacks of skills they need to perform effectively?

The top 20%, disproportionately white, receives 42% of earned income. The bottom 20%, disproportionately black, receives 5% of earned income. Wealth is even more maldistributed. A major reason for this skewed outcome is past injustice-slave labor in agriculture, manufacturing, many services and in infrastructure development-followed by exclusion, discrimination and exploitation. Common resource pools, produced by everyone's labor, were maldistributed, by white decision makers, overwhelmingly to whites, primarily in the form of education and training.

CH: Why are reparations so important?

RA: The country faces a set of complex interconnected problems. We label them as urban, racial, underclass, inner city problems. We talk about affirmative action, reverse discrimination and quotas. Actually we're talking about wealth and income redistribution, but without a sufficient intellectual and analytical basis.

The primary racial social problems are manifested in poor performance and poor quality in employment, education, housing, health, crime, municipal finance, and also in overall deficiencies in our competitiveness and productivity at a macro level.
Chronic racial injustices over generations help to produce these current defects. To remedy the big problems faced by the whole society, we need to correctly define them. But we haven't. That's why the debate is endless and circular. So reparations is actually a concept that's central to getting to consensus and to successful governance and management of long-term economic performance. It's a key public policy concept, so far unrecognized or unacknowledged. And it's also a tool for conflict resolution in circumstances of deep ancestral grievances between groups.

CH: How much money might be involved, and how might it be disbursed and used?

RA: Whites owe blacks $5 to 10 trillion. It should be repaid primarily through investment in human capital education and training over two to three generations. It should also be repaid through investments in targeted housing, capital formation, and business creation. CH: How did you calculate this figure? RA: The basis for the estimates are in work done by James Marketti, at the University of Wisconsin, and in an illustrative estimate done under a program at the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley work was based, in turn, on Lester Thurow's modelÑdeveloped in his 1969 book, Poverty and Discrimination. Both were published in my 1990 edited collection, The Wealth of Races.

These estimates add up to over $3 trillion, but they covered limited time series because of data limitations. They don't cover the entire period 1619 through 1994. They were intended to suggest estimating techniques that can be refined and further developed.

The estimates also don't take account of discrimination in investment in human capital in public education, K-12 and college. So $5 to $10 trillion would turn out to be an understatement.

CH: You've elsewhere suggested that the reparations issue is largely an accounting problem. What do you mean by that, and what accounting system do you propose?

RA: It's an accounting or auditing problem in the sense that the first order of business is to establish the accuracy of the claim. After that, the conversation will lead to practical constructive outcomes. But first a solid, fairly rigorous analytical basis must be built. Until then, the discussion tends to be rhetorical only.

The case must withstand scrutiny from economists and policy analysts. Then it will be adopted by political leaders and opinion makers in the media. The concept will make that step to broad respectability when the research is done and stands up.

It will then lead to useful results when it is embraced, ultimately, by most people as right and fair and practical. It will stand the same tests of debate in a democracy as any other concept or proposal.

CH: In May, Denny's restaurant chain agreed to a $54 million settlement with the Justice Department to compensate for and remedy clearly demonstrated patterns of racial discrimination, several thousand victims will receive a hefty cash award. And the State of Florida apparently will be making a large cash payment to a few survivors of racial violence against a black town that occurred over 70 years ago. In what ways do you se these recent events as moving us tow a massive reparations scheme of yP the t you advocate?

RA: The Denny's case and the Florida case have nothing to do with the repara-tions concept. Those are finite judgments based on specific fact situations with individual, identifiable parties. The broad reparations concept is more amorphous. It involves patterns and practices of 15 generations. These are scrutinized and found wanting by current ethical and moral standards that are applied retroactively.

Society in 1994 will say, we cannot in good conscience accept benefits produced by unjust means that we disapprove of. Some of these acts happened long ago, but they produced benefits that were transferred intergenerationally, compounded and bequeathed to us.

I believe society is ready to take that step. But ultimately it is a moral question: is it moral for the top 30-those earning over roughly $45,000, as a class-to accept such unjust enrichments? And, if not, how can we remedy the injustice? Systematic, targeted income and wealth redistribution is the answer.

CH: Is there any contradiction between characterizing it as a moral issue, and the framework you earlier raised in terms of practical, global competitiveness?

RA: The concept is moral in the sense that even when it's shown convincingly that there is such a "debt," there is no power that can enforce collection, although creative legal theories may emerge. So it will be up to society to reflect on this new information and collectively agree to respond. It's a moral and practical matter. Practically, paying these reparations will help strengthen the economy and the social fabric. There's no contradiction.

CH: Another obvious analogy is the reparations payments Congress authorized several years ago to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. Why was this politically acceptable, and not reparations for slavery?

RA: Likewise, the Japanese case is not analogous. That primarily involved identifiable property owners able to step forward and assert claims to specific property, or to prove wrongs against them as individuals.

CH: How is it possible to make clear, credible connections between what happened generations ago, and was formally terminated 130 years ago, and present conditions?

RA: The connection between the past and the present is clear. It's not a connection so much between slavery and current conditions. It's a matter of a continuing process of wrongful, exploitative, coerced, and manipulated income and wealth diversion over 350 years, through various means.

The question is, is it moral to accept benefits produced by means that we now define as wrongful? Society will think it through and reach a consensus that it is not moral. Then a policy of reparations will logically follow.

CH: In a recent book review, Andrew Hacker wrote, "Whites are weary of being lectured about prejudice, .and they resent being told that they are responsible for racial segregation and discrimination." If that's true-and I think there's plenty of evidence it is-why is the white majority going to adopt the moral stance you think they will, simply by comprehending the historical patterns of unjust enrichment?

RA: Hacker and others will, in time, find it constructive to look at the racial problems they study and write about through the reparations lens.

CH: Who would receive the reparations? And in what ways do you distinguish between African Americans clearly caught in the intersectional trap of race and poverty-and assuming you can connect their current conditions to previous conditions of servitude-and the Colin Powells, Henry Louis Gates, Clarence Thomases and Ron Browns, who have been able to succeed wildly in America despite those previous conditions?

RA: Reparations should be paid primarily in human capital investment, along with some investment in hard tangible assets and in business capital formation. These are all benefits that would have been distributed more normally, today, but for the intervention of systematically exploitive and exclusionary practices.

Most of the investment should go to those in the bottom 30%. Some should go to institution building. These institutions, including in higher education and in business, would have grown up except they were consciously hindered in order to benefit competing white institutions and businesses.

CH: Are there ways America can come to grips with its shameful history and the persistent effects of that history other than with cold cash?

RA: The issue is the wrongful diversion of cash. Why would we look for any other remedies other than explicit income and wealth redistribution?

CH: How do you think this will fly politically? Will the majority white community ever accept this idea? And how will other racial minorities perhaps equally disadvantaged or historically maltreated-react? It's silly to play games of who was victimized more than whom, but Native Americans' claims as to unjust historical treatment and current poverty and racial discrimination have to be right up there along with the slavery imposed on African-Americans.

RA: Political acceptability will come as the concept gains intellectual adherents and demonstrates explanatory power. It helps explain why the economy malfunctions, why productivity and competitiveness suffer. It helps clarify the policy choices for remedying all those defects. We should invest in people what is theirs by right to put them in their "rightful place."

A large portion of the population has been willfully deprived-to the benefit of others-of income and wealth that it ought to have received and would have received in a fairly open and competitive situation. Most Americans will come to acknowledge the debt and agree to practical remedies. Indigenous and quasi-indigenous minorities, that is, Native Americans and African Americans, have a case for reparations.

CH: In a society that seems to have little understanding of or respect for history ("that's history"), is a current put down phrased how realistic is it to expect Americans to deal profoundly and responsibly with something that happened long, long ago-and that most white Americans legitimately can say had nothing to do with them or even with their relatives, since their ancestors arrived in the US well after slavery was abolished? What do you do with the response that in essence says, what's done is done, were got to look to the future and not to the past?

RA: The issue is not what happened long ago. The issue is the current unjust enrichment flowing from continuing injustices over many generations. All Americans in the top 30% are part of a class that benefits wrongfully from past practices that were instituted, in part, on behalf of future generations of whites.

CH: What kind of role do you see mainstream national civil rights groups, such as the NAACP, La Raza, Japanese American Citizens League, Native American Rights Fund and Urban League, playing in this effort?

RA: The NAACP and the Nation Urban League should make reparations the central concept in their strategy the next 40 years. Reparations is about economic development, and civil rights; for the next two generations, should be about economic development.

CH: How would a reparations program fit into a larger civil rights agenda! RA:. Civil rights is, or ought to be about how to make median black income roughly the same as median white in come by the Year 2020. The concept o reparations is an inescapable public policy tool for reaching that objective.

Richard America is a Senior Program Manager in the federal government. His books include Developing the Afro American Economy (Lexington, 1977) the edited volume The Wealth of Races (Greenwood Press, 1990) and Paying the Social Debt: What White America Owes Black America (Praeger, 1993). Though views expressed are his own and are no to be taken as representing any institution or organization with which he is affiliated.

Chester Hartman is Director of Research at PRRAC.

Poverty & Race Research Action Council
1200 18th St. NW #200, Washington, DC 20036
phone: 202/906-8023 * fax: 202/842-2885 * email:

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