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Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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African Americans deserve reparations for slavery

Jun 21, 2023

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The push to gain reparations for Black Americans is gaining momentum in California and New York. Also, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) used the Juneteenth holiday to unveil legislation meant to address reparations for Black Americans whose families were impacted by slavery. Despite these signs of progress, polls indicate Black and white Americans’ views on reparations remain far apart.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence wonders if African Americans harmed by slavery will ever get the reparations they deserve.

The reparations conversation has been stagnant and long overdue. But given that we just celebrated the third-ever Juneteenth federal holiday, it’s really evident that reparations for African Americans is unlikely to actually happen. 

The United States pays reparations daily to those who have suffered. Veterans and their descendants, coal miners who have had black lung disease, those exposed to pesticides, indigenous people, farmers, fishermen, individuals who lose their homes and livelihoods to droughts, flood, natural disaster…reparations are doled out in the U.S. on the regular. But those who built the U.S.? Well, they have never been compensated for their forced contribution and the harm that has followed them this century and a half later since slavery supposedly ended.

The reality is that slavery never ended. It simply took on different and new forms that still very much exist today. Yet, if the United States didn’t have Black people, it wouldn’t stand. We’re not only the backbone of the United States’ prosperity and success and existence as a whole, but also of the American economy, culture, and its future.

Yet to this very day, African Americans have not been given a dime to compensate for more than 400 years of enslavement, rape, murder, theft, and the continued denial of that whole life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness concept. Rather since the purported Emancipation Proclamation, white people have issued African Americans nothing but apartheid — slavery by another name — disparate impact, wage gaps, selective and over-enforcement, and so much more.

The D.C. council last week held its first hearing on a bill that could provide reparations to African American residents harmed by slavery. On June 29, the state task force will issue a highly-anticipated report detailing how much ancestors of enslaved black Californians are owed from slavery, racism and discriminatory policies. The reparations conversation has been stagnant and long overdue. But given that we just celebrated the third-ever Juneteenth federal holiday, it’s really evident that reparations for African Americans is unlikely to actually happen.
The United States pays reparations daily to those who have suffered. Veterans and their descendants, coal miners who have had black lung disease those exposed to pesticides, indigenous people, farmers, fishermen, individuals who lose their homes and livelihoods to droughts, flood, natural disaster, reparations are doled out in the U.S. on the regular. But those who built the U.S.? Well, they have never been compensated for their forced contribution and the harm that has followed them this century and a half later since slavery supposedly ended.
The reality is that slavery never ended. It simply took on different and new forms that still very much exists today. Yet, if the United States didn’t have black people, it wouldn’t stand. We’re not only the backbone of the United States’ prosperity and success and existence as a whole, but also of the American economy, culture and its future. Yet to this very day, African Americans have not been given a dime to compensate for more than 400 years of enslavement, rape, murder, theft, and the continued denial of that whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness concept.
Rather since the purported Emancipation Proclamation, white people have issued African Americans nothing but apartheid — slavery by another name — disparate impact, wage gaps, selective and over-enforcement, and so much more. The Department of Justice, for instance, just issued a blistering report on Friday on the Minneapolis Police Department engaging in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination, excessive and unlawful use of force, and also First Amendment violations, and so much more. Black people have been speaking out about that department for decades, yet ignored. And just as the wrongdoings of the Minneapolis P.D. aren’t rare, systemic problems, well, the slave patrols that are across the country are everpresent and in every city and they are a real problem.
Yet America continues to perpetuate against Black Americans and it’s no accident. This is just slavery rebranded. So why pay reparations when slavery isn’t ended? White America is well aware of this fact and we see it in the vitriol that comes from the pushback against student loan forgiveness. The disproportionate number of those burdened with student loans are black. The possibility that black people like me who are not indirect beneficiaries of benefits like the GI Bill and generational wealth, would suddenly not be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt terrifies a number of white people in the U.S. They recognize that with such relief, there would be great potential for African Americans to buy assets, break generational curses, and bring themselves out of the white-imposed terrorism and massacres that have crippled an entire population of people, but are often ignored and hidden in history. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t want reparations. I’m simply saying that it would need to have that direct intentional alleviation of the harm that is continuously ongoing, because the reality is that slavery has never ended.

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