The Des Moines Register, January 1998
Reparations, not apology
By PRESTON MUHAMMAD
The issue of race is under extensive dialogue across
America in an earnest attempt at healing the great "racial divide" in this
country. For this to be successful, it is imperative to include the No. 1 issue that
gave birth to the divide: slavery and its aftermath. Dr. John Hope Franklin, a
scholar and chair of the Presidential Advisory Board on Race, agrees that there can be no
legitimate discussion on race without addressing the issue of slavery and the post-Civil
War Jim Crow period.
The mention of the word slavery causes most people to run for cover or dismiss it as an irrelevant factor in the redemption of black and white America. Many blacks are oblivious to the law of cause and effect and join white America in denial where this great atrocity is concerned. If America is to be redeemed, she must come to grips with this great horror and cancer of herself. America must summon the courage to abandon her gross state of denial and, with total honesty, face this wretched institution and its lingering legacy. This would result over time in the exorcism of her demons of pain, guilt, grief, white supremacy and black inferiority.
As the issue of an apology for slavery is discussed, we should not forget that slavery inflicted an injury on black people that was never repaired - 600,000 lives lost during the Civil War does not erase the wrong (historical accounts place the loss of black life directly related to enslavement at between 10 million and 100 million); and the 14th, 15th and 16th Amendments should not be viewed as apologies for slavery. Such are the initial consequences required of a people as a direct result of the horrendous evil of slavery.
Granted, the present generation of white Americans is not guilty of enslaving blacks. However, as beneficiaries of what slave labor provided America (fueling the entire economy of the agrarian South, and with that finance and free labor ushered in the industrial economic revolution), white America and the government must bear responsibility for repairing the damage caused by this enslavement of black people.
In economic terms alone, University of Illinois economics professor Larry Neal calculated that for 246 years, no less than 15 million slaves provided free labor for which, at prevailing wages in the Antebellum South and considering adjustments for inflation, a conservative figure of $1.4 trillion in wages were never paid. Moreover, white America has benefited economically due to black discrimination. David Scranton, dean of the School of Business at Jackson State University, maintains that discrimination has economic, educational and occupational implications and that 40 to 60 percent of the disparity between current black and white median incomes is due to discrimination. Further, research by leading economists as outlined in the book "The Wealth of Races," edited by Georgetown University economics professor Richard America, shows that from 1930 to present, whites have financially benefited with more than $600 billion from white affirmative action (a.k.a. discrimination).
Beyond denied wages is an even more devastating reality regarding the debt inherited by white America - the tremendous suffering, and psychic trauma experienced by black slaves for more than 310 years. Blacks suffered unrelenting exploitation, daily humiliation and torture; sexual abuse of men, women and children; annihilation of ancestral culture; denial of education and economic development; loss of control over one's person, and the moral destruction of an entire people.
From emancipation to the present, sons and daughters of ex-slaves not only inherited the ill-effects of such massive and deeply rooted damage, we carry the legacy of having suffered the worst of mankind's inhumanity to man. This is at the root of the permanently impoverished, chronically dependent, familial and social dysfunctional condition of the masses of black America.
All those who played a substantial role in the undoing of black people in America (i.e., Christians, Jews, Muslims, African nations) should play a similar role in helping to repair the damage through a reparations program that would have financial, educational, and goods and services features. It should be administered by a cross section of black leadership that displays the highest intelligence and moral character and has worked for the best interests of black people.
There is no need for an apology for slavery to heal the great racial divide. I wouldn't want it if it were not followed by reparations, and I wouldn't need it if it were.
MINISTER PRESTON MUHAMMAD is the Iowa representative of Minister Louis Farrakhan and The Nation of Islam.
The Des Moines Register