US should follow Canada’s lead and pay reparations to African – Americans

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

Heritage Canada Emancipation Day, Aug. 1, 1834, marks the day that the British Empire declared slaves emancipated from bondage.  In Canada, Ontario was the only province to recognize Emancipation Day but, on March 24, 2021, the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously to make August 1 a federal day nationwide.  The expectation is that Canadians remember the injustices forced upon Indigenous and African peoples, and recognize their resilience and perseverance in overcoming adversity throughout Canada’s history, and reinforce the message of human rights.  The House also recognized that Indigenous peoples were subject to slavery, and that the legacy of colonialization has had negative implications on generations of people of Indigenous and African descent. 

The Quebec historian Marcel Trudel estimated that there were approximately 4,200 enslaved people in the area of Canada known as Nouvelle France.  Initially, approximately two-thirds of these enslaved people were Indigenous and one-third were of African descent.   After British colonial settlers established Upper Canada, the number of enslaved Africans and their descendants increased significantly.  It is estimated that 3,000 enslaved men, women and children of African descent were brought into British North America and eventually outnumbered enslaved Indigenous Peoples. 

Canada’s national government must be commended for setting aside $31bn, for Indigenous Canadians who were harmed by the country’s child welfare system.  Under the agreements, half of the money would go to children and families harmed by an underfunded and discriminatory child welfare system on First Nations reserves, and in the Yukon, while the rest would be earmarked over five years for long-term reforms.

The government must be commended, especially since its southern neighbor and ally, the United States (US), refuses to consider reparations for the massacre of Indigenous peoples, one sided treaties, discriminatory policies and enslavement of indigenous peoples.   The most  the US Congress has done is to offer this acknowledgement and apology:  Recognition of the “special legal and political relationship,” commendations and honors for the thousands of years native peoples have stewarded the land, apology for official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government. It urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes. 

The final part of this acknowledgement and apology is a disclaimer: ‘that Nothing in this Joint Resolution, authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.’ America’s Congress will give you apologies but absolutely no reparations.

As far as recognizing Slavery and Emancipation, in 1865, Union General William T. Sherman, under President Lincoln, tried to make reparations to slaves by authorizing 400,000 acres of coastal land extending about 30 miles inland from the Atlantic and stretching from Charleston, South Carolina 245 miles south to Jacksonville, Florida, to be divided into forty-acre plots and given to newly freed slaves for their exclusive use.  However, shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, the new President, Andrew Jackson, worked to rescind the order and revert the land back to the white landowners.  At the end of the Civil War, the federal government had confiscated 850,000 acres of former Confederates’ land. By mid-1867, all but 75,000 acres had been returned to the Confederate owners

When it comes to enslaved and black Americans and their descendants, white supremist Americans are not willing to accept responsibility for the past wrongs. Senator, Mitch McConnell has opposed paying reparations arguing that none of the white people currently living are responsible for America’s original sin, and that reparations for something that happened 150 years ago is not a good idea.  Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is not a national holiday, but is celebrated in 48 States and the District of Columbia (DC), and is the oldest national celebration of the ending of slavery in the US.  It commemorates the day when slaves in Texas were told of their freedom, about 2 years after the proclamation.  

Every other race that has been subjected to slavery, serfdom or abuse, has been compensated because they are considered human with human rights.  African and Indigenous people must be compensated for the abuse and cruelty suffered under these colonial regimes; they are not compensated because they are still considered property, and society does not compensate “property.”  It is imperative that the notion or idea that slaves were property must be totally eradicated.

Reparations are payments, monetary and otherwise, given to a group that has suffered harm.  For example, Japanese-Americans who were interned in the United States during World War II have received reparations.  At the Claims Conference, the German government agreed to pay damages to Jewish individuals and the Jewish people for atrocities committed during the Holocaust.  Israeli authorities calculated that more than six billion dollars of Jewish assets had been stolen by the Nazis, and the agreement stipulated that Germany could never make up for the genocide against the Jews with any type of monetary compensation. 

This is how a people must restore their humanity.  Indigenous and African people must learn from this settlement, and restore their humanity as people, and not allow the stigma of property to be a yoke around their necks.

Recently, President Biden visited Israel and said: “I will once more return to the hallowed ground of Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million Jewish lives that were stolen in a genocide and continue, which we must do every, every day, continue to bear witness, to keep alive the truth and horror of the Holocaust.” Every slave state in America is hallowed ground to African Americans, no President of the US will ever speak those words in America regarding slavery.

Canada’s efforts to redress for historic wrongs against Indigenous Canadians and Afro Canadians is hopefully a beacon of hope for Afro Americans in the US.  Usually the US leads Canada, my hope is that Canada leads the US in this attempt to address the wrongs of slavery, and destruction of Indigenous Americans society and culture, through reparations.

As Canada celebrates Emancipation Day on August 1, and we look forward to continued progress on this problem, let us not forget that to the slave emancipation was a sham because he was now “free” without money, housing, land, or human rights.  He was a “free beggar” totally dependent on the slave master who determined how much he/she will earn. 

The slave entered serfdom, which is forced labor, and bounded to the land they occupy from one generation to another.  The only difference is that the serf is not considered “property,” and this is precisely why reparations must be revisited, because as long as society considers the slave “property” society’s laws will not consider reparations because you cannot pay reparations to “property”.  Reparations removes the idea that a race of people are property and restore their humanity.