Let's rap about reparations: Re-examining the right of restorative justice

Paul Scott
Paul Scott

“It didn’t cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters. … But now we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars”

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Every day in this country, there is some meeting held somewhere attempting to solve the multitude of problems facing the black community.

Politicians sit on panels and listen attentively as their constituents run down a familiar grocery list of solutions, from more jobs in the hood to police body cameras.

But when someone mentions the “R word,” the climate in the room changes quicker than North Carolina weather in the spring.

On April 26, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice will open in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to African Americans who were lynched in this country. This comes on the heels of national, racially charged debates over the fate of Confederate monuments.

However, if memorials and monuments do not lead to monumental discussions about reparations, they only memorialize the fact that someone did something really horrible to my ancestors and got away with it.

Over the years , scholars such as Randall Robinson and Dr. Claud Anderson and organizations such as N’ COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) have argued that African Americans deserve back pay for the atrocities committed against them. In 1989 , former Michigan Congressman John Conyers introduced HR 40 to try to convince Congress to study reparations. The bill went nowhere.

What should not be omitted is the major role that African-American women have played in the fight for the compensation for the descendants of slaves. According to Dr. Raymond Winbush in his book, “Belinda’s Petition, A Concise History of Reparations for the Transatlantic Slave Trade “ the fight for reparations began in 1782 when an ex-slave named Belinda successfully petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for compensation for her labor. The crusade was continued by women such as Callie House and Queen Mother Audrey Moore.

The fight continues today through activists such as Durham's Wilma Liverpool who has worked, tirelessly, to get her local Democratic Party to support reparations or as Dr. Winbush refers to it in his book, “restorative justice.”

Unfortunately , in the past , the call for reparations has been marginalized into obscurity as many people have considered its pursuit a fool’s errand. They have argued that there ain’t a freeze pop’s chance in hades that America is ever gonna do the right thing and pay her long past due bill to the descendants of those who built this country.

But times are changing and the traditional scale of probability is no longer reliable. Who would have thought even four years ago that hot-button issues like transgender bathrooms and the #MeToo women’s movement would have sparked national debates? Not to mention the trampling on the holy ground of the Second Amendment by anti-gun violence activists.

Proponents of the above mentioned all had one thing in common. They would not let their issues be bullied into silent submission. Neither should the conversation around reparations.

Is restorative justice the magic elixir to cure all the ills of black America? Well, maybe prosecuting aging Hollywood stars will end the abuse of women. And perhaps tougher gun laws will make our schools safer. Or maybe not. But we will never find out if we do not have these honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversations.

Why shouldn’t the African American community make restorative justice a bipartisan issue during the upcoming elections? And I’m not talking about the, conciliatory, “my bad" that someone gives you when they step on your new blue suede shoes.

The ambitions of my ancestors deserve more than ambiguous answers. There should be a demand for clear responses to the issue of reparations whether affirmative or negative. In millennial hashtag speak #ReparationsOrNah? should be a trending topic on every election day both locally and nationally.

Don't get it twisted. This is not the rant of someone feelin’ salty that he didn't receive his “40 acres and a mule.” Personally , cutting all that grass would trigger my allergies and I have a childhood phobia of large farm animals. This is about demanding straight answers. I would rather have a definite “no” than a possible “maybe” any day.

So, the real miscarriage of justice is not that black folk have been denied reparations but that we have never really been allowed a platform to ask for them. As we continue to struggle with the problems that plague the black community it’s time that we consider the silent solution. America, at least, owes us that much.

Paul Scott’s columns appear the first and third Saturdays of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF