Wall Street played a major role in the growth of slavery and propping up the early American economy post-Revolution. When making the case for reparations, the banks that profiteered off of the slave industry owe us more than an apology. [/caption]
When it comes to the case for Black reparations, one of the most aggravating aspects around the discussion is the lack of historical knowledge about the role centuries of forced labor played in propelling America and the Western world to the heights of power it currently enjoys today. Pre-integration, around the time when folks like Claude Anderson (working via the W.P.A.) were compiling the narratives of former slaves, there was this very pseudo-historical agenda pushed forward by Whites on all sides to white-wash the impact of slavery. Despite the fact that many today will acknowledge the horrors of plantation life, there is still a major disconnect between admitting to the brutality of slavery and being honest about the extreme profits that the system of slavery generated. Profits that bankrolled an entire nation and radically transformed America from a small-time European trade partner to having one of the largest, most vibrant economies in the world.
However it’s not just about slavery even. One can make an argument for reparations on multiple levels. That’s the extent to which white supremacy has undermined and castrated the economic development of Black America. One can draw parallels between peonage and slavery and also the drug war and slavery. In many ways, slavery in America has been like a chameleon constantly changing colors to reflect whatever era it is in. However the anti-Black agenda stays in place despite the fact that on paper Black people are “free” with nothing to hold us back but ourselves. This narrative fuels the victim-blaming tone we hear from conservatives today and props up the erroneous bootstrap theory of progress.
When is the Time to make the Case for Reparations Exactly?
Allowing Blacks to partake in the illusion of inclusion post-integration has given the establishment the ability to make the argument that if there’s something wrong with the Black community, then it’s the fault of Black people. The problem with this is the assumption that passing a handful of laws in the 1960’s somehow erased generations of organized, state-sponsored oppression and economic castration many aspects of which were not addressed by the laws that were passed. Weaponized identity politics has been used effectively by the right-wing since the end of Civil Rights era to make sure no discussion about repaying Blacks and only Blacks even possible. One of the reasons Affirmative Action is viewed negatively by some is due to this weaponized identity politics; a good policy has had its reputation dragged through the mud for over a generation now. Despite the attacks a recent Gallup poll from August of 2015 showed that 58% of Americans support affirmative action for “minorities.”
Affirmative action however isn’t the solution either. It’s a step in the right direction, but a small step that could have been bigger had it not been for the Southern strategy. What needs to happen must be on a much larger scale and involve more than just money.
A man by the name of Edward Baptist wrote ‘The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism’ that was released on September 9, 2014. A lot of my ideas stems from that must-read book, but also the writings of Ta-Nahesi Coates who has written extensively on the issue as well for The Atlantic. A recent Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll was released on May 10, 2016 which showed that a majority of millennials actually are open to the idea of black reparations likely largely due to the diversity of said group. I say that because according to the U.S. Census Bureau about 44.2% of all millennial’s are non-White. The poll showed that 40% of Millennials support black reparations with another 11% who were unsure and on the fence. Combined that is 51% at least somewhat or definitely favoring reparations. I wrote a blog entry recently where I break it down even more.
The new poll above comes on the heels of the Human Rights panel of the United Nations urging the U.S. to pay reparations to descendents of Africans because of the slave trade. The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a preliminary report that stated, among other things, that they were “extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African-Americans.” The full report won’t be released until after it is given to the United Nations Humans Rights Council in September of this year.
There has been a total media blackout of this news story and we all know why that is. That elements within the United Nations are endorsing reparations in not a small or minor thing. It shows that there is international support for such a move. Support that the establishment in America don’t want Black people to realize is there.
The Side That Hasn’t Been Told
Some of the original entrepreneurs in America were those who invested in the slave trade. At slave auctions, enslavers and the credit they wielded would come together and form a type of community of entrepreneurs that would profit tremendously from the bodies of Black men, woman, boys and girls.
Owning a slave wasn’t just an act of cruelty, it was the “come-up” of pre-Civil War America. In ‘The Half Has Never Been Told,’ Baptist states “Indeed, access to large supplies of “surplus” slaves from the Chesapeake was the best form of currency for buying land that one could possess.”(page 21) Black people could be used as literal currency, like a dollar bill today, to purchase land in states where slavery was legal.
Baptist also explains one of the “Yazoo” schemes that played out in 1795, after the Spanish signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo. The “Yazoo” represented land that was surrendered by the Spanish to America that would become the states of Alabama and Mississippi. After the deal was struck, a company formed called the Georgia-Mississippi Land Company that had a roster that included a Supreme Court Justice, two Congressmen and a man by the name of Wade Hampton who would go on to become the richest man in America in his time. The land company persuaded the Georgia legislature to sell 35 million acres of land to them for $500,000. The economic power of $500,000 in 1795 equates to a whooping $23.4 billion in today’s dollars!! That’s an example of the amount of money that exchanged hands due to the appeal of slavery profiteering. Baptist says, “what was clear…was that people around the United States were willing to pour money onto slavery’s frontier.”(page 21) The scheme was eventually busted however a year later and the deal was nullified. However a tremendous amount of money was still there on the table waiting for white entrepreneurs and white venture capitalists to make a buck in and around the slave industry.
America would not be the country it is today without slavery, it just wouldn’t be the same country. Slavery made America what it is today and there is overwhelming evidence to support this idea. Reparations advocates have to continue to build and support a strong and vibrant human rights and reparations movement. When making the case for black reparations, advocates have to track down the banks that profiteered off of the backs of Black slaves and demand not only an apology, but also a check and a piece of the land that many banks own all over the country. There are literally thousands of land rights and commercial properties that banks own all around the United States. It’s time advocates of Black reparations to demand that the banks pay up and give reparations to Black Americans. It’s not just the banks that need to pay up, it’s also Wall Street – which in its original form was a slave market. Wall Street generated so much incredible wealth that it turned New York into the biggest slave owning colony in the North where 40% of New Yorkers owned slaves! The very engine that powers America’s economic and therefore global dominance today (Wall Street), set its foundation on the incredibly profitable industry of trading Black bodies known as slavery.
It’s not a question of whether Blacks deserve reparations or not, the real question is how much America is willing to cough up after 240 years of insufficient fund fees in the Bank of History. The case for reparations is rock solid and has the weight of history behind it. Let us continue to make that case.