Race relations remains one of the greatest problems facing our country today. In this as with every other issue, a core principle of a Williamson presidency will be solving problems by addressing their underlying causes. America cannot have the future we would wish for ourselves, and for our children, unless we’re willing to clean up issues left over from the past.
I do not believe the average American is a racist, but I believe the average American is undereducated about the history of race in America. When our history is viewed through a clear lens - historically, economically and morally - white America is seen owing a debt to the descendants of slaves. That is why I support, and have a plan for, a program of reparations to the descendants of American slaves.
Slavery existed in America from 1619 until 1865. That was followed by another 100 years of institutional violence against blacks in the form of Black Code Laws, segregation, lynching, Ku Klux Klan and other forms of private and public horror. All in all, there were 350 years of institutional violence committed against a people who had been brought to this country against their will, then sold as slaves for purposes of building the American economy.
At the time when slaves were first emancipated at the end of the Civil War, there are estimated to have been between 4 to 5 million enslaved persons in the American South. General Tecumseh Sherman promised to every former slave family of four, forty acres and a mule. While this would have provided a way to make a living and feed one’s family, integrating economically into life as a freed citizen, only a few actually received the acreage and among those who received it most had it then taken away.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. would ask a hundred years later, “They were freed, but what were they freed to?” It was a full hundred years after the end of the Civil War before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 to dismantle segregation, and only in 1965 did the Voting Rights Act insure equal access to black people at the polls.
The issue of the economic gap that existed at the end of the Civil War, however, was never addressed beyond Sherman’s promise. And the gap has never been closed.
I have advocated for broad scale reparations for slavery since the 1990’s, and was the first candidate in this presidential primary season to make it a pillar of my campaign.
The issue of reparations is not a fringe notion. Germany has paid over $89 Billion to Jewish organizations since the end of WW2 and, while they do not erase the horror of the Holocaust, reparations have gone far towards establishing reconciliation between Germany and the Jews of Europe. Similarly, in 1988 Ronald Reagan signed the American Civil Liberties Act assigning between $20,000 to $22,000 to surviving prisoners of the Japanese internment camps during WW2. The idea that a people which has wronged another people should then pay economic restitution as payment for that wrong, is a civilized notion long considered reasonable.
While America has moved forward in many ways since the days of slavery and Jim Crow, in other ways as a nation we are slipping backwards. Mass incarceration, racial disparity in criminal sentencing, lost voting rights, outright voter suppression, and police brutality often focused on black populations, display legacies of the emotional dehumanization of black people that was at the core of slavery. Employment and housing discrimination, unequal access to quality education in underserved communities, environmental injustice within black neighborhoods, and higher rates of poverty still plague communities of color and represent prejudice that has severe economic consequences. Moreover, the gap in earning potential between blacks and whites is a left-over of a profound economic injustice that has never been fully addressed and in many ways continues to exist.
Race-based policies alone are helpful, but only on a temporary basis. That is because, while they address the external symptoms of racial prejudice, they carry no moral weight and therefore have no fundamental transformative power. Of themselves, they leave open the question of whose fault it is that the economic gap exists.
The main power of a reparations plan is that it carries moral weight that goes beyond mere economic restitution. This is because it implies an inherent mea culpa – the acknowledgement on the part of one people of a wrong that has been done, a debt that is owed, and a willingness to pay it. Reparations are not “financial assistance;” they are payment of a debt that has never been paid. They thus pave the way for an emotional and psychological healing between blacks and whites much needed in the United States.
The Reparations Plan will not erase the history of slavery in America, nor of its ugly aftermath. It is only one part of a multi-dimensional healing process. But it will go far toward ending a painful, horrific chapter in American history, and will give future generations of Americans a chance to begin again on the higher ground of true reconciliation.