By Jason Robb: attorney
In the November issue of the ABA (American Bar Association) Journal, an article entitled Repairing the Past by Jeffrey Ghannan, discussed the issue of providing reparation to descendants of black slaves. It seems unimaginable that we would be debating whether we should be giving money to black slave’s descendants as a result of a recognized legal policy over a century ago. However, we are at that point in time, and as more non-European immigrants flood into this country and take the reigns of our government, the more our national policies will favor the reparation movement.
The reparation movement is simply seeking some form of redress for a 246-year practice of slavery in America for the alleged wrongs committed against their ancestors brought here as slaves. Of course they like to forget the fact that it was their fellow black brothers in Africa who were selling them for cheap rum, or that it was a recognized policy in Africa that a tribe was permitted to sell the members of the tribe they conquered. However, to point out the facts of history, or that slavery still exists in Africa, is considered evil, racist thinking. Some want an apology; others are “proposing a presidential commission to inquire the need of monetary relief, while others want corporations to make restitution for helping to maintain slavery.”
If you believe this will never happen in America, think again. Chicago became the fifth major U.S. City to endorse federal hearings on reparations, while other cities are considering or have already paid reparations in connection with race riots in the past. The black reparation movement points to the examples of “Japanese-Americans interned during WWII, who received an apology and compensation from the U.S. government in 1988.” They argue that the Negroes helped build the public and private wealth and as a result, should be compensated. They fail to mention that there is a greater differentiation between the confinement of Japanese citizens during WWII and Negro slave descendants, and that is “there is a greater proximity of the wrong to the individual.” As Michael Hausfield, a Washington D.C. lawyer said, “when you have many generations from the offense it becomes almost impossible to fashion an appropriate remedy as a relief.” “The challenge with reparations claims is the inability to translate the true nature of the injury into damages suffered.”
Even though it appears unlikely they could win, they are arguing unjust enrichment as a legal theory to seek recovery for the benefits slaves ‘ labors “allegedly” bestowed on the nation. Many Negroes, such as Randall Robinson, who finished a book titled, The debt: What America owes to Blacks, argues in support of this theory that “President Lincoln supported a plan during the Civil War to compensate slave owners for their loss of ‘property’”(Didn’t Lincoln believe Negroes were as equal as Whites-guess not). “But his successor, President Andrew Johnson, vetoed legislation that would have compensated ex-slaves as well.’
Others such as Richard America believes there should be an accounting of what was taken from Negro slaves. “Slavery and discrimination were mechanisms for transferring money wrongfully from blacks to whites, so reparations are a way of capturing the unjust enrichment that whites have today.” He believes in redirecting wealth to blacks in the form of grants for housing, business and education-basically looking for a hand out. These types of legal issues are about as viable as millions of white American descendants claiming they should be compensated because their ancestors were forced to fight England during the Revolutionary war.
Because the legal issues are very dismal, the reparation movement is attempting to seek redress through government policy. The black Rep. John Conyers D-Mich. has introduced legislation in the House each year since 1989 calling for the President to appoint a commission to study reparations. However, H.R. 40 bill still sits in the House Judiciary Committee and hopefully it will continue to sit. Rep. Tom P. Hall D-Ohio introduced in June the Apology for Slavery Resolution of 2000, H. Con. Res. 356. His bill calls for a “commission to study slavery’s legacy, and supports a national museum and memorial, which are included in simpler proposals by Rep. John Lewis D-GA and Cliff Sterns R-Fla.” These bills still sit in the House Judiciary Committee.
In the private sector, the reparation movement is seeking redress from companies that allegedly benefited from slavery. For example, AETNA, the Hartford-Conn based life insurance company was asked to apologize for writing life insurance policies on slaves with owners as beneficiaries. AETNA apologized and said the “Company addresses today’s needs with a minority internship program, corporation scholarship funding and diversity initiatives.” But the reparation movement isn’t happy. They are still complaining because the company has not addressed the problems of the past. Like the old adage says, “they’ll never be happy.”
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee feels the same as millions of whites do when he said, “I never owned a slave. I never oppressed anybody. I don’t know why I should have to pay for someone who did something generations before I was born.”
So here we have it, the blacks of today and minorities in general will never feel equal and will never be satisfied until the whites apologize for the past. However, as white “Christian” preachers have already been kissing minorities’ behinds for the past 30-40 years- its clear that what they are truly after is cold hard cash and nothing less. As reparations activist Aiyetoro said, “until and unless this country and its leadership and its people deal straight up with actually making reparations, we’re not going to have racial healing.” Therefore, dig in your pockets deep White America, pay day is arriving soon.