Note: Originally published February 2, 2016 in Baltimore City Paper
In this proposal, I outline seven separate but interrelated claims for reparations and restitutions that African-Americans are due in order for this country to help repair the trauma and damage of white supremacy inflicted on the population in a very targeted fashion. University of Connecticut researcher Thomas Craemer estimated that the back pay for the unpaid labor provided by enslaved Africans and their descendants ranges from $5.9 to $14.2 trillion. Given this amount, I suggest $10 trillion would be due as compensation for the damage caused by both for the two slave trades conducted first by the British and then by Americans in the Internal American Slave Trade.
The next two claims deal with the white supremacist terrorism that was exacted against Black people and their communities in the form of lynchings and collective punishment. These mass traumas resulted in 4,000-plus lynchings of Black people from 1877 to 1950 and the collective punishment (i.e. mob violence, pogroms, coup d’etat, racial cleansing) that was exacted against nearly 100 thriving Black neighborhoods or economic districts from 1824 to 1974. These two mass traumas — which were employed to help White Americans overthrow Reconstruction and re-establish white supremacy as the law of the land — could be settled for $10 trillion. Finally, I outline the claims that should be filed for the original Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow. The structural violence imposed by the original and new Jim Crow systems of American Apartheid has been extensive and their claims together would be resolved for $10 trillion. Altogether, these claims total $40 trillion in compensation and damages for the trading of human flesh, back pay for unpaid labor, lives lost, families torn apart, rape committed, trauma inflicted, people lynched, communities destroyed, and the ongoing maintenance of systems of oppression.
1. The Middle Passage ($5 trillion): Nearly 389,000 Africans were shipped by Europeans across the Atlantic Ocean and disembarked in the British colonies that would become the United States of America. Voyages lasted approximately 40–90 days. Africans were packed and chained together in the bottom of ship holds as cargo, with little light and poor nutrition. So many Africans were thrown overboard that sharks would begin following European slave ships across the ocean. The Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade was outlawed officially in 1808. This estimate accounts for the visceral and untold pain, historical trauma, and root shock inflicted on top of the dehumanizing physical experience.
2. Chattel slavery, root shock, and cultural dispossession ($10 trillion): From 1776 to 1865, White Americans enslaved the descendants of those enslaved Africans they brought over on slave ships. Enslaved Africans were “seasoned” and stripped of many elements of their culture. By 1861, the beginning of the Civil War, enslaved Black people numbered nearly 4 million. They picked crops such as rice, tobacco, and indigo. Enslaved Black people picked more than 70 million bales of cotton, making the U.S. South an agricultural power in the world. University of Connecticut researcher Thomas Craemer estimates that the reparatory back pay provided by free labor would range $5.9 to $14.2 trillion. This estimate splits the middle.
3. The Internal American Slave Trade ($5 trillion): From 1800 to 1865, approximately 1.2 million Black people were bred, sold, chained, and shipped from the Chesapeake region (Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania) to the deep South to meet White slave masters’ demand for enslaved Black labor to pick cotton. Frederick Douglass references this in his famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” when he thundered and explained:
Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and America religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave- buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.
4. Destruction of 200+ Black economic districts and neighborhoods ($5 trillion):
According to the Google maps project by scholar Liam Hogan, over 200 Black cities and independent economic districts have been destroyed or experienced white supremacist terrorist attacks. Other experiences of collective punishment involved the mass exodus of Black people after lynchings took place. The loss of these cities and independent economic districts (such as those found in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Rosewood, Florida; or Wilmington, Delaware) undermined and interrupted the intergenerational economic transfer of wealth within Black communities and help contribute to contemporary wealth disparities between Black and White communities.
5. 4,000-plus lynchings ($5 trillion): According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there were 3,959 lynchings of Black people between 1877 and 1950 in 12 Southern states. When we add lynchings in other cities and after 1950, we end up with more than 4,000 lynchings. No one was ever convicted for ANY of these lynchings. As the premier anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells stated in her autobiography, lynching was “[a]n excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the nigger down.’” Hence, part of the damage of lynching is the resulting land and property lost by Black families when wealthy Black folks were lynched. A final part of the damage here is that lynchings were collective traumas that terrorized and affected the entire Black community when and wherever they took place.
6. The original Jim Crow ($5 trillion): From 1896 to 1968, de jure segregation was the law of the land. Segregation affected every facet of American life: transportation, housing, criminal justice (neo slavery and convict leasing), and especially education, as demonstrated in the seminal Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) decision by the Supreme Court. Trains and buses were racially segregated. Housing was segregated via sundown towns, racial zoning, racially restrictive covenants, the FHA/VA discriminatory mortgage insurance and lending, public housing siting, and tenant location. As scholar Ira Katznelson notes in his book “When Affirmative Action Was White,” a series of New Deal and Fair Deal policies were passed advantaging White people and subsidizing the building of White suburbs. Beyond segregation, African-Americans were consistently subjected to serial forced displacement in the form of the Great Migrations (due to the destruction of Black spaces and 4,000-plus lynchings), slum clearance, urban renewal, and highway construction resulting in the destruction and demolition of Black neighborhood.
7. The new Jim Crow ($5 trillion): Consists of mass incarceration derived from the war on drugs and the continuation of de facto segregation and serial forced displacement. Police brutality continues to snatch Black lives disproportionately in America. In 2015, sociologist Douglass Massey and Jonathan Tannen found that there remain 21 hypersegregated cities in America. Courts are releasing school districts from desegregation consent decrees, resulting in the resegregation of schools. Voting rights are under attack. Until 2015, America has never enforced the affirmatively furthering fair housing mandate of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Anti-Black discrimination persists via racial profiling, stop and frisk, stand your ground, and the Neo-Confederate nullification of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.