A panel of professors gave a lively presentation in favor of monetary compensation for African-Americans as a result of slavery entitled, “Reparations for African Americans: An American Dilemma.” The talk was held in the Welles Brown room of Rush Rhees Library on Wednesday night.
According to guest speaker and Professor Adjoa Aiyetoro the question of the night was, “How do we enslave a group of people and retain humanity?”
Sponsored by the Black Students’ Union and the Frederick Douglass Institute, each of the panel’s five professors gave a different perspective on the dilemma of the United States government’s disregard for the rights of African- Americans.
Aiyetoro, spoke first. “The healing will not begin until the U.S. admits to the crimes against humanity,” she said.
Aiyetoro, a Professor of Law at American University and the Chair of the National Coalition for Black Reparations in America ? N’COBRA ? said that the effects of past harms inflicted on African- Americans continue today.
Aiyetoro called for the formation of a commission to study the history of slavery and its current day vestiges.
She compared the public’s response to the school shootings in Columbine, which were committed by white students, with the response to the shooting of a seventh grade teacher in Florida, which was committed by a black teen. After the Columbine incident, the public asked, “What can we do with our young?”
According to Aiyetoro, the Florida case ended at the harshest extreme?with the student being tried as an adult?because he was black.
Aiyetoro also believes that African-Americans are at a disadvantage in terms of health care. “I know a woman in Virginia ? when she has to take her child to the pediatrician, she brings her white male friend with her because the doctor gives better health care when he goes with her,” she said.
“Blacks die more frequently than whites of curable diseases,” she added.
Aiyetoro had little hope that reparations would happen any time soon. “It took 13 years to make Martin Luther King [Jr.] Day a holiday,” she said.
Following Aiyetoro, UR Economics Professor Joseph Inikori said that African-Americans should receive reparations because they have been at an economic disadvantage since the time of slavery. “They had their hands tied behind their backs ? they could not accumulate capital,” he said.
Inikori suggested that the U.S. help the African economies so that those nations may compete with the Western economy.
Professor of History Stanley Engerman gave a historical account of the reparations that have been attempted since slavery has been abolished. The latest estimate of what is owed to African-Americans in reparations is $50 trillion, according to Engelman.
Larry Hudson, of the Frederick Douglass Institute and of the History Department offered a unique perspective. He cited recent work written on the origins of African- American violence. “The author describes this violence as post-traumatic slave syndrome,” he said.
Hudson also cited writers who believe that slavery did not have an economic impact on African- Americans.
The next speaker, Political Science Professor Frederick Harris showed the audience a chart representing a dramatic increase in articles written about slavery over the past few years. “Talk of reparations gained steam until September 11,” Harris said. “But, reparations seemed anti-patriotic after that.”
Harris believes that the current Republican majority in the government complicates the issue. For example, George W. Bush refused to send delegates to a conference on racism, according to Harris.
“It seems as though the reparations movement has a long way to go,” Harris said. “There’s no way to repay African-Americans for something that was done to their ancestors.”
Following the panel was a question and answer session. One student asked, “If the goal is equality, then why link it to slavery and put a dollar amount on it?”
Aiyetoro answered, “The outcome may not be equality. The reparations are to pay a debt.”
Another question came from a self-described Polish-American who said that his ancestors did not contribute to the slave trade and wondered why his tax dollars should be spent on reparations.
Aiyetoro responded that the debt is actually owed by the government. She also noted that African- Americans’ tax dollars would also contribute to the reparations.
Senior audience member Kenesha Johnson was enthusiastic about the presentation. “I am excited that there’s a dialogue about reparations on our campus,” she said. “I support reparations, but I don’t believe that it’s just about giving out a check.”
Senior Melita Thomas agrees. “This was a very educational approach to what issues lie around the African-American community,” she said.