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Black Nationalism and Reparations: Solving the Political Conundrum  


 "The popular mocking of reparations as a harebrained scheme authored by wild-eyed lefties and intellectually unserious black nationalists is fear masquerading as laughter. Black nationalists have always perceived something unmentionable about America that integrationists dare not acknowledge—that white supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it."  

Ta-Nehisi Coates  - Atlantic Magazine, Making the Case for Reparations

Introduction   

Black Nationalists and our allies won the reparations argument long ago. But many battles will have to be fought to win the war. The unexpected emergence of reparations as a contentious issue in the 2020 presidential elections is one of those battles the house of Black Nationalism must fight and win. In the hands of ambitious Democrat presidential candidates, reparations are ripe for political appropriation--a meal ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  


Already cast as a litmus tests to secure Black votes, proposals for "baby bonds," free college tuition, tax credits, debt cancellation, small business funding and technology transfers are converting reparations into a grab bag of liberal social safety net reforms.  


Reparations have been laid on a gurney and wheeled into the operating room, where the scalpels are prepped to surgically extract its revolutionary core. Black Nationalists cannot vacate the field or cede the issue to opportunists.  
Quite the opposite, Democrats have gifted Black Nationalists a national platform on reparations amid one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in American history--an election that will significantly turn on racial politics.  


More than defending the concept and legacy of reparations for the abomination of slavery, Black Nationalists are positioned to assume the offensive. With 17 months until the 2020 elections, Black Nationalists have a unique window to map a strategic campaign that popularizes and builds support for authentic reparations. 


This fight requires Black Nationalists to affirm a consensus viewpoint on reparations. While Black Nationalists may hold different positions on some aspects of reparations, we must reassert the foundational principles underlying the concept of Black reparations.


What forms of compensation should be prioritized? Who should pay for reparations? Who should receive reparations, and why? Black Nationalist must clearly articulate responses to these questions. Although Black Nationalists must deliver a forceful and persuasive argument for reparations, compensation is not the end game. Explaining how reparations cohere with our theory of self-determination is critical to the success of our nationalist project.  


Beyond money and land, reparations are also about healing through an internal process of reconciliation with our past. We are also resurrecting the soul of a Black nation forged in the cauldron of slavery and the Civil War.
  As the vision holders of a future Black nation, we cannot win the reparations issue in the absence of rekindling the "nationalist ideal."  

On Matters of Hard Currency and Land 


Simply put, Black descendants today have inherited the right to receive reparations from the U.S. government for the enslavement of our ancestors from 1776 to 1865. It's an unpaid debt that will be collected, one way or another.
  When the Civil War ended and slavery was prohibited, Black people were invested in the estate of U.S. citizenship. At that moment we were entitled to receive reparations for the crime of slavery in two principal forms: hard currency and land. We received neither. 


Providing monetary compensation to former Black slaves was never contemplated. At President Lincoln's urging, the only reparations paid by the U.S. government was $300 per slave to white slaveowners in Washington, D.C., who freed their slaves in 1863, and swore loyalty to the Union. Lincoln incentivized the law by offering any freed slave $100 dollars to migrate to Haiti or Liberia. Two weeks before his assassination, Lincoln was still trying to negotiate the mass deportation of Blacks from the U.S., knowing their status as slaves would be ending with the Civil War's conclusion.


Land, however, was a different matter. General Sherman's Field Order No.15, put 400,000 acres of land in the hands of 40,000 freedman in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida in 1865. It was the rescinded by the U.S. government shortly afterwards, and the land returned to its former slaveholders.


The U.S. government betrayed the Port Royal Experiment and the Davis Bend, Mississippi movement that placed thousands of acres under freedman's control. The Southern Homestead Act that set aside 46 million acres of land for freed Blacks in several southern states was rescinded as well by President Andrew Johnson in 1865. 


Through legal means, negligence, and graft, the federal government also made it exceedingly difficult for freed Blacks to access western lands opened by the 1862 Homestead Act. Instead, most of those lands went to newly arriving white European immigrants, speculators and business barons.


The indictment of the U.S. Government for refusing to address reparations for Black slaves is undisputed. But to cut to the chase, the prevailing view nowadays is that even if the U.S. government wanted to award reparations, it's unable to do so. Nothing could be further than the truth.


As will be argued here, the commanders in the Cathedral's Tower have the monetary and real estate assets to begin addressing compensation issues now.


Squaring the Debt 


In 2018, University of Connecticut researcher Thomas Creamer published a new estimate of the value of U.S. slave labor for the 89 years from the country's founding until the end of the Civil War. Based on the wages paid to laborers for an average 12-hour work day, he concluded forced slave labor would approximate $5.9 trillion today. 


What does that mean to the Darker Nation? Roughly, a one-time payment of $121,000 per person for 47 million Blacks--every man, woman, and child. Other research estimates are higher. But whether paid out over five or ten years, a government payoff of this magnitude is feasible. In scale, it would be equivalent to the cost of Trump's tax cut for the uber affluent over a ten-year period.


Creamer's estimate is profoundly conservative. It doesn't take into account 100 years of federally sanctioned "separate and unequal" Jim Crow laws that excluded Blacks from the mainstream economy. Reparations critics claim that calculating damages rendered by Jim Crow era policies is too esoteric an exercise. Or they reason that post-Civil War Blacks were at the same starting line as the great wave of white immigrants that came to America in the late 19th Century. No, we were not the same. White European ethnics that came to America didn't suffer formal Jim Crow laws and 100 years of lynching.  

Similar to the U.S. governments' role in restricting Black access to land with the Homestead Act, the Tower continuously employed systemic barriers to economic inclusion against the Darker Nation. The Social Security Act of 1935, that excluded Black farmers and domestic workers, and the 1935 Wagner Act that sanctioned unions' exclusion of minorities workers, are two examples among many that come to mind. 


If Creamer's $5.7 trillion dollar estimate for reparations is extremely conservative, costing out damages associated with the Jim Crow era represents compound interest on the debt. The point is that as difficult as it is to quantify reparations for slavery and the Jim Crow era, it's not impossible to arrive at a reasonable figure.


To increase support for reparations, Black Nationalists and their allies must calculate a consensus compensation figure that has integrity and is defendable. The same principle applies to demands for land. 


Lessons from the Reparations Experience 


Efforts to win reparations for Black communities victimized by slavery and race riots, and the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War 2, provide instructive lessons for reparations activists. 
  The Japanese-American reparations experience is insightful in three ways; 1) how they framed the reparations issue, 2) how they settled on monetary compensation figures, 3) demonstrating the advantages of being represented by a single organization over the three-decade process to secure reparations.


The process unfolded in 1948, with Congress passing the "American Japanese Claims Act." Japanese American families filed 26,568 claims for $148 million in requests for businesses and properties illegally seized during the war. A total of $37 million was approved and disbursed.


In 1978, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), sued for reparations for $25,000 for each person detained, an apology from the U.S. government, and funds for an educational foundation for Japanese-American children.


In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to study the matter. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act granting $1.4 billion in reparations, and in 1992 the amended bill added another $400 million. All told, 81,800 Japanese-American survivors received $20,000 each.


From the beginning to the end of the process, the Japanese-American Citizens League represented the claimants. Black Nationalists and our allies would be well served by replicating this example. Presumably, The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N-COBRA), formed in 1987, would serve as the flagship organization representing the Black reparations movement.


Tulsa Race Riots of 1921


In 1921, a white mob torched hundreds of black-owned homes and businesses in the enclave known as "Black Wall Street" in Tulsa, Oklahoma. More than 300 Black people were killed and 10,000 left homeless in the 40-block area. Tulsa was the first recorded incident in which Black homes and businesses were victimized aerial fire bombings.
  The Tulsa Race Riot Commission created by Oklahoma's state legislature in 2001, recommended direct reparations payments to the riot survivors and descendants, educational scholarships, and a memorial park.


That same year, Oklahoma's legislature rejected direct reparations payments, provided 300 educational scholarships, a memorial park, and community development seed money. When attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Charles Ogletree sued the City of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma in 2003, on behalf of five Tulsa riot survivors, the case was dismissed. 
  The courts held that the statute of limitations ran out on the 1921 Tulsa riots. Appeals were rejected by district courts and the Supreme Court. In our view, the bi-partisan Commission's refusal to quantify compensation amounts was a mistake that opened the door to its rejection. 


It also appears that no specific compensation demands were made by the Commission for property loss damage for the Black businesses destroyed. At the time, the Black Wall Street district was reputed to be the wealthiest Black business district in the country. 


More importantly, it appears that Oklahoma's legislature took control of the process and framed the terms of the reparations debate. By initiating the process, they were positioned to achieve what appeared to be a pre-determined result. At the same time, they were able to inoculate themselves from charges that they tried to sweep this historic tragedy under the rug. 


Rosewood, Florida 


In 1923, whites sacked the small community of 120 Blacks in Rosewood, Florida. Attorneys from Holland and Knight lobbied Florida Governor Lawton Chiles and the state legislature for compensation of properties destroyed during the riot. 


Florida's state legislature awarded $2 million to nine survivors, each receiving $150,000. The law passed by the Florida legislature never mentioned the word reparations, although it was abundantly clear to everyone that's precisely what the process entailed.


The deliberate exclusion of "reparations" in Florida's legislative enactment, revealed a stark truth; how "politically explosive" the notion of reparations is to the ruling class. Taking on the Corporations


In 2002, the nonprofit Restitution Study Group filed suits against several corporations on behalf of descendants of Black slaves. They claimed the companies benefited economically from their business relationship to slavery.


The principal focus of the suit was Aetna (which insured slaves) and Lehman Brothers (whose co-founding partner owned them). The suit also included J.P. Morgan Chase, Fleet Boston, New York Life, AIG, Lehman Bros., Brown Bros, Harriman, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific, Brown & Williamson, Loews and the Liggett Group.

U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle dismissed the suit, saying that the plaintiffs were "trying to assert the legal rights of their ancestors" without proving they had been injured by any of the companies. Norgle asserted that courts lack the constitutional authority to decide the question of reparations for slavery, which should be left to Congress. Norgle also said the statute of limitations had been exhausted. The dismissal was upheld on appeal.  


Black Nationalism and Reparations 


As Black Nationalists, we support reparations for all descendants of Blacks slaves. As a practical matter, securing reparations under the existing U.S. capitalist order may only be partly achievable. The full realization of reparations for land and monetary compensation may not occur until America's settler capitalist system collapses and is replaced by a political order that supports Black peoples' right to self- determination. 


Nevertheless, fighting to win reparations to the fullest extent possible now is imperative. A groundswell of support in Black communities across the country and any partial victories securing reparations will materially strengthen the Darker Nation and help lay the foundation in the struggle for self-determination.


The fight for reparations is gaining momentum. It's important to continue to build on it. From the United States to the Caribbean to Africa, the reparations movement associated with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is expanding.
  The report of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent Report in 2016, was a significant development. 


The report concluded that, "There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization and colonialism were a crime against humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice." 


Supporting U.S. Congress H.R 40 Bill   


As part of leveraging this "reparations moment," Black Nationalists should consider supporting U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's H.R. 40 Bill, "The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act." It is essentially the same bill introduced by former congressman John Conyers (D) every year since 1989.
  We harbor no illusions that Congress will support reparations. But it's to our advantage for H.R. 40 to pass and receive funding for the Commission to produce its study. Why? Because it will constitute a U.S. government sanctioned indictment of America's crime of slavery committed against the Darker Nation. Slavery was a monstrous humanitarian crime America's white ruling class will never admit to, unless they're absolutely forced to public pressure. Securing the indictment will increase support for authentic reparations, even if the report recommendations exclude land and monetary compensation--as it most certainly would. But that would only escalate the follow-up conversation.


The prospects of HR 40 finally passing after 21 years of failed attempts is real. Should Democrats sweep the 2020 elections by holding the House of Representatives, flipping the Senate and bouncing Trump from the Oval Office, there is no reason H.R. 40 shouldn't pass.


With several Democrat presidential candidates committed to reparations, and the party turning to the left, even Barak Obama's sorry ass excuse for not supporting reparations wouldn't wash in 2020. If Congress approved bills funding the study of the "Spotted Owl" and another for "How Cocaine Enhances the Sex Drive of Japanese Quail," then the Darker Nation must insist on congressional approval of HR 40. Like other battles we will fight in the future, getting HR 40 approved is not dependent on begging Democrats. Creating mass support in Black communities and building a diverse coalition of organizations will force Congress to pass the bill, and a Democrat president to sign it.


Forty Acres and a Mule 


Consistent with past practices and promises made in the post- Civil War era, Black Nationalists support all descendants of Black slaves receiving a minimum of 40 acres of land or an amount of monetary compensation broadly agreed upon by the Darker Nation.


Black Nationalists don't accept the argument that land cannot be awarded to descendants of Black slaves because it's not possible or fair to transfer assets of former slaveowners.


Black Nationalists hold the U.S. government fully responsible for the crime of slavery and ask nothing of the descendants of former slaveholders. Critics arguing that federal government cash payments to Black descendants would still penalize white and other taxpayers for a wrong they didn't commit are partly correct. But Black people pay taxes too, and in effect would be paying for crimes committed against themselves. So, tell us, what's worse?


As the U.S. government currently holds an inventory of 648 million acres of land and countless seized properties, it can begin to process legitimate reparations land claims or monetary awards in lieu of their value.


Black Nationalist reject the arguments that direct cash payments to Black descendants of slaves will not achieve equivalency with whites in terms of net worth and other indices of wealth. But reparations is not, and never was conceived for that purpose. Reparations are compensation for harm committed against an aggrieved party.


Leaving aside the matter of gaining economic parity with whites, reparations detractors also assert direct cash payments to Blacks would not elevate the Darker Nation to a higher economic plateau. Who are these clairvoyants? How would they know what impact the direct injection of $1.5 trillion dollars would make on the Darker Nation over time?


Worse still are the naysayers that suggest dispensing significant cash payments to Black descendants will make us complacent and dampen our ardor for self-achievement. This is nothing more than the recycled racist trope reminiscent of the attacks on welfare recipients.


Try as they might, there is no good argument why a mass crime committed against the Darker Nation should go uncompensated. Native Americans and Asian-Americans have been compensated, but when it comes to 250 years of slavery, Black people can't even get a government study approved through Congress. This outrage shall not stand.


Some Final Thoughts 


In the aftermath of the Civil War, radical Republican Senators Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner argued that America had to go further than simply freeing Black slaves. They led the fight to pass legislation granting citizenship to former Black slaves and giving them the right to vote. But they weren't done yet.
  Blacks, they said, should be given land confiscated from southern slaveowners that supported the Confederacy. They enlisted the assistance of Frederick Douglas for their proposal, but Douglass balked on the idea.


Instead, Douglass proposed the creation of a federal corporation that would purchase tracts of land and then resell or lease them on favorable terms to the freedmen, saying this arrangement was “more fully consistent with the principle of self-reliance." Years later, Douglass admitted he made a mistake. 


America is confronted with a second opportunity to right the error it made in the post-Civil War era. America can pay us now and take some credit for dispensing racial justice on the cheap. Or you can pay us later. 


For as sure as every empire in human history has crumbled and fallen, so too will American Empire. When that happens, and Black people win self-determination to establish an independent nation, we'll present a bill for reparations should this debt remain outstanding. The choice is yours. Black Nationalists have made theirs.  





Black Nationalism and Reparations: Resolving the Conundrum