As a Nation, We are Doomed to Fail if the ‘Original Sin’ of the Past is not Reconciled in the Present

Michelle Bicking


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Between 16th and 19th centuries, 12.5 million members of African Diaspora were scattered across the Americas due to the transatlantic slave trade. An additional 6 to 12 million perished at sea due to disease, overcrowding, malnutrition, torture and suicide. In addition to destabilizing independent nation-states for profit and influence, the wealth of continental United States was built on the backs of underpaid and intentionally dehumanized labor force. The call for action to both acknowledge and redress 10 generations of systemic chattel slavery in the United States is justified and long overdue.

What are reparations? Reparations are formal attempts to make amends for crimes against humanity visited upon groups of people. According to The United Nations, there are five types of reparations: cessation/assurance of non-repetition; restitution and repatriation; compensation, satisfaction and rehabilitation.

Why reparations? There is historical precedent for it both globally and in the United States. The United States government has paid reparations to Japanese families who were interned in concentration camps during World War II, Americans formerly held hostage in Iran and – most recently – families whose loved ones perished in September 11, 2021 attacks. Following the 1862 District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, reparations were also paid to slave owners for loss of both income and property following emancipation, set at $300 per enslaved person – approximately 25 million total in today’s figures. The individual worth of each enslaved person ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 each which, conservatively, would have amounted to 42 to 84 trillion dollars today.

These numbers, however, exclude 7,500 enslaved persons held captive by the Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee (also known as Five Civilized Tribes) in the 1700s through mid 1800s. In addition to white-identified slaveholder compensation, the 1862 Homestead Acts gave 270 million acres to white-identified homesteaders stolen from First Nations peoples to “settle the American West.” Black/African American peoples remain the only racial group since America’s founding that has not been formally compensated by the United States government for it’s “original sin” of chattel slavery. First Nations/Native American Indians tribes, nations and bands fought for centuries in North American courts for some measure of financial compensation through various federally-funded initiatives as well as formal recognition of territorial sovereignty in order to access limited socioeconomic benefits on and off reservations. Comparatively, only 40,000 formerly enslaved persons have had minimal success in requesting redress, and were given the much famed 40 acres and a mule for their plight. Others were offered $100 each– approximately $2,500 in 2022 – to leave the United States for Liberia or Haiti.

According to the 1860 census, there were just shy 4 million enslaved persons living throughout the country – 12 percent of total population.

Chattel slavery is an intergenerational cultural trauma experienced by all African diasporic communities in the United States that is correlated positively with poor physical and emotional health outcomes, chronic impoverishment, rampant food insecurity and broadened educational achievement gaps.

Coupled with segregation, redlining, lynching, state-sanctioned terror, human-trafficking, forced sterilization, predatory lending practices, eminent domain property seizures and gentrification, chattel slavery represents the single most destructive force undermining the advancement generations of Black identified people anywhere in the known world. There has never been a golden age of wealth and prosperity experienced by a majority of Black-identified persons in the United States because all systems of influence – from the federal government down to local jurisdictions – have conspired to ensure that it doesn’t occur. Ever.

As we await the findings of the most current iteration of HR 40 commission in the coming years, might it be suggested that the following items be included in the final draft:

● Declare in person at a convening of the United Nations by the President of the United States offering a formal, televised apology to descendants of African Diasporic communities in the United States and its territories for its formable role in The Maafa (i.e., the great tragedy inflicted on African-descended peoples), complete with a vow to uphold the freedom and integrity of all African-descended peoples in perpetuity (cessation/assurance of non-repetition)

● Offer a similar live declaration at a rededication of Lincoln Memorial/The Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC (cessation/assurance of non-repetition)

● Sanction the creation of state-level Community Reparations Commissions or Task Force advised by Black-identified change agents in each state and North American territory (cessation/assurance of non-repetition)

● Immediately ratify of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the American Convention on Human Rights without the usage of United States treaty mechanism of attaching Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations (RUDs) to its ratifications (cessation/assurance of non-repetition)

● Mandate age-appropriate explorations of transatlantic slave trade in tandem with the history the cultural and ethnic groups from whence the enslaved were stolen in all school settings receiving federal aid (satisfaction)

● Determine, by federally-funded commission, a nontaxable dollar figure to be given to all Black identified persons based on 2020 census data for the next 155 years – the difference between 2020 and 1865 – from the day of its institution (restitution and repatriation)

● Acknowledge and offer formal remedy all Black-identified veterans of all wars fought at home and abroad for the benefit of the United States previously denied because of exclusionary tactics by previous administrations, institutions, etc (satisfaction)

● Funnel hard currency – worth approximately 1 percent of America’s total gross domestic product – into neighborhoods, towns and cities decimated by successive concept wars (ex. War on Drugs, War on Crime) to build low to moderate income housing, upgrade public infrastructure, add mass transit options, build and maintain accessible community centers, fully fund social justice initiatives led by the communities in which they are housed, etc for the next 155 years (restitution and repatriation)

● Derive ten percent of the worth of the New York Stock Exchange, all North American-based banks, all college endowments for higher education institutions that engaged in the slave trade and/or derived income from subprime loans targeting low income Black families and pool it into funds to cover the cost of higher education scholarships as well as to fund memorials, commemorations, retrieval and reburial of remains, etc for the next 155 years (compensation)

● Wipe away all medical and educational debt for all Black-identified persons (rehabilitation)

● Provide funding for free legal assistance to the bereft for wage claims against lost property and resources (satisfaction)

● Return all artifacts to their home countries including those sold without the written, witnessed consent of the originating community held in private collections (restitution, satisfaction and repatriation)

The wealth and achievement achievement gap between Black-identified and white-identified persons will never be narrowed until the United States reckons its own history, the blood at the roots of its foundation. As a nation, we are doomed to fail if the “original sin” of the past is not reconciled in the present

Bicking is the Green Party of Connecticut’s nominee for governor