Why Reparations to African-Americans Are Necessary -- and How to Start Now

By Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E.; Emeritus, Professor et al. | The Canadian Press, July 16, 2019 | Go to article overview

Why Reparations to African-Americans Are Necessary -- and How to Start Now


Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E., Emeritus, Professor, Department of Political Science, University, Wilfrid Laurier, The Canadian Press


Why reparations to African-Americans are necessary -- and how to start now

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University

In a 2016 poll, 58 per cent of African-Americans said they believed that the United States should pay financial reparations to African-Americans who are descendants of slaves. Only 15 per cent of whites agreed.

I am a white woman and I support reparations to African-Americans. I have published academic articles on the issue, including: "Official Apologies." I am the author of Reparations to Africa and a co-editor of The Age of Apology.

In 2005, the United Nations issued a short document which outlined the basic guidelines on the right to a remedy and reparation for victims of gross violations of human rights law. Financial compensation is one aspect of reparations mentioned in this document, but it is not the only one. Apology is important. So is commemoration and tributes to victims, and an accurate account of the violations.

Five years ago, author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a harrowing account of injustices to African-Americans in an article for The Atlantic. These injustices occurred during the period of enslavement, but also the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era and down to the present.

In his article, Coates called upon all Americans to acknowledge their "shameful history" including injustices of enslavement, terrorism, plunder and piracy committed against African-Americans. He wants all the facts to be accurately reported.

Accurate acknowledgement would be a first step in reparations.

Apology is a second step.

Apologies

So many governments, institutions and private businesses in the United States are implicated in slavery and post-1865 injustices that it would be impossible for them all to apologize at once. But a good start would be an apology for slavery by the president of the United States, joined by the governors of every state that ever permitted enslavement.

The text of the apology would have to be carefully negotiated with African-American community leaders.

The apology would also have to be carefully surrounded by ritual, so that its sincerity and seriousness would be apparent.

This could be followed by literally thousands of apologies by lower-level municipal governments, religious institutions and businesses. Every single institution would have to investigate its history and acknowledge and apologize for every single act of enslavement and discrimination against African-Americans.

Memorials

The next step would be to memorialize all these injustices. It is not enough to tear down monuments to leaders of the Confederate army. Memorials should be put up at public expense to African-Americans who fought against enslavement and later injustices. …

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