As the 2020 presidential elections pick up steam, Democrats who are running for president have indicated that discussions about reparations will be on their front burner. So far, here is what some of them have said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “We must confront the dark history of slavery and government sanctioned discrimination in this country that has had many consequences including undermining the ability of Black families to build wealth in America for generations.” To support her argument, Senator Warren cited a bill she has introduced in Congress that would help African Americans to make down payments on homes. Senator Warren believes that her idea is a solution for decades of malfeasance against African Americans.
But her critics argue that the price tag would make it prohibitive to pursue this line of pacification. They further argue that although slavery was a great moral wrong, its primary victims are long dead and cannot be pacified. Just a few days ago, Mitch McConnell argued that the primary perpetrators of slavery are long dead. McConnell said that this generation of Americans should not be held responsible for the sins of their fathers.
McConnell’s argument is irresponsible. In fact, it is reckless and imprudent. America benefited from slavery more than any other country in the world, and it is still benefiting from it. Slavery passed down to generations of Americans the benefits of unpaid labor.
Senator Bernie Sanders took a broader stand on reparations than his colleague from Massachusetts, Warren, did. In fact, Sanders’s position is so vague that it is difficult to make any connection between his stand and reparations. Here is what Senator Sanders said when he was asked about reparations at a CNN Town Hall meeting that Wolf Blitzer moderated: “There are massive disparities that must be addressed.”
Sanders also said he likes legislation that Congressman Jim Clyburn introduced while representing South Carolina’s 6th Congressional
district. Clyburn’s legislation is called 10/20/30, which dedicates substantial federal resources to distressed communities. In answering
the question on reparations, Senator Sanders blamed institutional racism for the problems that African Americans face today.
In my opinion, institutional racism and the massive disparities that Sanders talks about should be addressed whether reparations happen or not. Racism, economic disparities, and reparations are two very distinct American problems that have no connections with one another.
Senator Cory Booker has not hidden his frustration with racism and economic disparities today. As far as he is concerned, the discussion on reparations deserves much more serious attention, rather than “being reduced to just a checkbox on the presidential campaign list.”
Recently, Senator Booker introduced a bill called the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposal for African Americans. We are yet to see details on the extent of the commission’s study.
With their ideas, Senators Warren, Sanders, and Booker have essentially shaped the narrative for the reparation conversation. In other words, the remainder of the candidates fall into their three categories: people who support or oppose monetary compensation for African Americans as Senator Warren articulated; people who support or oppose Sander’s notion that a broader problem of institutional racism exists and needs to be addressed; and people who support or oppose Senator Booker’s idea that the conversation about racism deserves a more serious approach that must begin with a careful study on the impact of slavery and the recompense thereof.
Evidently, the candidates are polarized. Whereas Warren and Sanders are focused on the monetary and economic aspects of slavery, Senator Booker wants a comprehensive study so that the full psychological and economic impacts of slavery can be grasped.
I fall into the group of people in support of Senator Booker. In fact, all efforts should be channeled toward understanding not just the impact of slavery but also the minds of those who perpetrated it. Still, doing a serious study on slavery and its impacts will introduce another aspect into an already convoluted conversation: the Africa aspect.
It is easy to see why introducing the Africa aspect would make the conversation a much harder one to have in the era of Trump. He called Africa “shithole countries” and never faced any real consequences for it. Trump has also managed to change America’s political landscape to the point where advocating for global fairness makes you unelectable.
In Trump-era politics, any politician who wants to win must be seen by the electorate as one who advocates for America even to the detriment of other countries, including allies.
But the study and conversation on slavery and reparations cannot be held in isolation of Africa. It is the only way to make meaningful recompense for the atrocities of slavery.
The reason why I support Senator Booker’s call for study is that it may reveal the reason why Africa has remained underdeveloped despite being a continent with the greatest endowment of natural resources.
For instance, the study may reveal that just as the benefits of slavery passed down to generations of Americans, the trauma of it may have, on other hand, passed down to generations of Africans a psychological defeat that does not promote creativity and an appreciation for community development. Specifically, the trauma of slavery may be responsible for the survival-mode mentality that has paralyzed innovation and creativity.
In a study on Civil War prisoners, researchers in California published findings that support epigenetic—the idea that trauma can leave a
Since the field of epigenetic gained momentum, studies have been done on the generational impact of traumatic events in history.
For instance, a study on Holocaust survivors suggests that the effects of trauma can be passed down to generations. It also suggests that trauma can modify the day-to-day behavior of future generations.
Even in a time of epigenetic explanations, scientists and researchers are yet to conduct a broad study on the impact of slavery on Africa and African Americans. Therefore, I support Senator Booker’s idea that a study should be conducted to understand the impact of slavery. However, the study absolutely must include Africa.
Hamilton Odunze is Executive Editor, Nigerian Parents Magazine