The case for reparations by the United States for centuries of slavery and its after- math has been around for more than a century. It has most recently been raised by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
The panel said it was invited by the U.S. for a visit, which took place last Jan. 19-29, and it submitted a blistering report last Aug. 18 on the effects of slavery and urging the government to at least officially consider the question of reparations.
All of the complaints which African Americans have been making for many years are endorsed in the damning report that includes the following conclusions: “Racial bias and disparities in the criminal justice system, mass incarceration and the tough- on-crime policies disproportionately impact African Americans. Mandatory minimum sentencing and the disproportionate punishment of African Americans including with the death penalty are of grave concern.”
Also: “The United States is also not acting with due diligence to protect the rights of African Americans, as evidenced by the lack of gun control and the stand-your-ground laws.”
And: “The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education, and even food security, between African Americans and the rest of the United States population reflects the level of structural and institutional discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights.”
Such factors and many more pinpointed by the experts led them to recommend that the government establish an agency specifically “to monitor the human rights of African Americans.”
But, most significantly, the experts called on Congress to approve the creation of a commission “to examine enslavement and racial discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and to recommend appropriate remedies.” That is a reference to H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” The bill has been introduced in every Congress since January 1989 by Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat, most recently in the Republican- controlled 114th Congress on Jan. 22, 2015. It has never made it out of the House Sub- committee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
Observers have traced the question of reparations in the U.S. to at least during the Civil War, when General William Sherman ordered that 40 acres and the loan of an
Army mule be given to every former slave family. The order for 40 acres and a mule was made into law by the Republican-controlled Congress but President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat. vetoed the bill in 1866.
But it is not only in the U.S. that reparations are being demanded for the enslavement of an estimated 32 million Africans around the world between 1450 and 1850. Several
Caribbean countries that were former colonies are targeting are Britain, France and the Netherlands. The English-speaking Caribbean nations have gone so far as to hire lawyers to sue the British government. The British compensated slave owners for the loss of their “property” when slavery ended with more than $200 billion in today’s currency. The slaves got nothing.
Africa, too, has been demanding compensation. The African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission has been demanding as far back as 1999 that former slave-owning countries pay the continent $777 trillion.
So far, however, such demands, whether in the United States, the Caribbean or Africa, have gotten only a few apologies in some places, including Britain, but not in the United States. The newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American
History & Culture, with its section on slavery, along with the United Nations report, would be expected to spark new interest in the United States. But that will not take place, at least not now.
Even the creation of a commission to merely study the subject has not happened. In fact, the National African-American Reparations Com- mission this year called in vain on President Barack Obama, the first black president, to create such a commission by executive order since the Conyers initiative has gone nowhere in 26 years.
It is a downright shameful that, despite the anguish and anger of African Americans over police shootings, the legitimate claims of African Americans for compensation due to centuries of slavery are being totally ignored in the current presidential campaign, yet the national debate is focused, rather, at least on one side, on how to improve the lot of mostly white people who have been adversely affected by an economic recession that is less than a decade old.