The United States of Amnesia

Do you remember Brown v. Board of Education? Better yet, do you remember slavery? If you do remember this time in our history, you should be lauded.

As the country grows older, its people suddenly start to develop cases of amnesia. Americans tend to forget when we’ve done something wrong – you don’t hear too many people talking about the Indian Removal Act or Jim Crow segregation lately. It’s impossible to come to a well-founded conclusion on an issue without the relevant information. Yet, most Americans do just that.

Americans see a problem and without adequate support, they jump to conclusions. They see that a disproportionate number of African-Americans live in poverty and, instead of placing blame where it belongs, they tend to forget the strange relationship between the American government and African-Americans. They tend to forget Africans were forced from their homeland to work on American plantations. They tend to forget the false promises made to African-Americans after emancipation. They tend to forget that, even after being freed, African-Americans continued to be subjugated and treated as inferior citizens.

Well, we have not forgotten, and because of this, we cannot possibly argue against giving reparations for slavery.

In recent debate, the views on reparations for slavery have been mixed. Some argue that reparations are indefensible because of the economic burdens that will result from such compensation. Some argue that reparations for slaves are unjust because those who committed such atrocities are no longer alive. They argue that the victims of slavery are also no longer alive.

However, because descendants of slaves are indirectly affected by slavery, and because the American government continued to allow the harsh treatment of African-Americans (albeit passively at times), these arguments are beside the point.

A primary argument against reparations for slavery is the supposed lack of a definite victim and a clear party to blame. Yet this is easily clarified if a clear link between slavery and current issues can be established. By establishing this link, definite victims transpire.

Blacks have most certainly been, and will continue to be, victims in America. Why is this so? With the continued persistence of racial discrimination after emancipation and Reconstruction, African-Americans continued to suffer. Jim Crow segregation continued to push African-Americans into an inferior class, which was subjugated and exploited.

Because of slavery and the ongoing discrimination, African-Americans still endure psychological, economic, educational and social burdens, which have yet to be resolved.

While legislation like affirmative action has aided in our steps toward racial equality, it can only do so much. Moreover, because the U.S. government fostered the discrimination of blacks after slavery through legal decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson, it can be held responsible for the wrongs committed against blacks. Therefore, the U.S. government should compensate African-Americans who can show a direct lineage to slaves or who suffer from racial discrimination.

Victims have been defined. A party to blame has been established. Yet the U.S. government still hesitates to apologize for what happened to African-Americans centuries ago. President Bush has refused to discuss the issue, Congress pretends as if slavery never happened and most of America is unaware of landmark cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson or Brown v. Board of Education.

We all have an opinion on affirmative action or crime in America, but how can we if we live in a state of amnesia?

While racial antagonism is at an all- time high, neglecting to apologize and recognize the past is simply unfathomable. It’s time for America to acknowledge its past and create a better society for all, not just some.

Information from – “Soul By Soul” by Walter Johnson, “The African Reparation Cry: Rationale, Estimate, Prospects and Strategies” by Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, “The White Man’s Burden” by Winthrop D. Jordan, and “Reparations for Native Americans?” by David Corlett