What Does America Owe Its Citizens?

Our national economy was jumpstarted by the enslavement of African people. As a result, the economy of African American communities started later and with fewer resources, and this has been a difficult disparity to overcome.


| November 2016



Toy house on money stack

What reparations are due to black families and communities for the economical gap our nation’s history has allowed?

Photo by Fotolia/ivan kmit

Award-winning poet, essayist, and educator Haki R. Madhubuti returns to print with a bold and urgent look at the deaths and economic disparity surrounding the black community in America. Unwilling to let issues of race and history be swept under the rug, Taking Bullets (Third World Press Foundation Books, 2016) is Haki R. Madhubuti’s impassioned cry to national awareness and action. He demands that we take a look at the enslavement of the past, the terror of the present, and the hope for the future, and urges his readers to be equal participants in finding solutions to the inequalities we face.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

Reparations/Restitutions: A Part of the Answer

“New laws are not enough. The emergency we now face is economic. And it is a desperate and worsening situation. For the 35 million poor people in America ... there is a kind of strangulation in the air. In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist.”
— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the heart of America’s inability to be taken seriously as the champion of Western moral and ethical values, and its attempt to export democracy and human rights to Asia, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe is its historical treatment of Native American/Indians and African Americans/Black people. Most people of the United States are abysmally ignorant of this nation’s genocidal destruction of the indigenous populations during this na­tion’s “founding and creation.” That same ignorance of the brutal and inhuman enslavement and use of Africans in the development of the nation and its enor­mous wealth has been viewed by too many as simply “divine intervention.”

One of the burning issues capturing public and private dialogue and de­bate of the twenty-first century is whether the descendants of Africans, now in America, are due any restitution for their foreparents’-250-plus years of great suffering and slave labor. This is no small matter. American history, as taught in the nation’s schools, arrives with an extreme contempt ‘for facts, which are arranged to always favor the “founders” and their stories. Fortu­nately the works of Lerone Bennett Jr., Howard Zinn, Chancellor Williams, Carter G. Woodson, James W. Loewen, Molefi Kete Asante, Marimba Ani, and others exist to counter popular lies, fabrications, inventions, and out­right fairy tales disguised as historical truths. Charles W. Mills in his critical study, The Racial Contract, defines this clouding of historical reality as “illusory idealizing abstraction.” If one truly understands the emergence of the United States’ dominance in the international arena as the most powerful econom­ic, political, cultural, and military force in world history, the question must be asked: What role did people of African ancestry, who now number over forty-two million, contribute to this creation?

The enslavement of African people by Europeans and Americans, and the wealth acquired as a result, can be argued and documented as the principal act that propelled the economies of Western governments, and primarily the United States, into becoming the uncontested super-power in the world. Cur­rently, the United States’ influence, wealth, and military power is so great that it does not seek permission from friends or foe for its adventures around the world; Iraq is the latest and best example. The wealth of the United States as exhibited by individuals, corporations, institutions, foundations, and govern­ment is so exceptional that only a few nations can compete economically or militarily with it without serious disruptions and depletions of resources; for example, the former USSR. I emphasize, without fear of contradiction, that the basis for much of this wealth can be directly linked to the inhuman and unre­stricted free use of African people’s labor and intelligence for over 300 years.