are the Reparations Generation," said the earnest young man from
Atlanta. Not Generation X, Y, or some other commercial demographic
cohort, but politicized, determined African American youth, believing
they will make and shape history - that they are making it right now,
on the National Mall.
Our Time - Reparations Time" - banner
youth's statement from the podium felt solid, tangible, like an uncontested
truth - not a wish or tentative prediction, but a matter-of-fact announcement.
At that instant it was clear that there was no need to get a count
of exactly how many bodies had arrived in Washington. The Reparations
phenomenon is beyond head-counts. At some point in the recent past,
another epoch emerged in the centuries-long journey of African Americans.
The truth is in the youth, plain as a new day.
was also the sense that little weight should be given to who was present
or absent from the stage in the stifling August heat. Johnny Cochran
is down with the Reparations movement, wherever he was and whomever
he was suing, last Saturday. Big-name entertainers incorporate Reparations
rhetoric into their acts. Civil rights leaders, mayors and legislators,
the anointed and the appointed, the selected and the elected, all
are singing the same tune. The tens of thousands who physically showed
up for the Millions for Reparations Rally sweated for the rest - unquestionably
representing many millions. That's what emerging epochs are like.
America must unite on the principle of Reparations," said
Min. Louis Farrakhan, speaking only briefly for a change and, as always,
employing the Nation of Islam's daunting yet resonant logic. It has
become apparent that unity around the principle of Reparations has
already been achieved - that is, sufficient unity as can ever be expected
from a dynamic population of 35 million - and was probably there all
is unity in the declaration: We are owed. There is no shared agreement
on how the debt is to be paid - and that's just fine, for the time
cannot accept a cash payment, because a fool and his money will soon
be parted." Farrakhan is eminently correct. He mentions trillions
of dollars and Marshall-type plans (which must occur, and many
times over) and calls for the transfer of "millions and millions
of acres of land" (which will never occur, short of Apocalypse,
but is not necessary.)
time is it? Reparations Time!" - chant
America is immersed in the Reparations feeling, an essential
prerequisite for action. Some
of us have felt like this before, more than a generation ago. Others
are now privileged to experience youth and a people-wide awakening,
simultaneously - a glorious gift of fate.
clamor for Reparations is called forth by necessity, whether the ancestors
are given credit for the summons or not. It is the product of a deep
and fundamental imperative that has informed African American politics
and culture throughout the long sojourn on these shores: the yearning
for operational unity whenever possible, across class, region and
even skin tone lines. It gives us our particular character as a people,
and at the same time compels us to reach out to Africa and the rest
of the Diaspora.
current phase of the movement for Reparations - the means to be made
whole - requires acts and acclamations of solidarity that are inseparable
from the concrete goals of the movement, itself. They are one and
the same, a mass ceremony over time and space - yet profoundly political.
is what unifies the silk suits and the dashikis - in principle.
The inevitable dynamics of class and other conflicts, not to mention
human vice, will become apparent later on, but only if the movement
is strong enough to achieve things worth fighting each other over
- a problem, therefore, to be welcomed.
is an affirmation of human worth and dignity, a super-weapon in any
contest of moral authority. It identifies slavery as an American Original
Sin, plumbing the depths of the nation's religious fabric. Reparations
captures and enthralls the youth, who have nothing if not a legacy.
It envelops and claims the totality of a people's history in this
land, all but forcing them to think big, grand thoughts. Reparations
has the power to conjure up exquisite dreams that the most talented
among us may one day grow into.
of grassroots organizations, led largely by veterans from the nationalist
side of the Black spectrum, has carefully nurtured this once-marginal
campaign. Reparations is now a movement on the brink of sustainability,
one that can carry masses of people beyond their present condition
and outlook. However, as with any song sung in public, the composer
soon loses control of his creation - the most fundamental proof of
its value. There will be many variations on the central theme of Reparations.
immediate tasks ahead are elegantly simple and doable. Detroit's Congressman
John Conyers has been submitting his bill authorizing a congressional
study of Reparations since 1989. "We get it by contacting every
single member of the House of Representatives... and every member
of the U.S. Senate, over there," said the lawmaker, pointing
to the U.S. Capitol building. "Only the Congress can do what
we want done."
attempted to make everyone in the sweltering crowd swear that they
would crank up the phones, prompting many otherwise honest people
to lie. However he, like Farrakhan, is correct. Conyers' Reparations
Study bill would likely result in a process equivalent to extended
hearings on the issue - "I'm not asking for blood," he told
the crowd. Beyond that, only the federal government, through the U.S.
Congress, can make available the astronomical sums necessary to make
Black America whole.
Reparations crowd was less than enthusiastic about the mundane task
of making phone calls, possibly because they don't yet know what to
ask for - demand - other than the Conyers study. By the time
the study bill passes, which will only come as the result of overlapping
campaigns of education, litigation, agitation, disruption, electioneering,
and general commotion throughout the nation, the first of many serious
legislative proposals should be ready for public study and review.
Hopefully, Conyers will still be in office to oversee the process.
If not, his successor and colleagues will be compelled to do the job.
Reparations is already that strong.
Threads Mural Art - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Houston," said the head of that city's delegation to the rally,
"the issue of reparations is too big for one organization. On
every Black person's lips is the word, 'Reparations.'" The Houston
City Council, he reported, voted down a coalition-backed resolution
based on the Conyers bill, 8 to 7. The organizers were bitterly disappointed
but, from here, that sounds like a near-victory. Hundreds of cities
will soon be confronted by African American coalitions pressing similar
organizations will find new ways to tackle old grievances under
the inclusive banner of Reparations. Slavery has left a myriad
of legacies to bedevil its 35 million U.S. descendants. The flag of
Reparations can wave over all of these struggles, local and national,
giving birth to an ever-deeper, common consciousness and mission.
Such is the connective beauty of the concept.
Farmer-Paellmann stood up for the researchers and lawyers of the movement's
litigation strike force, the Our Dreams Team. The high-profile crew's
lawsuits, targeting corporations and other entities whose current
wealth can be connected to the profits of slave labor, cannot conceivably
liberate enough money to make a dent in the structures spawned by
slavery and Jim Crow. However, the suits have vast educational value;
they create opportunities for precedent-setting, morale-boosting victories;
and, most importantly, litigation has the potential to cause great
discomfort among the people who actually control the United States
and its Congress.
will not cease these lawsuits until you pay the debt," declared
Farmer-Paellmann, almost within earshot of the House and Senate. If
the lawyers have the stamina to sustain and multiply their filings,
it is entirely possible that harassed corporations will resort to
doing what comes naturally: ask for a bailout in the form of federal
assumption of slavery-related obligations. U.S. corporations usually
get what they ask for.
concedes nothing without a demand." - Frederick Douglass
great abolitionist's words were repeated by numerous speakers, ranging
from Farrakhan aide Ishmael Muhammad, son of Elijah Muhammad, to Ron
Daniels, President of the Institute of the Black World and organizer
of historically important conferences over the last three decades.
"Demand" is an important word in the Reparations movement,
which has expunged most forms of "ask" and "want."
fact that the movement currently lacks a set of specific Reparations
demands does not yet present a problem. Quite the opposite; nothing
would sabotage the young movement quicker than hasty presentation
of competing or even antithetical proposals from disparate groupings
sharing little in terms of their world view and analysis of U.S. society.
The organizers have witnessed these kinds of deaths before; nobody
wants to be responsible for scuttling the ship, this time. However,
the clock is running. Masses of people need direction.
the interim, African Americans already have a broad list of mutually
agreed upon "demands" (however phrased) that have evolved
with remarkable coherence over the years. These essentially shared
positions on employment, health care, criminal justice, general notions
of affirmative action, education, constitutional protections, the
strengthening of ties with Africa and the Diaspora, etc., have all
been formulated in struggle against the legacies of slavery and Jim
Crow, and should be linked to Reparations. United under the principle,
We Are Owed, these positions represent much more than the sum of their
magnificent promise of Reparations lies in the scope of the mission,
which requires nothing less than turning this racist society upside
down and shaking out the enabling mechanisms of White Privilege while,
in the process, producing tangible material and political (power)
results for the largest possible proportion of the Black population.
Soon, true "demands" must be shaped to achieve these ends.
Once "fired up," the people will not accept dribs and drabs
or symbolic tokens.
achieve Reparations, the rules of property must be changed to accommodate
justice for the descendants of those who were held as property: the
slaves. This conclusion flowed logically from the words of New York
City Councilman Charles Barron, directing his remarks to a hypothetical
white person: "You benefited from the wealth, you have to inherit
activists have worked and talked themselves into an historical crossroads.
One path leads directly to confrontation with the economic and political
structures that have created and continue to reproduce White Privilege.
The other road doubles back to tinkering on the margins of slavery's
legacy: bargaining for less savage prisons, somewhat more adequate
health care, friendlier police, a little less discrimination on the
job, a few additional dollars for neighborhood economic development,
and so on. That's not Reparations. We should have learned over the
last 30 years that a movement cannot be built along the margins of
magnitude of the cost of meaningful Reparations will force those who
now mouth slogans to put forward specific proposals. What does it
cost to rebuild one city? How many hundreds of billions? What about
100 cities? Who will decide who gets which jobs and contracts in this
multi- trillion dollar reconstruction? What agencies will commission
the master plans that determine the demographics of those who will
enjoy the amenities and advantages of these public works? Have no
illusions: The public treasury is the proper and only resource available
for the remaking of America in Black people's interests.
at The Black Commentator believe that "self-determination"
is the highest goal of civilization. It is a hands-on enterprise,
requiring detailed planning and collaboration among the "selfs"
that want to "determine" their shared futures. African Americans
must tally up the bill for the debt that is owed. The bill must be
sufficient to create the basis for a new life for 35 million people
- and their descendants. Blacks must make the plans, calculate
the cost (the bill), and then submit the resulting, programmatic "demands."
There is no other way.
Barron continued his dialogue with the hypothetical white person,
who asked, What will you do with the money? "None of your business,"
was Barron's stern reply. "We'll tell you after the commission..."
Barron's voice trailed off, and he failed to finish the thought.
which commission does what? About what? Is there a plan in there,
and when do we go public with it? How is Black America to be informed,
without telling the Congress, the people who we demand pay for the
plans? Who deliberates on the plans?
of these questions can be answered. They must be addressed to the
beneficiaries of Reparations, in the form of proposals. It is then
that the great project in African American democracy will begin, without
which there will be no mass movement, and no Reparations.
is time to get down to the work of proposing Black America's new relationship
to the rest of society - a relationship that the entire society will
have to pay for - but the process must soon begin. It is obvious that
the profound ramifications of Reparations have not been fully digested
by many of those who have, up to this point, concentrated on getting
broad agreement around the general principle. They have dramatically
succeeded in popularizing the word, putting it on everyone's lips.
But no basis has been laid for future "demands."
the waning minutes of the rally, as most of the throng dispersed to
busses that would take them home, a rap group took to the stage. Their
song's hook was, "I want my money." The lyrics demanded
"free education, housing and health care." Pay us, said
the lead rapper, "so we can build our own institutions."
Then, the kicker: "Show me my money, or I'll show you a glock
[an automatic weapon]."
is important that Black youth, the Reparations Generation, have the
benefit of detailed proposals from adults with ideas on how they might
become the architects of their own destinies. The popularizing phase
of Reparations is near completion. We must take the movement further,
by engaging the talents, skills and imaginations of the people, especially
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Other commentaries in this issue:
Zimbabwe's Mugabe and White Farmers:
by Dr. A. Chika Onyeani, Guest Commentator
62: A Green Light for Drug Treatment
by Opio Lumumba Sokoni, J.D., Guest Commentator
A letter to our readers:
Fight on, Sister McKinney... Afghan dope
on U.S. streets... Don't bet Black futures on the market... Rep.
Clyburn bears witness to racist crime
Commentaries in Issue Number 9
- August 8, 2002
State of Black American Politics: Dr.
Martin Kilson's Report to the National Urban League
- Plus a Living Wage and Benefits: Home health care workers
win victories - for themselves and civilization
A letter to
our readers: Burger King digested... Ashcroft stalks librarians...
Cory Booker roams wilderness
McKinney: A Hero in Need of Money... Rep. Hilliard Rebuked on
Ivy League Warning... Forget About Randall Kennedy!
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