Point of View Columns

Reparations -America’s Past Due Bill

Reparations from the United States to the descendants of black slaves has been alternatively treated by mainstream media as a pipe dream or as a concept with no basis in reality. But the reality is that every year since 1989 House Representatives John Conyers and Sheila Jackson Lee have introduced the HR40 Reparations Bill which would establish a federal commission to study the issue of reparations for American descendants of slaves and to recommend viable strategies for moving forward.

But times do change and HR40 has been given new life. The progressive candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are supporting the modest, but important step, of having Congress (which is seated in the Capitol building which was built with slave labor) seriously consider a means of finally recognizing the horror of slavery and the need to establish a mode of reparations as a first step towards true reconciliation on the issue of race in America.

From the earliest record of Africans and people of African descent in this country racially based sanctions have existed. Black Codes, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, lynching along with malign and benign neglect have always circumscribed the existence of black Americans in this country. And it was on the anvil of slavery that the principle of white supremacy was forged and embedded in the soul of America. So profound was the enslavement of black Americans that even a century after the shackles were broken by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, there were laws, proscriptions and sanctions which clearly and indelibly marked black people as “the other”.

And that is why the issue of reparations to black Americans by the United States of America is so important. For two reasons – no matter the dollar figure, monetary damages paid to every black person descended from slaves would not be enough. Just as the billions of dollars paid to the state of Israel by Germany will never be enough, the centuries of pain, suffering and inhuman degradation can never be adequately reduced to dollars and cents.

But dollars were paid to Israel by Germany as a way of acknowledging the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust as well as a way of recognizing the humanity of its victims and survivors and their descendants. Certainly the unspeakable horror of slavery and the need to finally recognize the humanity of the victims of slavery as well as their descendants warrant similar treatment by the only means possible – reparations.

The second reason is perhaps even more compelling. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January of 1863 and the 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865, the degradation and ill treatment of black Americans did not stop. It did not stop with the termination of the protection of black people by federal troops in 1876. It certainly did not stop throughout the domestic terrorist campaign waged against black people by the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Magnolia, the White Citizens Councils and virtually all of the local and state governments in the South and throughout much of these United States.

The mistreatment and denial of the humanity of black Americans continued through almost a century of lynching and the infernal bounds and barriers imposed by Jim Crow and the legalized dehumanization of men, women and children who were descended from slaves. And the current race- related disparities in education, housing, mortality rates, incarceration rates and various indicia of standards of living that still leave black people on the lesser side of the national ledger are facts that compel a serious discussion of how reparations should be structured.

Simply put, to dismiss reparations is to ignore history and dismiss the humanity of black Americans. It is past time to put reparations in the center of the national discussion. Proclamation of the legal rights of black Americans without reparations is to intentionally fail to recognize the humanity of black Americans alive today as well as to somehow turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering of millions of black men, women and children who may be nameless to the United States government but are well known and remembered by a Power greater than this country.

There has never been a convenient time to discuss reparations in this country. There will never be a convenient time to discuss reparations in this country. And that is all the more reason that now is the time to move forward on the issue of reparations for black Americans.

The stain of slavery, racial discrimination and white supremacy will never be removed from the fabric of this country’s history. Reparations would be an important step in restoring its soul by finally and definitively recognizing the colossal mortal sins committed against men, women and children of African descent.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 31, 2010

The first decade of the 21st century is coming to a close. As individuals we have been witness to births and deaths of loved ones and a mixed brew of success and disappointment.

Broadening the horizon we have seen historic changes and cataclysmic disasters that could not be contemplated on December 31, 1999– 9/11 became a noun and someone named Barack Hussein Obama is the President of the United States. And Sarah Palin was just as unknown as Barack Obama.

Popes and pop stars have left the stage and it seems as if the tragedies suffered by the people of the Congo and Haiti and Somalia and so many other places will never end.

We begin the New Year with expectation and hope and the realization that as with every day tomorrow belongs to us if we just seize the moment.

A Wake Up Call

During the contentious debates over the health care bill, a blatant lie circulated to the effect that it mandated that there would be “death panels” that would decide who would live and who would die in the Brave New World of Obamacare.

The facts rarely get in the way of a good story these days, but the fact is that the legislative proposal called for end of life counseling, a service that is certainly needed by patients and their families.

While this provision was removed from the bill that ultimately passed, Medicare has recently issued some new guidelines that would permit end of life counseling to be a service that would be funded by the federal government. Anyone who has ever had to address the needs and concerns of a family member at the end of their life knows how beneficial it would be to have some counseling in making the right decisions.

Every person should have every service that will help them to live and prosper. Perpetuating a vegetative state indefinitely is rarely what any person (or their family member) would want. But without counseling very few Americans know what to do and make decisions that are tinged with needless indecision, perpetual doubt and eternal guilt.

If just a single family is spared this unnecessary agony end of life counseling would be a good thing. The fact is that millions of Americans are in need of this service every year.

Be prepared for the right wing of the right wing to mount a mindless assault on this sensible and compassionate initiative. Perhaps 2011 will be different from 2010 in that progressives and men and women of good will find their muted voices and speak up and against the right wing of the right wing.

Rent A Slave Redux

This past week I finished reading Manhunt, by James L. Swanson (Harper Perennial). It is the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth and the ensuing 12-day manhunt to capture and kill him.

The book is painstaking in providing details regarding the mood of the United States in 1865. As the Civil War came to an end the book makes clear that the issue of slavery was the fuse that gave rise to the conflagration known as the Civil War.

As close to a half a million Americans died in combat, President Lincoln was clear in never recognizing the “insurgency” known as the Confederacy, refusing to remove any of the stars from the American flag that represented the 11 secessionist states.

The Confederacy was always considered a treasonous rebellion and it was never accorded any recognition of its claimed sovereignty. Booth and his cohorts were clearly motivated to commit murder in order to perpetuate their vision of white supremacy and eternal black slavery.

That the Confederacy and all that it stood for would be celebrated for 4 ½ years here in the 21st century is an obscenity. The revelers and faux historians can spout words like “heritage” all they want, but slavery and white supremacy were the foundations of the Confederacy. The spirit of John Wilkes Booth inspired the Ku Klux Klan in the 19th century and the White Citizens Councils in the 20th century.

And now it appears that Booth lives in the 21st century celebrations of a treasonous revolt that needs to be buried next to Booth.

New Year’s Eve

Point of View went online in late June of 2010. Since then there have been over 8200 visits to this site and the number grows by the day. I am most grateful for your interest, comments and support.

As we go into the New Year and the new decade we will continue to present points of view that I hope will contribute a positive tone to the discussions of the issues of the day. Stay strong!