It is common for us to assume that all the descendants of the African slave trade have the same history. However, I have only recently started to learn that as bad as the British were, the Americans were far more savage slavers and for a much longer period.
Slavery was abolished In the USA in 1865, ours in Jamaica was abolished in 1834 but that’s only a tiny part of the story.
Because the descendants of slave masters have always been in the majority in the USA, they have continued to use legislative power to maintain near-slavish conditions up to, in some cases, recently.
The Gleaner should be highly commended for publishing on May 20, 2022, information re the 500-page document produced in California which outlines the tremendous harm suffered by descendants of enslaved people long after slavery was abolished. These were mainly manifested through discriminatory laws and actions in all facets of life, from housing and education to employment and the legal system.
This report resulted from measures developed at the behest of the slavery reparation movement in the USA, which lobbied Governor Newsome of California. So, in 2020, he created a two-year task force to investigate and detail California’s role in perpetuating discrimination against African Americans.
California is home to approximately 2.8 million blacks and it has the fifth-largest Black population in the US after Texas, Florida, Georgia and New York, the report said. And while African Americans make up less than six per cent of their population, 28 per cent of them are in jails, youth detention centers and prisons.
The report concluded that; “Four hundred years of discrimination has resulted in an enormous and persistent wealth gap between black and white Americans. These effects of slavery continue to be embedded in American society today and have never been sufficiently remedied. The governments of the United States and the State of California have never apologized to or compensated African Americans for these harms.”
Newsom issued a statement praising California for leading the USA in the long overdue discussion of racial justice and equity. The state’s Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose office is assisting the task force, said, “California was not a passive actor in perpetuating these harms.”
While the demand for reparation is increasing in the USA and indeed in many former slave societies, California the only place to move ahead with a study and plan. Without an in-depth study however, one city and a few universities in the USA had taken up the issue of their illegal enrichment from slavery. So far, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first city to make reparations available to Black residents last year and Georgetown University in Washington is the first to have put measures in place to compensate descendants of the slaves they used.
However, the giant step taken by the state of California is a watershed.
The fledgling reparation movement in Jamaica will no doubt be inspired by this bold move in California, although I doubt that our government will be willing to fund any move to study in-depth how slavery has affected our society. For, calls for such action have been made locally and ignored over many years.
I can’t wait to get my hands on the full report out of California, which will play a great role in educating the public in general.
It is interesting though that this report has come out in the USA, at a time when several states under Republican control are trying to further hide America’s history of slavery and oppression from the people, with the Governor of Florida even signing legislation to remove information on the topic from text books.
If a giant step is not taken by the current US Administration to deal speedily and effectively with the issue of reparation, despite the best efforts of people like Governor Newsome, the movement will surely be set back for another few decades if a new Republican administration takes over in 2024.
- Joan Williams is a retired talk-show host. She can be followed at; Joan, my views (joan-myviews.blogspot.com) or contacted at [email protected]