The Trans-Atlantic slave trade's vestiges: Exploring proposed forms of restitution 2016.

Author:Muhammad, Patricia M.
Position::Essay
 
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The vestiges of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade are well known in the United States as well as in the international community, (1) and continue to adversely affect Africans of the Diaspora. In the past few decades, legislators, foreign ministers, (2) scholars, and historians have documented the atrocities of the slave trade as crimes against humanity (3) under human rights and international law. Scholar-activists have also written numerous articles regarding possible legal measures that may be used to secure tangible restitution for the legacies of the slave trade. (4) It is important to note that this article focuses on Black Americans, not continental Africans, thus excludes those who were part of the en masse post-slavery migration to the United States which reached its apex in the 1970s. As early as American exclusive municipal (5) slavery, (6) free Africans distinguished themselves from enslaved Africans who would become Black American progeny; and even acted as merchants to facilitate slavery. As late as the 1930s through the 1950s, some Blacks would pretend to be continental Africans in order to avoid the threat of lynching and other forms of discriminatory practices that existed under the false designation of separate but equal.

Every movement for restorative justice has its inception and its pivotal legal and moral apex. This article will provide proposed forms of restitution that Black Americans must demand in order for them and the rest of American society to move the United States into its next stage of development as a world leader in the "free world." The author encapsulates these introductory measures in the form of a Ten Point Program. Part I of this article will introduce the next stage in the reparations debate which must include a discussion outlining what Black Americans should do with compensation (7) once state actors of the international community grant it. This query must be addressed in order for Black Americans to sustain long-term economic and social viability in the global economy and in a nation-state that has yet to evolve from the superficial designation of race, color, and ethnic origin.

This article provides recommendations for the use of restitution to benefit Black Americans, as an introductory measure to address the legacies of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. (8) As the slave trade's legacy continued to negatively influence American society, the crimes against humanity, including Black Codes, (9) Jim Crow Laws, and institutionalized discrimination and societal racial hatred permeated every facet of Black American life since its inception. (10) The psychological damage, cultural loss, economic disenfranchisement, and societal framework has had the disparate impact of maintaining Black Americans on the fringe of upward mobility. (11) Thus, for state actors to grant a single monetary restitution payment is less than sufficient to address these deep-rooted economic and social ills. It must be emphasized that non-ancestral mixed continental Africans and their progeny's advantages and experiences do not mirror that of the Black American, regardless of whether the United States Census defines them with the same racial designation.

Part II of this article will examine various forms of restitution under the broad categories of "tangible" and "intangible." Although these classifications will meld into each other, it is necessary to emphasize that monetary compensation is a significant portion of the proposed restitution settlement. This section will then examine why restitution must be applied to the areas of education, housing, and employment for Black Americans. American modern society demonstrates that strong familial ties and established wealth are central to financial success, which can often times be based upon economic community development with government support to generations past. It is important that tangible restitution compensating for this advantage be at the forefront of restorative justice demands.

Part III examines the need for Black Americans to establish a Restitution and Reconciliation Commission. This section will discuss categories of persons who should comprise the proposed Commission and how they will be appointed. This article will then provide suggestions regarding various committees that are necessary in order to execute the purpose of the proposed Restitution Commission, namely monitoring to ensure proper distribution of restitution to Blacks in the United States. Part IV concludes that the reparations debate continues to wage onward, but Black Americans must intelligibly articulate a legal and economic framework in which restitution demands are met.

Forms of Restitution

Restitution for the legacies of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade may be categorized under tangible and intangible forms. (12) Every human being requires resources to satisfy their basic needs, including shelter, food, clothing, and in the modern world, transportation. Theses needs are no less significant for Black Americans and all of these necessities are usually obtained with legal tender.

Therefore, the proposed Restitution Commission must include tangible restitution, meaning individual cash or gold payments to Black Americans (13) from state actors. Scholars, historians, and fiscal analysts must determine whether each nation-state will tender such payments to individuals as annuities or one single payment. (14) This Commission must also negotiate the number of future generations of Black Americans who are entitled to restitution, i.e. determining when social and economic equality is achieved in the United States.

The second form of tangible restitution must be for the collective benefit of Black Americans. Therefore, the Ten Point Reparations Program should require nation states to issue an agreed upon amount of restitution in a collective fund for economic community development, mental and physical health counseling, and subsidized professional training programs (15) in real estate, health and nutrition, culinary arts, and medical and sociological fields of study.

It is well-documented that historical restorative justice measures included monetary awards (16) to individual claimants from respective governments. Colonial powers as well as the U.S. government systematically exploited the health and labor of vulnerable populations--namely Black Americans. This resulted in the economic disenfranchisement of Blacks which undergird the financial instability of today's Black collective. (17) Lack of cash flow has shown to devastate communities as consumer confidence weakens as well as necessitates individuals to incur debt for their most basic needs. America's recent economic downturn demonstrated that minorities were the most adversely affected by debt and the sub-prime lending practices of corporate entities.

Monetary settlements will not only provide a temporary economic boost for Black Americans, but will encourage innovation, creation, and development of small business and investment in retirement and savings--which will grant long-term financial benefits to Black Americans. As will be discussed, claimants will be required to undergo specific counseling and monitoring measures in order to receive and/or maintain restitution payments, depending on which manner state actors decide to render them. Of course Black Americans will have the right to dispose of the restitution as they deem fit, but as a conciliatory measure, some type of fiscal guidance must be provided for the reparations debate to fill its historical duty.

As mentioned, the proposed Restitution Funds' purpose is to provide funding and economic solutions that would benefit Black Americans as a collective. (18) Focused on community development (19) and supporting the Black family structure, reparations will be used to encourage the creation and development of small businesses owned by Black Americans without debt service. Although state and federal government throughout the United States have provided small business loans, it has proven to be detrimental to Black enterprise. Economists have proven that most businesses usually do not generate a profit within the first year or more since inception. (20) Thus, it is not fiscally sound for the average Black American to incur substantial debt with the government when such businesses do not that the opportunity to thrive in a competitive landscape characterized by major corporations, in which Blacks have minuscule to no opportunity to participate, let alone lead. This issue has become even more evident since the United States' most recent economic downturn. This debt not only hinders economic development in the Black American community, but also causes financial devastation to new business owners who may become personally liable for such debts. Thus, the proposed Fund must provide sustainable financial support in the form of business grants and training, in order for entrepreneurship to flourish and provide goods and services which actually benefit the communities that support them.

The second component of the proposed Fund regards international deposits from state actors. Although the core of restitution claims is for Black Americans, the United States is not the only nation state liable for the vestiges of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Therefore, other members of the international community, both European and African, are required to render payments to the Fund. These nation-states include but are not limited to: France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, (21) Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. (22) This portion of the Fund would also be apportioned between individual cash settlements and community development. (23) As noted by this author in a previous article, "The most reasonable way to create and build a proposed fund for slavery's descendants is for members of the international community to...

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