Fw: "Cash Alone Can Never Right Slavery's Wrongs"
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Sep 6 12:33:18 MDT 2002
This is a belated addition to the thread on reparations that developed
around the time of the August 17 Reparations Rally in Washington, D.C. --
Cash Alone Can Never Right Slavery's Wrongs
By Courtland Milloy
Sunday, August 18, 2002; Page C01
At the Millions for Reparations rally on the mall yesterday,
a group of supporters began a spirited call-and-response
that quickly spread through the crowd.
"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
Although nobody that I spoke to believed for a second that
they'd ever see a dime in restitution for slavery, the
chanting continued at a fevered pitch. And the cause, as it
turned out, was not just money.
"We have, emerging in America, millions of black people who
understand that there has been some long-term harm done by
the evil practice of slavery," said Conrad Worrill, chairman
of the National Black United Front in Calumet Park, Ill.,
and one of the organizers of the rally. "As more people get
involved, we hope to have deeper discussions about the
impact of slavery and try to develop a consensus on what
kind of reparations would be appropriate."
In other words, the reparations they want now is the
educating of America about slavery, which would at least
facilitate some conversation about that "peculiar
institution." Not that getting people to take a hard look at
the massive subjugation, dehumanization and genocide that
occurred on American soil would be any easier than winning
In his 1998 book, "Rituals of Blood," Harvard sociologist
Orlando Patterson argues that the most serious problems
affecting African Americans today are rooted in 2 1/2
centuries of slavery and its aftermath, the neoslavery of
In making his case, however, Patterson bucks a disturbing
"I go against the prevailing revisionist view that slavery
had little or nothing to do with present gender and familial
problems," he writes. "This revisionist denial, I insist, is
not just an academic absurdity. It is an intellectual
disgrace, the single greatest disservice that the American
historical profession has ever done to those who turn to it
for guidance about the past and the etiology of present
This perverse yet widespread notion that slavery was largely
benign is, as Patterson asserts, "worse than the more than
two centuries of racist historiography that preceded it."
No wonder, then, with much of academia in denial about the
consequences of slavery and many Americans so uninformed as
well, opinion polls routinely show 80 percent of whites
opposing reparations of any sort.
The highest levels of government are not immune, either.
In every legislative session since 1989, for instance, Rep.
John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has introduced a bill that would
establish a commission to study slavery and its lingering
effects on African Americans. But the legislation, known as
the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African
Americans Act, has never even been debated.
Says Worrill, "The fact that this country, founded on the
ideals of freedom, could spend centuries importing and
breeding human beings as chattel, set them 'free' and then
say, 'forget about it,' is not only unforgettable, it's
A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found
that when whites were asked if they agreed with the
statement "White Americans have benefited from past and
present discrimination against African Americans, so they
should be willing to make up for these wrongs," 58 percent
Blacks, on the other hand, are less inclined to dismiss
slavery as something that they ought to just "get over."
A poll of Alabamians taken in June, for instance, showed
that 67 percent of blacks favor the federal government
paying reparations to slave descendants. In Illinois, a poll
taken in May 2001 found that 66 percent of blacks favor
reparation payments. But their actual numbers are minuscule
compared with the 85 percent of whites in the state who
Supporters on the Mall were not fazed by the magnitude of
"There have always been majorities in this country who said
never -- never to freedom, never to civil rights," said
Uzikee Nelson, a sculptor who lives in Washington.
"Regardless of what others think, we are the ones who have
to keep on kicking about reparations."
E-mail: milloyc at washpost.com
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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