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"Atonement and Self-Determination,"

by Kalonji Olusegun September/October 1994 issue of Poverty & Race

Both Chester Hartman's interview with Richard America and Howard Winant's AFriendly Dissent@ lack the essence of the demand for reparations as seen by the grassroot Africans, 88% of whom, during a recent survey circulated by N'COBRA, indicated they believed that the United States should pay Black people reparations today. That essence has to do with changing the relati6nship between the American government and Africans in America, the relationship between Europe and its former African colonies (mainland or islands), and between Europeans and the non-white World. Reparations is a conceptual framework that offers an African perspective for resolving much more than just the economic inequity and social justice issues that plague this country. It represents a shifting of priorities from the money machines exploitation and immediate gratification to a moral, sane, humane, conservation of this earth's human, animal and mineral resources.

We didn't come here to be part of a New World or a New World Order. We lost a war of enslavement and, unlike those European families who came so willingly to America, members of African families were captured, kidnapped, in-humanly crated in sailing tombs and then the surviving brother and mother dropped in Brazil, a sister and maybe father dropped off in the Caribbean for rum and the remaining family members brought to the high bidding settlers of the U.S. to work until they were just dropped off. Upon manumission, this country abandoned the freed Africans left destitute on the land of our incarceration, abandoned us without food, clothing, shelter, or the means to get back home. As refugees of a War of Enslavement, we were left defenseless to survive the terror of hostile communities, while those who enslaved and brutally forced us to labor from sun-up to sun-down were paid for the loss of Atheir chattel property, now freed. We had full employment during enslavement and as Aproperty never got paid! Why should we settle for just full employment, now, at subhuman wages for the trans-national corporate machine for whom America works, that now terrorizes the world with its Afree market oppression? The real economic question may well be the diverted stream of income from the masses of poor people that a Marshall Plan for the Cities can remedy, but that deals with this country=s concern about all of its residents and can never be considered reparations for the enslavement of and discrimination against Africans in America

Africans have learned that we can't trust this country's moral conscience, honesty or justice when it comes to Africans at home or abroad. The master-slave relationships that are recorded throughout European history and which were imposed on us since 1441, as a consequence of losing the war against their invasion of our homeland, still exist at the very essence of European culture. The darkening clouds of the Haitian persecution, the Cuban blockade, the tragedy of Rwanda, the passage of a criminally conceived anti-crime bill and, last but not least, the refusal to even hold a hearing on H.R. 40, are all seen as repulsive attempts at dehumanizing Africans and covering up America=s racist role in causing those disasters.

Why is it that H.R. 40, a bill that would only investigate the effects of slavery, only study the impact of slavery, as is the federal government=s moral responsibility, cannot even get out of subcommittee in three sessions of Congress? Is the fear of finally facing the truth of one=s past so threatening, are the lies so ingrained, the denial so strong that America can=t accept the challenge of a Aracist free@ society? Reparations is not simply about Athe enslavement of blacks a century ago,@ but about finally terminating the illegal and oppressive slave-master relationship perpetuated against them and their descendants, us; about recognition of the injury inflicted on generations of Africans in America, about respect and restoration of our basic human rights; about obtaining the complete and unconditional control of our resources, those resources stolen from us, deprived to us; and last but not least, about ending the continuing oppression in the form of political and economic subjugation, illegal taxation and the cold-spirited impending terror of mass imprisonment. Reparations are needed to elevate the pain, suffering and rage, so that our people won=t be dependent on the whims and racism of a hostile, mechanized system. This is not just a demand for money, this is a matter of fairness, justice, human rights, morality, equality, atonement, trust, and the God-given right to pursue their own destiny, unmolested. Reparations can provide some of the resources needed to accomplish the healing and strengthening of our self-determination.

Let me repeat, reparations has to do with the relationship between America and Africans in America. Reparations is our demand for an apology, and the self-determination necessary for us to pursue our own destiny, make our own contribution to the progress of this planet.

Kalonji Olusegun is Co-Chair of N'COBRA, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, a grassroots membership organization formed in 1989 (P0 Box 62622,Washington, DC 20029).

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