Yana Djin

  Show Me The Money!
Moscow News
July,  2001


Once again, the issue of money is becoming a center of political and social discussions in the United States. This time, however, we are not dealing with the worn-out matter of national budget which our current president refers to as “that thing with lots of numbers in it”. The controversy is surrounding the issue of reparation money to be paid by the American government to the descendents of black slaves. There are several reasons underlying the emergence of the grievance which was first officially voiced some twenty-odd years ago.

One: the results of the most recent census poll clearly show that we are still living in an unofficially segregated society where the line between white and black in education, medical care, standard of living is distinctly visible.

Two: on July 12th of this year, the California Legislature became the first state legislature to endorse a proposal for slavery compensation. Legally, this endorsement is yet ineffectual, but it carries tremendous symbolic significance to the defendants of the reparation movement. The above resolution asked Congress to enact a law which would establish the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans. In addition, it demands an official apology from the US government and an anti-slavery museum.

Three: Randall Robinson, a black academic and writer, has published a book, entitled “The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks. This book has revived the conveniently-dormant reparation issue in America. The gist of Robinson’s argument is that the government, having profited from unpaid, forced labor must compensate the laborers’ descendants, since it broke its promise to compensate the slaves themselves when it promised them “40 acres and a mule” in the 19th century.

Four: the refusal of the United States to participate in the UN conference on racism has angered most black activists and leaders in this country. They saw it as nothing more than a slap in their faces. Their argument was that even if the language used to describe Israel’s policy of Zionism was too harsh(which the US cited as the reason for their non-attendance), the American government should have more consideration for their own citizens than those of Israel. As a result, the hitherto unblemished Secretary of State, Collin Powell, got quite a few slaps in the face himself from the black leaders. “As a man of color,” insisted Al Sharpton, the second most visible African American leader after Jesse Jackson, “he should have broken his neck to get there”. The unofficial rumor around Washington was that Powell did want to attend and did make quite an issue out of it but the administration ordered him to follow its decision. As it befits a professional soldier, he opted just for that instead of following Sharpton’s suggestion and “breaking his neck”.

If there is any “breaking of necks” going on, it is mostly done by the majority of American population, who is against the reparation theory. Most people in this country, whites and some blacks as well, see it as a non-issue simply because slavery has been outlawed by the 13th amendment of the constitution and there is not a single slave or a slave-holder left alive. The logistics of the issue are, indeed, rather messy and if the reparation proposal does ever come to realization, knowing the speed with which various political committees work, it might take years before any descendant of a slave sees a single cent. How much do are they to get? -- the public asks nervously. And is it to come out of our paychecks? Jack White of Times magazine calculated that if you assume 10 million slaves, the numbers will go up to trillions. And what about millions of immigrants who came to the United States after the slavery was abolished in this country? Are they to be held responsible as well? And how is the government to ensure that the prospective recipient’s forefathers were slaves?

Well, I think, that’s an easy one: if you are black and your great-grandparents lived in the US, there is 99% of a chance that they were picking cotton somewhere in Carolinas Ok, but how are they to receive it: monthly installments or in one big chunk? One ultraconservative suggested the following: why doesn’t the government allocate $50000 to each family on the condition that the blacks will forever stop talking about racism and asking for preferential treatment. The black leaders regard the above proposal as Judas’ kiss. Essentially, they are right.

However, after the civil rights reforms of the 1960’s, American society has been trying to be generous with the blacks. Affirmative Action, which in itself is a highly controversial subject-matter, is extremely advantageous for the African Americans. The presence of racism in this country is hard to deny but the latter law allows many blacks to enter profitable job-markets and universities and very often, they are nor as qualified as a white competitor. The issue of how much money is to be allocated has become such a headache for those on both sides of the spectrum, that now, some black leaders are proposing an alternative: give us the land. Since, they reason, we are not able to live together in peace and harmony, let our people go and build our own state. The trouble is, not a single country in the world today, or at anytime for that matter, is going to take that alternative seriously. Can you seriously picture America giving up Carolinas and Alabama to redeem its past sins? Can you see France sacrificing Lyon in order deserve forgiveness from the Algerians? Is Russia ready to wash its hands off Chechnya? I think , it’s “NO” to all three questions simply because, “we live in a political world”, as America’s bard, Bob Dylan artlessly put it. In my opinion, this whole debate will come to no resolution for the blacks. The most that they will get the US is what the ex-colonies got last week fromfrom their colonizers at the aforementioned UN conference: an official apology. These days words don’t cost anything; they are no longer deeds and therefore easily dispensable. Words, words, words... For the sake of an ironic one, it would be quite a scene if the remaining American Indians were to tell all of us to scram and discuss our issues someplace else.

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