Why Reparations Are Going to the Wrong People


The Caribbean Community headquarters, where the CRC constructed its 10-point plan for reparations. (VTV)

André Souza, Managing Editor

The story of this country, and of many others, has been largely dictated by white people. For centuries, only white people were allowed to read, to write, to own businesses and land, and be educated. For decades thereafter, white people burned, killed, and snuffed out any attempts at success by any other group of people.

With that being said, the story was created on the backs of Black and Indigenous people. We live in one of the richest and most economically successful countries in the world because of centuries of free labor at the expense of People of Color. The United States of America would not be where it is today if not for the pain and suffering endured by the relatives of our Black and Indigenous friends and neighbors.

In recent years, the public acknowledgment of slavery’s role in constructing the U.S. has caused a complementary debate to re-enter the civic consciousness. This struggle has been voiced by leaders of the BIPOC community for years, however, they have only recently started to be heard.

The debate over reparations is centuries-old. Whether or not the relatives of former slaves should be financially compensated for their family’s pain and suffering has been a highly contentious topic for many years, and while small victories have been won by individuals, the movement as a whole has remained virtually stagnant, for relatives of slaves at least.

But for white slaveholders, reparations have been paid since day one. According to the Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, slaveholders received “an amount equal to three hundred dollars for each person shown to have been so held by lawful claim,” which is worth no less than $7,800 in our current economy.

Another example, in 1833, Great Britain had to go into debt to compensate slaveholders for freeing their slaves, while the actual people who suffered received nothing, per the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. This isn’t just something that happened a hundred years ago. Ancestors of slaveholders were still receiving money from the British government as late as 2015.

So why the urgency? Why is it still vastly important that people receive reparations today, right now?

It would be incredibly one-dimensional to look at the atrocities that we as a country have committed and claim that they have no effect on present times. Black households currently make close to $41,000 per year on average according to 2019 annual averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to the average white household’s $66,000.

This isn’t to say that Black and Indigenous people can’t become economically successful. They can, they have, and they will continue to be. However, the odds have always been stacked against Black prosperity. Think of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, think Seneca Village. Even the MOVE house in Philadelphia. All are examples of successful Black communities that were violently disrupted, destroyed, and even bombed by the white ruling class.

This is why many leaders in these communities are demanding reparations now. A group of leaders in majority-Black countries in and around the Caribbean called the Caribbean Community (Caricom) have gathered to create a reparations commission. The CRC, as it is known, has written a ten-point reparation plan. The goal, as stated in the document, is to hold European governments accountable for their roles in the slave-trade.

“The CRC sees the persistent racial victimization of the descendants of slavery and genocide as the root cause of their suffering today. The CRC recognizes that the persistent harm and suffering experienced today by these victims as the primary cause of development failure in the Caribbean.”

The document also frames a blueprint for reconciliation and healing, through different programs and investment in these countries.

“It calls upon European governments to participate in the [Caricom Reparations Justice Program] with a view to prepare these victims and sufferers for full admission with dignity into the citizenry of the global community. The CRC here outlines the path to reconciliation, truth, and justice for VICTIMS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS.”

Much research has been done to show the direct correlation between the racial income gap of today and atrocities like slavery, genocide, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. No amount of money or outreach projects will ever be able to reconcile what has happened, but recognizing the role our government played and continues to play in destabilizing Black and Indigenous communities is a start.

Even then, a start is not enough. We will need to continue the healing process, not only through financial reparations, but also through amendments, resolutions, and bills that put resources and aid into communities damaged by American Colonization.