The Case for Reparations:
From Slavery to George Floyd

Beyond chattel slavery, convict leasing, theft of African land and property, mass incarceration, and other forms of exploitation and oppression generated trillions of dollars of wealth for white people. The entire U.S. economy was built through stolen African resources, land, labor and lives. We owe reparations.

The conditions are worse today than ever before: 

  • White people, a small percentage of the world population, control and consume over half the world’s resources, while the majority of African, Mexican, Indigenous and colonized people live on less than $10 USD per day. 
  • 8 billionaires have more wealth than 3.6 billion people combined. (Source
  • The median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median African family. (Source
  • In the city of Boston, white families have 31,000 times the wealth of average black family.
  • African people in the U.S. live in deep colonial conditions of homelessness, food deserts and starvation. Fifty percent of homeless families in the U.S. are black families. (Source)
  • The Indigenous people of North America are confined to concentration camps, euphemistically labeled “reservations,” where the average life expectancy is 42 years of age. 
  • According to a study published in The Wall Street Journal, it would take the average black family 228 years to amass the wealth of the average white family. (Source
  • Through centuries of oppression and exploitation, white people have extracted over $100 trillion in wealth

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the depths of these disparities, and intensified them. Billionaires in the U.S. have increased their total net worth by $637 billion during the COVID-19 at a time when millions of African and colonized people are facing unemployment, eviction, and food insecurity. Africans die at four times the rate as white people from the “colonial virus,” as Chairman Omali Yeshitela has called it.

 

U.S. and European wealth built on stolen African lives, labor, resources

Why are there two Americas? Where are there two realities in the world? 

The answer is simple: Capitalism. 

As Chairman Omali Yeshitela has explained, capitalism was born from the colonial assault on Africa and the enslavement of African people whose labor was exploited to build the foundation of the U.S. and European economies. 

Before the European invasion of Africa beginning with the Portugeuse onslaught in 1415, African people were free and self-determining, having built advanced civilizations that traded with other parts of the world. 

This changed with the European assault on Africa, the looting of the continent and the enslavement of African people. 

The first European stock market sprung up in Amsterdam in 1602, at the height of the trafficking in enslaved Africans that turned human beings into the world’s most lucrative commodity. 

Every facet of the wealth of the United States and Europe have their origins in the profiting from the enslavement of African people. 

Every major bank, corporation, insurance comapny, unversity, and hospital in the U.S. was funded through profits from slavery and/or built off the backs of enslaved African labor. 

One such example is the financial center of world capitalism: Wall Street. 

Just 50 meters from the site of New York’s first official slave market, the New York Stock Exchange was formed. In the 19th century, U.S. banks in the north sold securities to help fund the expansion of southern plantations. The banks sold insurance policies to protect slave masters against the risk of boat capsizing or loss of “property” in the form of African people dying or becoming injured.

 

After the lie of “40 acres and a Mule”: Slavery continues

After the Civil war, the U.S. government pledged to pay reparations to African people in the form of “40 acres and a mule” for every African person.

Within months of Field Order 15, the Johnson administration rescinded the order and the 400,000 acre land mass — “a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast” — was placed into the hands of confederate plantation owners who then exploited thousands of Africans in the brutal system known as sharecropping. 

The 13th Amendment codified slavery into the U.S. constution by declaring that slavery was llegal “except as punishment for a crime.” The U.S. then criminalized every move African people, creating fake “crimes” such as vagrancy, loitering, etc., to justify the re-enslavement of African people udner the convict leasing system.

The motto of Convict Leasing was “One dies, get another,” because there was no longer the profit motive for slave owners to keep their property alive. African people were leased out to plantation, mine and railroad owners for hard labor.

Africans were brutalized, worked to death in the heat and bitter cold and starved.  The U.S. south rebuilt its wealth through convict leasing and many white plantation owners surpassed the income they had accumulated under chattel slavery. Convict Leasing made so much money that it rebuilt the economy of the south after the Civil War. The state of Alabama, for example made 75 percent of its revenues from Convict Leasing in the 1890s.

 

White terror against African people

The general white population, including white workers, participated with enthusiasm in the colonial plundering and looting of Africa and the Americas. Regular white people filled the ranks of the lynch mobs and volunteer cavalry who led the campaigns of terror and mass murder against African and Indigneous people. For over a hundred years white people carried out thousands of lynchings of Africans throughout the United States and no one was ever arrested or prosecuted for a crime. 

White terrorism against African communities crushed any movement of African people towards economic self-reliance and prosperity. When Africans created a thriving business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma called “The Black Wall Street,” white people burned it down in 1923 and slaughtered over 300 African people. Similar massacres took place in Rosewood and Ocoee, Florida and other towns throughout the U.S.

This white terror displaced Africans from land they had purchased and functioned as another means of theft to enrich the white population. At the turn of the 20th century African people in the US owned 16 million acres of land. Today African people in the US collectively own only 1 million acres.

In the past half-century mass incarceration in private prisons along with state run prisons have become the method through which Africans are enslaved to generate massive profits for the white ruling class, corporations and stimulate economic development in rural white communities. 

The United States has the largest prison population on the planet with over 2.5 million people imprisoned, over half of them Africans.

1 out of 8 people imprisoned on the planet is an African man inside the U.S. Nationally, the Census Bureau counts 88 black male adults for every 100 black women, while the ratio for whites is a more equal 97 men for every 100 women.  In several predominantly African neighborhoods in Atlanta, there are only about three black men for every five black women under age 65. 

The ratio of white family wealth to Black family wealth is higher today than at the start of the century.  (Source: Brookings Institute)