Institutional racism is as American as apple pie. As a country founded on the backs of African slaves, America has implemented racist governmental, social, and environmental policies from the very beginning and has never apologized for it. The discussion of reparations has been passed over for literally centuries and unsurprisingly our mostly white male government leaders for the past 243 years have never passed any legislation worthy of the sacrifices of slaves or their descendants. These sacrifices are estimated to be between $5-$10 trillion in today’s dollars.
However, it’s 2019, and a discussion that has been willfully ignored is now being thrust into the political spotlight by the dedicated effort of the ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) Movement.
Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore, the founders of the movement, have skillfully harnessed social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube propelling the conversation into mainstream media. Both have their own Youtube channels and host the site, ADOS101.
The movement is calling for reparations in various forms. The agenda put forth by Carnell and Moore specifically focuses on reparations for American Descendants of Slavery — which does not include other minorities including Black immigrants, Asians, and Latinx communities.
Some of the programs in their New Deal for Black America includes financial “set asides,” affirmative action for only ADOS, reinstating the Voting Rights Act, 15% of Small Business Administration loans to ADOS, prison reform, forgiveness of ADOS college debt, health care credits, and an audit of banks to see if they are discriminating against ADOS. They also believe in passing HR 40, a bill introduced by Representative John Conyers (D, MI) in 2017. HR 40 is seen by many as the next crucial step to examining slavery and discrimination in the US (from 1619 to the present), recommending appropriate remedies.
Without a full understanding of the ramifications of slavery and the perpetuation of institutionalized racism throughout our history, it’s hard for one to know what exactly needs to be done to begin to heal this gaping wound that is the profound racial wealth disparity in America.
Many arguments from the right say ‘keep the past in the past’ or showcase a belief that things have financially equalized between Black and White communities. This, however, is far from reality.
White households are worth 20 times that of Black households, which is disgustingly far from being equal. Additionally, Black families tend to stay in lower-income neighborhoods creating all sorts of knock-on effects like the quality of education and environment (Black and Brown people disproportionately live in industrial areas, and some of the highest cases for childhood asthma are found in these neighborhoods).
HR 40 is an excellent step forward, but how would something like proper reparations ever pass Congress? Assuming all Republican Congresspeople would vote against it, there would either have to be a President that approves it after it passes in both the House and the Senate or a two/thirds majority in both houses of Democrats who are willing to get behind it. That’s quite a long shot — especially when a 2016 poll found that 68 percent of American adults do not support reparations, and, unsurprisingly, White Americans are far less likely to support than black Americans.
While the financial and political realities are significant obstacles, this is perhaps the only thing that will heal this nation from its profound racial wealth disparity. Moreover, even with its full implementation, it’s going to take generations for its effects to be fully realized in the minds of the nation’s citizens.
Racism is a base discriminatory mindset which is taught. With white nationalism on the rise, there’s a lot to be vigilant about along with a plethora of misinformation to constantly disprove. Racism in and of itself, not tied to the financial burden that it has created on Black Americans, should also be addressed. All the money in the world can’t heal the generational trauma inflicted on our ancestors. How does one heal themselves from a lifetime of being othered? How does one heal after being told her whole life she’s not enough, that her skin color, her hair, her essence is unworthy, or even hated? This is why Carnell and Moore’s point about allocating funds to Black media companies is so important. Changing the dialog is where healing begins.
It’s also vital that children learn the true past of our nation. Black history should not simply be offered as college electives, but should be required in elementary and middle schools. We need to create solid foundations for our young people to come into life with all of the facts, not with a pretty painted picture that “racism is over because slavery is over.”
There is much to be done to even the playing field for ADOS. Supporting HR 40 is the next step towards attempting to correct such a tremendous wrong. As Democratic presidential hopefuls are now being asked about their positions on reparations it would serve the whole country to press them to be definitive about their perspectives. Without a reckoning on this issue, we may never truly be the ‘Land of the Free.’
The strength of a nation is built upon a solid foundation, and we built ours on a sinkhole of slave labor and profound inequity. Without a significant correction to this issue, the consequences will continue to be exponential — and the disheartening thing is most people seem to be okay with that.
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.