Clinton Hill, Brooklyn © AK, 2020

Walking through my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I came upon this Halloween decoration. While I was taking this photo a black man walked by me and said

“Huh!! Vote to end this nightmare! I thought reparations would end this nightmare.”

For a moment I found what he said amusing. He did not wait to engage but kept walking.

What he said certainly raised questions, especially in the times we find ourselves in, and more so, at a juncture where America’s future hangs in the balance.

“Reparation” means to make amend for a wrong that was done. Often by monetary compensation or helping and apologizing to those who have been wronged.

In America, “Reparations” is often associated with slavery as providing legal compensation to the victims and/or their descendants.

Slavery officially ended in 1865 and reparations are a long time coming. They have been talked about since then and some attempts were made to act on them. But nothing substantial thus far. Many in America see slavery as an injustice that has never been fully acknowledged and addressed as a crime against humanity.

Making a case for reparations, well-known writer and thinker Ta-Nehisi Coates says, hundred fifty years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, sixty years of separate but equal, thirty-five years of racist housing policy until America reckons with its compounding moral debts, it will never be whole.

Reparations became a major issue in 2020 when the Black Lives Matters movement named it as one of their policy goals.

This election almost all democratic presidential hopefuls pledged to look into the matter if elected president.

Andrew Yang said that he supported HR40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson.

Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, and Kamala Harris expressed support. Tulsi Gabbard and Berney Sanders co-sponsored the bill and were committed and vocal to its implementation.

The Republicans, the party of Lincoln as they proudly proclaim, have never been supportive of the idea of reparations. Coming from an argument, why should a nation pay for the sins of it’s forefathers? And that reparations would be another handout like food stamps and would not address race relations in this country in any meaningful way.

The current Republican party and it’s overlords do not even acknowledge that there might be systemic racism in America and hope to hold on to power by spreading and stoking white fear.

Many in America celebrate and consider Christopher Columbus to be the man who discovered “The New World”. What people seldom disregard, is that there were people living here for centuries before he ended up here searching for India. There was nothing really Columbus discovered other than a sea route for the conquering and pillaging of this land.

The genocide that followed of the native American people is still a contentious issue and their land is still desecrated on a regular basis.

In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which created the Indian reservation system and provided funds to move tribes onto farming reservations and hopefully keep them under control. They were not allowed to leave the reservations without permission. Many were forced onto “reservations” with catastrophic results.

In 1934 it was replaced with the Indian Reorganization Act with the goals of restoring Indian culture and returning surplus land to tribes. It also encouraged them to self-govern and write their own constitutions and provided financial aid for infrastructure.

Indian reservations these days are knows for their casinos. But no native American would consider this as reparations rendered.

The question arises then, can and should the injustices of the past be rectified in the present? The reality is, injustices of the past cast a long shadow and influence the present and are ever present. The fact that race still forms an important part of American political and social discourse, is an indication that there is much needed work to be done.

Some nations around the world have symbolically apologized for the carnage they have ensued in pursuit of wealth, religious and civilizational expansion.

Some colonialists have apologized for their crimes without returning the loot. Some have tried to return it with varying success. The Germans feel extreme guilt for the Holocaust and make every effort possible to stamp out antisemitism and rising Nazi propaganda. Then there are others like Turkey who refuse to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. The Chinese continue to oppress native cultures in their land.

In a few days America will decide which way to turn. With the hope that they take a turn towards progress, I have been calling voters in North Carolina to make sure they vote early.

One such call was to a person who was not interested in voting, as he had no faith in the system. His reason was the same as those of a sizable number of voters in this country, who firmly believe that no matter who comes to power their plight never changes.

When I asked what was the one current issue bothering him, he said it was the pandemic. I responded, given that we have only two to choose from, should we not give the other team a chance to tackle the situation? He seemed to agree with me.

From his grievances and angst I was more than sure he was a black man. I am not sure if reparations would have improved his plight, but I am sure it would have instilled in him some credibility for the system.

A hope that his life actually matters.

Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film SALAM can now be seen on Netflix.

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