Reparations advocates Dr. William A. Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen write about the need for reparations in the Americas in the latest issue of GQ magazine’s British edition.
The married couple has long fought for reparations in the U.S., and wrote the book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.”
They lay out their argument as to why Native Black people in the Americas should be paid, not only for the free slave labor of their ancestors but for the injustices they have suffered since, in an article entitled “How much is owned to Afro-descendants in the Americas.”
Mullen is a folklorist and the founder of Artefactual, an arts-consulting practice, and Carolina Circuit Writers, a literary consortium that brings expressive writers of color to the Carolinas. Darity is an economist, expert on wealth inequality and the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University. He directs the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.
The reparations call has grown stronger and broader, Darity and Mullen said. They refer to hip-hop artist TI, a U.S. citizen who sent a letter to U.K.-based Lloyd’s Of London requesting compensation for their “financial participation as insurers of the vessels and human cargoes in the slave trade.”
But TI wasn’t the only one. Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda also made a reparations request. His target was U.S.-based Harvard University, which launched its law school in 1815 with funds donated by Isaac Royall Jr., who owned plantations that produced slave-grown sugar in Browne’s country.
Both requests miss the mark, Darity and Mullen said.
“These claims divert efforts to bring communities that merit substantial redress into direct negotiations with the authentic culpable parties: pertinent national governments. Though well-intended, these proposals are grounded in their originators’ uninformed belief that the relevant harms begin and end with slavery. In fact, the tally goes far beyond the institution of slavery and includes stigmatization and exposure to social exclusion and atrocities in the present day. Across the Americas, the emancipation project was never completed,” they wrote.
However, in light of the Black Lives Matter protests and protests across the world over racial injustice, Darity and Mullen stressed that the time is now to resolve the issue of reparations.
The two activists say a clear plan is needed with concise strategies.
“Strategies for building the reparations case include establishing the long-term consequences of slavery and documenting its impact on living descendants,” they wrote. “Likewise, identifying the atrocities that followed the end of slavery point toward additional monetary estimates of the magnitude of the merited restitution. In the U.S., the end of slavery was followed by the failure to fulfill the promise of 40-acre land grants to the enslaved, a century of U.S. apartheid, exclusion from the electoral process and unpunished white mob violence, succeeded by mass incarceration, police executions of unarmed blacks and sustained discrimination, especially in employment.”
The wealth gap has to be addressed in reparations talk, Mullen and Darity insisted.
“The racial wealth gap captures the cumulative inter-generational economic effects of white supremacy,” they wrote. “Bridging the difference provides a strong, minimum criterion for calculating the U.S. government’s bill for reparations. In the U.S. context, the national government will be making restitution payments to a subset of its citizens: Black citizen descendants of U.S. slavery. In other American countries, a foreign government may be obligated to make payments to a nation where it previously established slavery and engaged in colonization.”
What has happened to slaves and the descendants of slaves in the U.S. is similar to what Black people in other parts of the Americas experienced, they wrote.
“In other parts of the Americas, the continuity of post-slavery harms is as evident as it is in the United States. In places such as Brazil, there were similar types of disenfranchisement strategies, such as literacy tests, effectively suppressing the black vote. Another carry-over from the draconian post-emancipation practices is the close-to-half of all Afro-Brazilians who are illiterate today,” Darity and Mullen explained.
They also noted that no country has had a goal of paying reparations to the descendants of slaves.
There was a Slave Compensation Act of 1837 in the U.K. but it provided payments, not to the formerly enslaved or their descendants, but to the British owners of those human captives and their descendants. And, ironically, in 1825, Haiti was forced to pay reparations to France.
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Brazil is seeking a reparations claim from Portugal, while the country’s Afro-descendant population wants the Brazilian government to pay reparations.
Darity and Mullen conclude, “The debts owed to Black descendants of the enslaved across the Americas is a duty long unmet – the obligation must be paid, at last.”
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