With the resurgence of white supremacy coming to the forefront, decisive efforts must take place in the form of reparative redress programs that directly benefit the descendants of enslaved Africans, Dr Vincent Adejumo suggests.
First published in October 2020.
In the presidential debates between President Donald Trump and the Democratic challenger Joe Biden on September 29, 2020, Trump failed to unequivocally condemn white supremacy and white supremacist groups when pressed to do so by the moderator Chris Wallace. Wallace specifically asked, “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups?”. President Trump replied, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by”.
The reluctance was unprecedented in the history of modern debates due to the Southern Poverty Law Center designating the Proud Boys as a hate group that “regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists.”
The outrage that ensued from social media to news media pundits highlighted the frustration, and in many instances, hurt, that many Americans felt from the President’s reluctancy to denounce white supremacy. CNN Political Pundit Bakari Sellers tweeted “That was moment. Trump is a racist. He can’t condemn white supremacy. That’s a thing.” Another CNN Political Pundit Angela Rye commented “Shoutout to all the Republicans (and really all the white folks) who have not condemned Trump’s urging of white supremacists. You know what that makes you? Y’all constructed Donald Trump over the last 401 years. He is YOU.” Other prominent media personalities, including some from conservative outlets such as Fox News host Sandra Smith shared in the disparagement of Donald Trump for not condemning white supremacy.
Although the collective outrage was warranted, the central issue of condemning white supremacy still does not move the collective conversation forward on how to end the system of white supremacy and replace it with a system that promotes equity among all citizens of the United States. Politicians condemning white supremacy in recent years has become a performative gesture with little follow up in the form of tangible actions to subvert white supremacist ideology. Condemning words are never supplemented with the promotion of policies that address inequities in America that thrives on Anti-Black racism. The result of the inequity between whites and Blacks in the United States has culminated in white households on average, having as much as twenty times more wealth than Black households. The financial inequities between Blacks and whites have a great impact in other areas of American society, such as criminal justice, health, and education.
The most effective way that the United States government can remedy these inequities between whites and Blacks is by Congress and the President providing either cash payments and/or land grants to the direct descendants of enslaved Africans born in America. Groups such as the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, Republic of New Afrika, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, and Nation of Islam in the past have made the case for African Americans to receive reparations of some form. The call for reparations by these groups led to former Representative John Conyers introducing a bill in the House of Representatives in 1989 to devise a Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
In recent years, authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have made the case for reparations to address a system that guarantees that the African American community as a whole remains at the bottom of all sectors of society. Roy L. Brooks takes the idea of reparations a step further in “Atonement and Forgiveness”. He argues that reparations should function as a tool for the American Government to atone for its original sin of chattel slavery and anti-black racist policies that followed in the decades after.
The continuing calls for reparations culminated in Representative John Conyers reintroducing the study for reparations bill into the House of Representatives in 2017. In January 2019, the bill was referred to the House subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. In June of 2019, the civil rights subcommittee proceeded to have a hearing on the issue. This was the first time in American history in which either national legislative body held a hearing on a bill that dealt specifically with reparations to African Americans for the period of chattel slavery.
Although there has not been any movement on the bill in Congress since the 2019 hearing, its impact has already been felt at state and private sector levels. For example, in October of 2019, Georgetown University created a $400,000 annual fund to benefit the descendants of 272 enslaved Africans that it owned and sold in 1838 to help keep the University open. In September 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsome signed Assembly Bill No. 3121 into law. This law created a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans in the state of California. Although political institutions at the state and national level have made progress in considering proposals for reparations, there are still major obstacles that are perpetuated by these same institutions.
For example, President Donald Trump threatened to not fund public schools that implement the 1619 project in their curriculum. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have made ethnic studies a requirement to graduate from high school. And at any time, the administration of Georgetown can decide to decrease or not support the original $400,000 annual reparation initiative. These developments will make it challenging for a new generation to understand why reparations is a key ingredient for addressing systemic racism. That is not to say that progressive reforms should not be advocated for. However, what can be said in addressing white supremacy is that the solution cannot be in the form of piecemeal.
When the subjects of the British crown in America decided to become a sovereign nation, they did not do so in a piecemeal fashion. They did it by declaring their independence from their oppressors with the rallying cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!”. When Abraham Lincoln and his “Radical Republican” comrades in Congress decided to address the Southern Rebellion, they did so without hesitancy by going to war to preserve the union. And when John F. Kennedy decided to endorse legislation that would later become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he did so knowing that his reelection chances might be in jeopardy due to the working relationship that the Democratic party had with a southern white supremacist. President Kennedy was able to compartmentalize this reality because he realized that his previous pragmatic approach to the issue of civil rights had failed as evidenced by the state-sanctioned violence against blacks in Alabama in the summer of 1963.
In each of these cases, there was deliberate action taken by leaders to remedy the problem at hand. Within this context, a simple condemnation by politicians and leaders today will never actually end white supremacy. Leaders, as well as grassroots activists within the African American and allied communities, must demand redress in the form of reparative policies by bargaining the Black vote. In other words, leaders and organizations must require that reparations that benefit the descendants of enslaved Africans be inserted into the platform of any political party that seeks their endorsement.
Budgetary developments in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic can be a useful tool for African American leaders to effectively negotiate terms for reparation programs. This is due to an estimated $3.92 trillion being spent by Congress by the end of 2020 for Coronavirus relief in the United States. These budgetary estimates indicate that the ability of the United States to fund reparative programs for people who descended from enslaved Africans in America is and has always been available.
With the resurgence of white supremacy coming to the forefront, decisive efforts must take place in the form of reparative redress programs that directly benefit the descendants of enslaved Africans. Doing so will begin the process of this country rectifying the racial inequities that are at the foundation of America and reduce the burgeoning impact of white supremacy.🔷
Dr Vincent Adejumo, Senior Lecturer of African American Studies, University of Florida. Fulltime lecturer in the African American Studies program teaching Intro to African American Studies in classroom and online.
🗳️ Donald Trump
🗳️ Joe Biden
🗳️ Gavin Newsom