36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every vain word he has spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
– Matthew 12:36-37, NIV
On August 23, we celebrate the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – designated this date to commemorate the transatlantic slave trade. It has been observed worldwide since 1998.
It marks the night of August 22-23, 1791, and the start of an uprising in Haiti that played a key role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
This year, as part of this international celebration, it is time to:
- Press Congress and the Biden administration for action on reparations,
- Combat reactionary efforts to defeat good reparations proposals, and
- Praise those working locally to close the historic wealth gap between white and black Americans.
The United Church of Christ and the Why We Can’t Wait Coalition are among those pushing for the enactment of HR 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act” – either by act of Congress, or by executive decree. The Why We Can’t Wait Coalition released a statement due to the lack of response from the White House to our request for an Executive Order Study Commission. After meetings of faith-based and secular organizations with the White House, educational webinars, and advocacy on HR 40, the Coalition sent a follow-up letter to President Biden requesting such an executive order. It was not recognized.
Unfortunately, at the same time, an informal campaign of smoke and mirrors to slow and divide the restorative justice movement continues to grow in the United States. It is rooted in American exceptionalism, bad education and division. Members of Congress have called for and passed in the House of Representatives a ‘symbolic’ measure to designate August 20 as a national day to commemorate slavery and its abolition – despite the fact that an international day for this purpose exists For more than 20 years. It is time to clearly connect the reparations movement in the United States to the global reparations movement for people of African descent. Gathering the collective stories and experiences of people of African descent globally is essential. Anything less is a distraction that fails to acknowledge our involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and gives a veneer of movement to repair.
Additionally, it fuels the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) and Freedman divisive campaigns that have promoted strict lineage-based reparations. These campaigns do not recognize that the redress sought by African Americans is for slavery and racist systems and institutions. These continue to drive disparate outcomes for Black people around the world, related to the racial wealth gap, maternal health, loans, education and educational debt, agriculture and poverty. ecological devastation, among others. The statistics on these – and on voting rights, police brutality and more – do not differ depending on whether great, great, great, great-grandparents were enslaved in what are now the states. States or what is now Haiti. All of these descendants are here and have suffered the effects of Jim Crow and predatory loans. All share the same desperation to have $23,000 in wealth versus $184,000 in wealth for non-Hispanic white families.
I am grateful for ministries like that of Arlington Community Church, UCC, in Kensington, California. This congregation joined with the Richmond Community Foundation to create a Black Wealth Builders Fund. It helps black families close the wealth gap by helping them pay down payments on mortgages. Homeownership remains one of the primary means by which a family can become wealthy. Arlington UCC and its Black Wealth Builders Fund began accepting applications in late spring. They do not require rigorous proof of lineage. Instead, they offer a stalwart commitment to accountability and redress.
Reverend Sekinah Hamlin serves as Minister of Economic Justice with UCC Ministries of Justice and Local Churches.
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