Become a Patron


Art Alcausin Hall

excerpted from: Art Alcausin Hall, There Is a Lot to Be Repaired Before We Get to Reparations: a Critique of the Underlying Issues of Race That Impact the Fate of African American Reparations, 2 Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Minority Issues 1, 32-41 (2000) (295 Footnotes Omitted)

For African Americans, it is often easy to place sole blame for many of the problems of race and the perpetuation of those problems on White America generally. However, the second root of race problems in the United States is attributed at least in some part to African Americans themselves. The justification for this blame centers in the African American community's growing division.

A. The Difficulty of the Individual vs. Group Perspective in the Integration vs. Nationalism Debate

The history of African American reparations reveals the existence of diversity within the African American perspective in the past. Reparations was the advocacy flag of the nationalists in their internal struggle with integrationists, who argued that ending the old de jure discrimination was sufficient, and now people of African descent have to be able to work and cooperate within the system. The reparationists argued that America had a duty to remedy the past and maintain measures to equalize a society that was more than superficially divided.

The two camps differed primarily in their particular views of the dominance of the individual versus that of the group. Integrationists focused on the individual. For integrationists, "[t]he war [was] seen, in essence, as a war between individuals with different attributes, of which race [[was] only one. Equality exist[ed] as long as the rules of the game [were] fairly and even applied to everyone, without regard to race." The integration theory embodied the outcome of African American assimilation to white culture and norm and tended to be the advocated proposition of the dominating entity, which was the European perspective in the African American reparations context.

On the other hand, nationalism tended to be the theory of the submissive entity. Nationalists focused on the group and the collective conditions and experiences faced by African Americans. Proponents of nationalism rejected notions of "Black pathology and white supremacy" that often accompanied integration theory. One author argued, with regard to the importance of group experience in the reparations movement,

[T]he European-American individualist world view (the dominant perspective) [was seen] as the obstacle to a reparations program, because the value placed on individualism [was] so entrenched in the dominant perspective that it [could not] yield to foreign concepts such as group entitlements or group wrongs. Dr. Linda James Myers describe[d] the Afrocentric conceptual system characteristics as collectivism, group ownership, and ethical communalism, while the characteristics of the dominant conceptual system [ [were] materialism, competition, and individualism.

Largely because of its less threatening and complimentary nature to the dominant entity's policies, integration gained the most widespread acceptance. Nonetheless, despite integration's popularity, many have criticized the ineffectiveness of the theory and have pointed to other alternatives, such as reparations. "[T]wenty years of integration data starkly refute the promise of integration-based politics as the sole means of improving the quality of experience and results for the mass of African- Americans."

The failure of integration has encouraged the re-emergence of nationalism and reparations as a legitimate solution to the racial issues existing within the United States. Particularly for African American reparations, integrationism, being rooted in the individual, has been viewed as having little appeal or effectiveness in dealing with the African American quest as a whole.

Hence, with the growing frustration experienced by African Americans generally, the alternative of reparations as a solution for past and present racial ills continues to gain momentum. However, the continuing growth in the diversity of opinion and perspective within the African American community must be coalesced for reparations to become a feasible and acceptable alternative, noticed and entertained in the larger political arena.

B. Disunity in the African American Community

The integrationist versus nationalist debate is only part of the historic and present disunity and dissension in the African American community. The similarity of experience of African Americans after the Middle Passage helped to cement a unity that moved African Americans from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement to overcome common barriers of racism, discrimination, and oppression. This unity of experience, prompting unity of action, was one of the great impetuses of the Civil Rights Movement that inspired the African American community and affected the nation and world. But, one of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to expand the experience and potential socio-economic and political gains of African Americans.

Today, African Americans can be found on many different socio-economic, professional, and influential levels. Whereas in the pre-Civil Rights Movement days African Americans could be homogeneously categorized because their experiences and backgrounds were similar, such categorization is much more difficult today. The experience of African Americans is growing more dissimilar as many barriers are overcome, although some less obvious barriers persist or replace old ones, barriers are not so common today, or at least the perception of those barriers is viewed with greater diversity. While diversity within the Black diaspora is applauded and encouraged, this diversity has led to different perceptions of the problems - if problems are considered existent - and the solutions relevant and extensive enough to effectively and completely address those problems.

Differing policy perspectives can be traced as far back as the beginnings of slavery, when African tribes sold members of other African tribes into European slavery. Then during slavery, the "house Negroes" had different philosophies from their "field Negro" counterparts. Differences in the philosophies of Dr. King and Malcolm X also became evident, despite the fact that both experienced the same racial issues and attacked the same injustices of their time.

Presently, we see a rise in the number of African American representatives in the Republican Party, most notably Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, J.C. Watts, and Alan Keyes. The increase of representation in the Republican Party contrasts what has traditionally been the party for African Americans - the Democratic Party. And today, the discussion of reparations within the African American community seems to parallel the historic dissension and disunity of the community.

C. Dissension within the Black Caucus in the African American Reparations Debate

With regard to African American reparations, many argue a significant problem for the African American reparations movement is that proponents of reparations must first acquire the support of wavering African Americans on the issue. One authority stated, "Not even all the members of the Black Caucus are on board. In fact, two black Democrats on the Judiciary Committee - Mel Watt of North Carolina and Bobby Scott of Virginia - have declined to follow their Democratic leader [Conyers]." Without an expansive and consistent front within the Black community, particularly the lack of leadership, African American reparations, with already very little to no support from the White American community, has little potential for enactment.

D. Young-Old Dichotomy and Its Effect on Plaintiff Identification and Apathy

Preventing further efforts toward racial progress and reparations is the increase of disunity within the African American community between the young and the old. Not all young African Americans have a strong knowledge of history and an understanding of the importance of history. African American young people must merely read and/or hear stories about the experiences that their parents, grandparents, and other forebearers faced, and they have a different experience and a unique set of race issues from that of their predecessors. The experiences and issues of the new and coming generations of African Americans seemingly warrant a different urgency and respect for issues of race, not always looked upon favorably, or more importantly understood, by those of the older generation.

For reparations, this age dichotomy has two important ramifications. First, practically speaking, a key element in the plaintiff identification factor of reparations is the closeness of the request for reparations to the actual injury. While a slave might have a cause of action requiring reparations, his or her children, grandchildren, etc., will have less of an opportunity to be repaired, even though they still feel the effects or aftereffects of that slavery. This limitation is in spite of the persuasive argument that the situation and time period in which slavery existed prevented the immediate request and/or granting of reparations through the courts or legislative bodies as a possible solution. In other words, when the evidence and parties needed for direct remedy were strongest and present, so too were the ideological, legal, and political barriers necessary to overcome to achieve that remedy. While many are working to base reparations on more recent injustices, the time factor continues to emerge as a primary issue in the African American quest for reparations.

The other important ramification of age diversity is the diminished understanding, commitment, and importance young people will place on issues of race. This reality, along with the difficulty of uncovering overt and covert forms of racism today, will result in fewer efforts of young African Americans to promote issues of racial importance, such as African American reparations, and challenge (much less even recognize) surfacing racial injustices. The issue of age diversity plays an important role in the feeling of lack of ownership for reparations among African American young people and the requisite support, rallying, and endorsement needed to move Congress to begin thinking about reparations possibilities and alternatives. Apathy and a "lax mentality" with regard to race issues has replaced not so much a "protest mentality," but somewhat of a constructive anger that might be termed "revolutionary" or "militant." This divide has served to exaggerate differences between African Americans based on age, socioeconomic status and lifestyle, political belief, definition and identity, etc. Such a divide augments already existent disunity and dissension.

E. Difficulty of Administering Race

The issue of age diversity leads to another practical problem in the African American reparations movement context - the difficulty of defining the parameters of race. Reparations is compensation for a group injury as opposed to an individual injury. However, the challenge for administering reparations is determining the elusive concept of race and defining who is a member of this injured group.

In the African American community, there are varying hues of blackness. In addition, there are many African Americans who do not necessarily identify as such but would rather be considered more in their multicultural, individual, or even "American" context. There are also native Africans, Caribbeans, other foreign members of the Black diaspora, and those who have recently been naturalized as American citizens. Finally, the African American community is becoming much more economically diverse, making the impact of the past less obvious for some African Americans than for others, and present race issues seemingly based on factors other than slavery, its effects, or even race in general. These factors lessen the ability to identify an injured party or group worthy of African American reparations.

The difficulty with remedying the past discrimination is determining the definition and confines of race and administering the remedies. "[T]he concept of race is central both to identifying and to rectifying the effects of prejudice. . . . [The] dichotomy between the importance of race classification to anti-discrimination law and its fundamental indeterminacy creates. . . a core dilemma of modern race-conscious law: the difficulties of how we 'administer race." '

Others argue the absurdity of this administration of race. Armstrong Williams, an African American conservative and employee of a D.C.- based public-relations firm, asks "Who are the descendants of slaves and who are not? . . . It would literally pay to be black. Everybody and their momma would claim they were black." These are difficult questions for the African American community, but they must be addressed prior to further discussions of the possibility of reparations.

F. Inconsistent Goals of the African American Community

In addition to the diversity discussed, the existing diversity leads to an inconsistent, unidentified goal and ensuing tensions. Americans - whether it be the government, white citizens, or "minority" or African American citizens - do not have a clear idea of what is being achieved. Thus, different ideas as to the goals set have led to different, often conflicting, efforts thereby creating tension.

The term "colorless," or "colorblind," society and "melting pot" have been bantered around for years. These terms connote the aim of earlier immigrants to assimilate into American society as a symbol of advancement. However, because this assimilation meant adopting White American culture rather than a perceived mixture of their own culture with others, many people of color, including African Americans, have begun to focus on different concepts - a "colorful" society and a "stewpot." These terms reveal a desire for a stronger group identity as part of this concept of an "American society." But, until these ideas become part of the more general aim of the members of the various communities of color as well as the general American society, interest in reparations and the meaning behind it will be futile, lost in conflicting goals. Indeed, there are differences, particularly within the African American community, that must be addressed and resolved before progress in the African American reparations movement can be made