Barack Obama nimbly evaded the question of reparations last month in CNN’s Youtube debate and tried to turn the question toward something more “mainstream” in calling for more funding for education for our schools. It was a deliberate and craven deception that calls into question his true love for African people in this country and throughout the diaspora.
While increasing numbers of us are singing Kumbaya with white liberals over his ground-breaking candidacy, there are people like me who believe that his reparations equivocation is yet another affirmation of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
Obama, a former constitutional law professor, rarely sprinkles any of his stump speeches with critical race theory. Some of our contributors, like NMP and yogo, are lawyers and have found no contradiction between support of Obama or Hillary and their support for the African American community. I am not so sanguine.
One candidate had the cohones to support reparations for African Americans and Congressman Kucinich is to be commended. Hillary, Biden, Richardson, and Dodd didn’t comment. Edwards and Obama shot the idea down and yet we still shout Barack’s name from the rooftops. Why?
Obama’s peers in the constitutional law community are not so sanguine either, and many have written extensively regarding the need for and the ample legal precedent supporting the call for slave reparations. I’d like to explore some of those with you here.
Professor David Hall of Northeastern University School of Law has written, “Reparation is deeply rooted in the American legal system. All first-year law students during their course in contracts are made aware of the contractual injury of unjust enrichment. The legal remedy for unjust enrichment is restitution, one of the three main remedies for contractual breaches.”
“Reparation, though generally thought of as applying to collective or group remedies, is merely another form of the historic and accepted remedy of restitution. Some authors have presuasively demonstrated how restitution, and thus reparation, in addition to their longstanding legal tradition, have deep spiritual roots within various religious traditions. Thus, our culture and our legal system have a long-standing affinity with these remedies.”
Opponents downplay and reject the concept of historical enrichment by their ancestors and question the necessity for restitution. Alfreda Robinson, Associate Dean of the George Washington University Law School has written, “In contrast, reparations opponents contend that reparations discouse and demands for reparations unnecessarily “trouble ‘settled’ waters.” In their view, reparations discourse creates racial and ethnic strife by resurrecting painful memories that Americans would rather forget.”
“Reparations opponents further argue that the reparations debate wastes sparse intellectual, social, political, and economic resources that African Americans should direct elsewhere, that it focuses on ancient claims, blames inappropriately present day white Americans for the sins of their deceased ancestors and racial blood group, and holds African Americans captive to an underserved and debilitating victim’s image.”
This seems to be the side that Obama’s on. The side that would rather not have this discussion and the side the rejects out of hand a discourse of restitution. His collegues reject that handkerchief head talk and have moved forward to initiate litigation despite the presence of resistance.
Again, Professor Hall, “Despite this resistance, the idea of reparations for African Americans for the atrocities and unjust gains of slavery and the slave trade has now reached center stage. The prominence is due in large part to recent lawsuits that have been filed against corporations, and against govermental entities. But reparations for African Americans is not a new topic or issue. It has always been with us, yet we have always managed to keep it locked up in the closets of our collective consciousness.”
The question of restitution is clearly locked up in the double consciousness of former Harvard Law Review President Barack Obama, and will not ever be set free as long as he believes himself to be a viable Presidential candidate. Y’all may not like that, but it’s the damn truth. I see no need to let the “Safe Negro” slide on that. In the place of reparations, we see the cruel and deceptive attempt to graft the candidacy of Obama, as if by its mere existence, it has the power to heal the deep wounds of genocide, slavery, and white supremacy. It doesn’t.
The healing that needs to take place can only take place by advancing the discourse reparations and by creating a framework that leads to resititution. Professor Hall writes, “As we go through the difficult and technical issues related to reparations in the context of American slavery and racism, it is important not to lose sight of the spiritual dimensions and realities of this remedy within this context. For if understood properly, we could begin to see that reparations, like all legal remedies, are attempting to do more than just transfer resources form one party to another.
“The legal system, through its system of remedies, is also trying to address deep wounds and restore broken relationships. If there is a compelling scenario where psychic wounds and broken spirits exist, it is within the collective experience of slavery and racism in America. Reparations, despite its long delay and its numerous procedural and substantive challenges, offers this nation a great opportunity for spiritual cleansing.”
Healing and spiritual cleansing are both advanced subliminally by the Obama campaign as traits he has the capacity to bring to our nation as President. The reality is that we”ll get neither if he doesn’t have the courage to acknowledge the necessity for reparations. The conundrum of power in this country is that those who demonstrate the cohones to lead rarely get elected or stay elected to do so.