EDITOR’S NOTE: The Shinbone Star is happy to add Denise Shabazz to our staff. This is her debut article.
By DENISE SHABAZZ
When I was an erstwhile 19-year-old student at Howard University, I was all for reparations to make amends for slavery.
Howard University, a historically black institution, renewed my sense of pride and identity in being a young black woman who had been raised in a predominantly white neighborhood. I was captivated by the numerous protests on my campus calling for reparations, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and practically any issue that disenfranchised black people.
But now, more than 30 years later, I have no interest in reparations. Instead, I want more discussions on equality, more job opportunities, more justice in a dysfunctional legal system that’s stacked against black and brown people. Reparations are simply bandages that temporarily allay the historical scabs that haven’t healed.
That’s not to say I’m not alarmed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tone-deaf response to the reparations debate, dismissing it because hundreds of years of racism were quelled by the election of America’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. Such an argument ignores the aftermath of Obama’s tenure.
Race relations have soured and people of color have been targeted at alarming rates under Donald Trump’s presidency. Consequently, Obama’s presidency came with the proverbial “double-edged sword.”
With this reality, I know reparations won’t restore race relations; it would make things worse. I can only imagine the discussions from backwoods-minded ignoramuses who hated Obama. Imagine their talk about awarding money to black people for slavery! If anything, it would bolster their false belief that the payments are an affirmative action remedy that absolves all past racist inequities.
Indeed, reparations are nothing new.
A June 19 New York Times article details the impact of reparations for Japanese-Americans, Native Americans and African-Americans. Adeel Hassan and Jack Healey wrote that in 1948, Japanese-Americans were awarded “$37 million to 26,000 claimants, but no provision was made for the loss of freedom or the violation of human rights.” Forty years later, in 1988, Congress voted to “extend an apology and pay $20,000 to each Japanese-American survivor of the internment. More than $1.6 billion was paid to 82,219 eligible claimants.”
The article noted that the suffering the internees endured “could never be fully compensated.”
What makes it more difficult, too, for African-Americans is the mixed-race nature of our people. Many black people come from all parts of the diaspora, including Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Puerto Rico. How can the government even determine whose “black” lineage deserves compensation and for how much? I too was mildly amused to learn that I have Irish ancestry through one of those DNA ancestry kits.
No, the government can save its money. If anything, I’m elated that the issue has opened discussion on race relations. Hopefully, it can pave the way for authentic atonement: equality through jobs, education and the justice system.