Who Owes Whom? AIDS and Reparations

By Booker, Salih | The Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Who Owes Whom? AIDS and Reparations


Booker, Salih, The Christian Science Monitor


On June 19, 1865, Texas announced the emancipation of all slaves in the state, two years after the rest of the country. The Juneteenth anniversary is observed by events across the US to mark the supposed end of slavery. But has slavery really ended if its consequences still persist - and if there are no reparations?

The movement for reparations in the US has gained legal ground and political and social momentum in recent years. Several legal cases have been filed against private corporations that benefited from the institution of slavery. Suits soon to be filed will target the culpability of the government for sanctioning this crime against humanity. The discourse about reparations in this country isn't just about putting a price tag on past injustices and securing payments for individuals. It's about a much broader commitment to investing in social changes that will address the lingering damages of these injustices.

In Africa, the reparations movement is pursuing similar legal strategies and inspiring a broader mobilization for social justice. In South Africa, the movement for reparations for the apartheid era has led to recent legal cases, filed in the US, against corporations that provided economic support to the apartheid regime. More broadly, the question of reparations for Africans for centuries of slavery, colonialism, and exploitation requires a comprehensive answer that addresses the consequences of this history. Reparations are, moreover, necessary to enable Africans to meet today's challenges.

The greatest challenge facing blacks today throughout the African world is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Africa is "ground zero" of the global AIDS pandemic, home to almost three-quarters of those living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Here in the US, more than half of all new HIV infections are among blacks. In the Caribbean, infection rates are among the world's highest.

The disproportionate impact of AIDS on blacks is closely related to the history of oppression and discrimination that people of African descent share.

Vulnerability to AIDS is increased by impoverishment and marginalization, which remain the most important aspects of the continued legacy of slavery and colonialism. …

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