by Toyin Dawodu.
Reparation is the bane of white hypocrisy.
The white man would argue that slavery is history and reparations are not necessary.
After all, why should the children of slave masters pay for the wages of sin committed by their parents?
However, no one in his or are right mind will ever argue that the rest of the world or the Jews should forget about the holocaust.
In fact as recent as a few years ago, Germany was still compensating Jews for the artwork stolen from them by the Nazis.
White folks are not dummies. Just a general statement. But when it comes to understanding reparations for the Black folks (not Jews or Natives), white people act like they don’t understand what’s going on. “What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”
So, I’m here to explain, in layman’s terms, the concept and necessity of reparations.
I have been an employer for over 30 years, and for 30 years, my anxiety has been triggered every Friday, like clockwork. Why on Fridays? Because Friday is payday for most of the people I’ve employed over the years.
I remember the very first time I almost bounced a paycheck for one of my employees. I almost fainted. I was still in the office when my employee came into my office after a visit to the bank and told me, “Toyin, the bank will not cash just check.”
That’s horrifying, both as an employee and as a business owner.
It’s not that I didn’t have the money. Earlier that day, I transferred money into the payroll account. But the bank had not credited the account. So, being the dutiful boss I am, I had the employee follow me to the bank and I “cashed” the check by transferring money from my personal account into the payroll account to cover the checks.
That situation was nothing that required lawyers or reporters or headlines. We rectified the whole thing within an hour. But that was just one paycheck from one payroll in my entire three decades as somebody’s boss.
Now, imagine how many trips to the bank America would have to make to cash the missing payroll checks from 400 years of forced labor of African slaves.
How many slaves were there?
Let’s imagine I was unable to pay my employee for that particular week. He would have probably quit by Monday morning. Then he would have called the State Labor Department by Monday afternoon. The Labor Board would have filed some papers and invited me to their office to explain my position.
As an employer, I would have been obligated to show up and explain myself, and ultimately I would have been forced to pay him and probably be fined.
Now, let’s imagine a different scenario. Imagine if my employee filed a labor dispute for back pay, and the Labor Board tells my employee he doesn’t owe you anything because he’s black and you’re not.” And off the employee goes, but not without the requisite beating, public shaming and possible rape of his wife, daughters, and sons.
That’s what Black Americans have dealt with for centuries, and it’s what the Tuckers, Hannitys, and white supremacists of the world are still saying to Black Americans.
Why Are We Still Talking About Reparations?
Now, to be clear, slavery is nothing new. It’s as old as humanity. Even today, it’s estimated that as many as 40 million people may currently be slaves right now, today according to Modern Slavery Laws, with most of them being in India, China, and Pakistan.
So, why are we even talking about reparations almost 160 years after Blacks were freed?
The main reason is because America never paid up. Towards the end of the Civil War, Union leaders gathered with southern Black leaders to figure out next steps. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order 15 allocated 400,000 acres of land confiscated from Confederate soldiers along the southeastern U.S. to former slaves so that they would have a strong starting point. That makes sense, right? A strong start in life is pretty much what every parent knows their kids need to have the best chance of success.
But once Lincoln was assassinated, the land was given back to the Confederate soldiers and those same former slaves had no choice but to start sharecropping for former slave owners.
Same dynamic, except now freed former slaves were earning money, but certainly not enough to buy their own land, go off on their own, or even ever truly pay off the landowners for the meager sharecropper sheds former slaves slept in at night before going back to work as sharecroppers in the morning. I think they call these types of agricultural systems “gentleman’s farms” now.
How much is 400 years of your family tree worth to you? That’s about 20 to 25 generations, give or take. It’s the last 20,800 weeks of your family’s existence. It’s 146,000 days of the lives of your family’s grand-fathers and strongmen and witty uncles, and industrious great-great grandmothers, and tradition-bucking aunts, and inventor cousins… all of that history, all of that success taken from you and attributed to someone else’s family.
You see, slavery wasn’t just about not getting paid, it was about not being able to own anything or withhold anything as sacred. Not even your wives and daughters. It was about husbands being taken from families because “Master” thought he’d make a good breeder and raise up more big bucks just like him.
It was about your inventiveness and ingenuity being credited to someone else, someone who, in many instances could barely hold a conversation, but just happened to be the master’s son-in-law.
That’s the BS we’re talking about here.
So, America could never truly pay back what was taken, no more than a drunken frat boy could pay back the virginity of a freshman girl he so flippantly assaulted. But there should be some sort of payment made.
Like OJ Simpson had to pay for a crime he was cleared of committing. You understand that concept, right?
So, Black folks are not asking you for money. America doesn’t have the resources to pay back 400 years of lost pay, lost names, lost families, lost relatives, lost purity of lineage, lost minds, lost stories, lost culture, and lost time.
Blacks are just asking for that strong start that you promise your kids, a strong start built on centuries of murders, thefts, rapes, and misuse because we’ve earned it in literal blood, sweat, and tears.
Last year, I bought a property in Rowland Heights, California. Out of curiosity, I wanted to find out how the name came about. Only to find out that Mr. John Rowland was granted for free, all the property, (49,000 acres) now located in the unincorporated city of Rowland Heights several hundred years ago by the government. Up till today, according to Wikipedia, Rowland’s grandson John A. Rowland III owned a ranch there and the Rowland family is still collecting rent from the commercial portions of the land and properties located in the city of Rowland Heights.
So my question is, why didn’t my uncle Kunta Kinte (fictional name of the 200K or so African men forced to work for free) get the land? We know he could work it and make it thrive because African slaves built America. Rowland Heights is worth several billion dollars. These are the practices and systems that have been replicated over and over again in this country.
So, when Black folks ask for reparations, and the arrogance and white privilege of middle-aged whites like Tucker, Hannity and white supremacists take the mic, their belief that Blacks don’t deserve reparations isn’t based on math or science or even the prosperity of America. It’s the final throes of a disappearing group of institutional racists steeped in nepotism who want to maintain a status quo that isn’t just, but it’s advantageous to making sure their grandchildren and great -grandchildren have that strong start I referenced earlier.
Why do Blacks deserve reparations? That’s not really the issue. The issue is that when the war ended, Union leaders understood that reparations were the “American thing to do” and America never paid up.
Not only that, but the burning of Black Wall Street, the mass incarceration of black men and public shaming of Black women are continual reminders that Black and Brown people in this country are in a continual fight to outwit and outrun the status quo.
Whether or not Blacks deserve reparations is irrelevant. We sure as hell earned them.
I wrote this article a few weeks ago. While I was deciding where to publish it, I woke up this morning and lo and behold, I read about a Blackman that was just awarded more than $500,000 in back wages by the US appeals court because his “slave master” the restaurant owner where he worked refused to pay him from 2009-2014. That judgement alone proves my point. Reparations equal back wages.
While we cannot prosecute previous former slave owners, or compel their children to give up their inheritance, we can use our tax dollars to seek some redress for the millions of African American descendants of slaves that can prove their heritage to the last three hundred to four hundred years of sojourning in this USA.
In the words of current President, Mr. Biden, “I don’t think the American people are racist, but I think after four hundred years, African Americans have been left in a position where they are so far behind the eighth ball in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunities, I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow and before that slavery, have had a cost and we have to deal with it.
Some communities are already setting the examples. In a news item on CBS last week, Laura O’Donnell related the story of the Bruce Family’s property that was seized a century ago by the government. Laura stated, “Tonight, California Law makers have taken a first step to making amends to a shameful fact nearly a century ago.”
Today, in Manhattan Beach in California, a house on the beach front can cost as much as twenty million dollars. The Bruce family owned two houses on that beach over 100 years ago until it was forcibly taken from them by the city government under the guise of eminent domain. The Bruce family resisted the KKK’s harassment for several years. But how do you stop your city that was in bed with the KKK from taking your property? That was one hundred years ago.
Today, except for a few racist detractors, The American people would like to find a way to pay for the uncollected back wages of African Americans.
Maybe the word reparations is too controversial, how about we just call it back wages.
The Feds have already shown us the way. The US appeals court has sanctioned it.
It should now be okay for the Federal government to set up a process of calculating the back wages and or figure out a way to adequately compensate the children and grandchildren of slaves that worked for over two hundred years with no pay.