When it comes to reparations, differences in black lineage matter

·3 min read

What we are now witnessing with reparations has been 400 years in the making. And while some will say there have been attempts to trigger a reparations discussion, it is undeniable that the latest push has a significantly different feel and energy.

Arguably not since the Reconstruction era have we seen reparations being talked about so seriously and in such a high-profile way. From former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, with whom I discussed how reparations should be structured, to Tom Steyer, a former candidate for president who has been highly supportive of the issue, these are undoubtedly unique and unprecedented times.

At the root of this development is the American Descendants of Slavery movement, or #ADOS, which I co-founded with Yvette Carnell. #ADOS is a political project built upon our respective YouTube shows — ToneTalks and BreakingBrown — and it arises out of our nation’s failure to contend with its original sin of slavery and the remnants that occurred through Jim Crow. Insofar as a discussion about that outstanding debt now burns in our political discourse, #ADOS helped light the match.

A pair of slave shackles are on display in the Slavery and Freedom Gallery in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
A pair of slave shackles are on display in the Slavery and Freedom Gallery in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

This reparations discussion, however, is not about whether blacks will be disaggregated from a singular oneness.

Rather, #ADOS seeks recognition of what everyone has known for some time: Black people in America are all very different groups who are being carelessly lumped together under the umbrella of blackness. Detractors of the #ADOS movement refuse to acknowledge this truth. They label us "divisive."

Yet, one wonders why when a Haitian, Jamaican or even Nigerian proudly waves his or her respective flag, these same critics are silent. Indeed, there is an almost willful ignorance when it comes to our group’s anchoring in America.

Worse yet is that these attitudes are being espoused in the very country that enslaved my family, and families like mine, for hundreds of years. That enslavement led to trillions of dollars in wealth being stolen from slaves and blacks who are the descendants of slaves. This debt is owed not to the color of blackness, but rather to the specific lineage that fully bears the cost of blackness in America — a cost that is built into the very roots of #ADOS family trees.

To people who ask, “Why differentiate between blacks who were slaves and blacks who came to this country as immigrants long after slavery ended?” I respond that such a question indicates a lack of understanding of the history and economics of this nation.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the number of black immigrants in America pre-1965 was negligible. At that time, foreign-born blacks made up less than 1% of the black population.

In fact it wasn’t until after 1980, according to the Pew Research Center, that the bulk of black immigrants arrived, more than 15 years after Jim Crow ended with President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.

The significance of this is revealed in the recent Color of Wealth reports issued by the Federal Reserve. They show that in cities across America, there are massive gaps in wealth holdings between #ADOS and black immigrants. In Los Angeles, for example, native black households have liquid assets with a median value of only $200, compared with $60,000 for African immigrants.

How, then, can someone argue that there is such a thing as "flat" blackness? Such an assertion is effectively anti-reparations and an erasure of American history. It leaves members of the #ADOS community holding the proverbial bag. And if left unchecked it will further fester and overrun the #ADOS community that built this nation. It will leave us in communities like Flint, Michigan, with its poisoned water, and Lowndes County, Alabama, where a United Nations expert on poverty visited and stated that the sewage conditions there were worse than any other he had seen in the developed world.

All of this injustice was birthed from a slice of American history that everyone wants to ignore.

Antonio Moore; Los Angeles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: When it comes to reparations, differences in black lineage matter

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting