Public Comment


Tejinder Uberoi
Friday June 21, 2019 - 11:36:00 AM

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal 2014 essay in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” helped spur new calls to make amends for slavery. Coates, the well-known African-American writer, made a number of powerful statements during his recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of H.R.40. He rightly argues that it is not enough to atone for the horror of chattel slavery but more importantly to address the broader inequities that have persisted since emancipation more than a century ago. Coates identified two great crimes in American history, the near annihilation of Native- Americans, the theft of their land, and the cultivation of the land using enslaved Africans. Slavery started in 1619 when a Dutch ship brought 20 slaves to the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, as a source of cheap labor. The profits generated from slavery exceeded $75 billion in today’s dollar value.  

Cotton in 1860 was the country’s largest exporter. The richest people at that time were slaveholders including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. During the civil war, white cotton farmers reaped huge profits from the backs of African slaves.  

The contributions of American-Americans to music and film are legendary. Jazz, the blues and hip-hop are tightly woven into the fabric of American Culture. The giants of American literature, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and many others, are the enduring fruits of slavery.  

White America have always had distinct advantages over the African-American community through redlining, the FHA and the GI Bills. The Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, called for a “moral budget calling the epidemic of poverty a “moral crisis.” 

There were 250 years of enslavement, followed by 100 years of terror followed by mass incarceration. It is time we recompense the African-American community for the sins of the past by injecting massive funds to upgrade inner-city communities with excellent schools, affordable housing and jobs. The mass incarceration of African-American communities requires urgent attention and finally we must not forget Native Americans who are suffering enormous hardships, with high unemployment, chronic food shortages and lack of adequate health care. 

Many other nations are guilty of similar crimes. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples is France who demanded reparations from Haiti as compensation for gaining their freedom.