I was deep into high school before I even heard about reparations, specifically reparations to descendants of Africans stolen from their homeland and enslaved in America for 250 plus years. I had finished watching a movie by Spike Lee called School Daze for the umpteenth time. I noticed Mr. Lee’s production company was called 40 Acres and a Mule. What does that mean? That pushed me to research that which is rarely spoken of in Black homes and never taught in schools. What does 40 acres and a mule mean?
(General) Sherman signed Field Order 15, setting aside 400,000 acres of confiscated Confederate land for freed slaves. Sherman appointed Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton to divide up the land, giving each family up to 40 acres.
And it wasn’t in the order, Elmore says, but some also received leftover Army mules.
“But it became known as of Jan. 16, 1865, as ’40 acres and a mule’, ” Elmore said.
As of 2018, that debt to Africans in America has never been paid. It is currently said to be worth over $6.4 trillion dollars.
So, what does this nation owe to Africans in America?
But while the people advocating reparations have changed over time, the response from the country has remained virtually the same. “They have been taught to labor,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1891. “They have been taught Christian civilization, and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish. The account is square with the ex‑slaves.”
Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay?”
The very definition of reparation is the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. It is clear that America owes Africans in America for wrongs spanning over 400 years. That is not in question and it is not even up for debate.
So…when America says its debt to the children of enslaved Africans is paid, I question, “How?” Let me answer for you, America. That debt has not been paid and you owe. So, imma help you out.
Now, let’s be clear. The cost of millions of Black bodies left on the floor of the Atlantic, in the bottoms of filthy slave ships, swinging from trees, burned, battered, raped and abused by the American people is a price America can never repay. Trust. However, here’s how I know this nation can begin with a payment plan.
As I have gotten older and weaved my very soul into educating children, I have spoken at length to folks about what I perceive as possible reparations for my people—access to world-class education for all children. I don’t suggest a large payout like America has done for descendants of Holocaust victims or monthly stipends and little parcels of land like the US has issued to my Indigenous brothers and sisters. Trust me. This nation should still be paying for the neglect, robbing, raping, killing and stealing that was done to those families. That is the very least that they can do. However, when it comes to Africans in America…
Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still, we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.
Sadly, Black folks remain overwhelmingly undereducated today.
Appropriate education is the foundation for a great future for everyone. How can America sleep at night knowing that the achievement gap between white and Black children is not closing…at all? As a matter of fact, if the closing of the achievement gap continues at its current pace it will be roughly two and a half centuries before the black-white math gap closes and over one and a half centuries until the reading gap closes. That’s 250 years to close the achievement gap for math and 150 years for reading, people. We will all be dead and gone. Well, that shit’s just not good enough. Excuse my language.
The time is NOW for education equity. The time is NOW to close the hell out the achievement gap and shut that damn door for good. It is wrong and unacceptable for America to remotely think the type of education it’s dishing out to Black, Brown and poor people is OK. We all see it and we all know it. In good conscious, America, fix this by paying what you owe to Africans in America by educating the great (to infinity) grandchildren of those you enslaved. Now. And, by now, I mean right now! Our ancestors fought and died for 40 acres and a mule. Your debt is in collections.
How Can the U.S. pay?
More specific to the UN recommendations regarding reparations:
The reparations could come in a variety of forms, according to the panel, including “a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities … psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation…”
I strongly believe education reparations can begin to be remedied by America granting the following to Africans in America:
- Free daycare for all children
- Free Headstart/Pre-K for all children
- Extremely reduced tuition to private and Parochial schools
- Free tutoring services from K-12
- Extremely reduced tuition to after-school and summer enrichment programs
- Financial support and advisement for organizations that open K-12 schools in predominantly African American communities
- Free 2 year college tuition
- Financial aid:
- 4-year colleges
- Technical school
- Trade school
- Debt is forgiven after:
- Successful completion–Degree/Certification or;
- 2 years of employment in a trade or major area or;
- 2 years of community service work (Peace Corps, Americorps, City Year, etc.)
Having these education reparations in place will effectively and efficiently change the trajectory of millions of African Americans. Thusly, granting our children, grandchildren and beyond a better quality of life in this nation for centuries to come.
“We don’t have an Achievement Gap we have Education Debt!” Gloria Ladson-Billings.
Dear America, your debt is due. It is time to pay what you owe.