Let’s be real! America is in a state of metamorphosis, a change that is long overdue. America is not in a good place as President Trump would proclaim, certainly not for people of color, when they are being attacked, rebuked and scorned, threatened and demeaned for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement that is currently taking place across the world. The truth of the matter is that no nation can lay claim to “greatness” until all of its citizens are included as full participants in the American experiment. We can no longer live a lie, touting to the world that America is the land of the free. People of color will and must not submit to second and third-class citizenship. I want to believe that America is at a turning point, not because of a desire, but because of the deafening cries or demands for justice for ALL people. The old guard cannot and will never accept the fact that America is changing demographically, culturally, socially and economically. America must become a nation of one people where justice and equality is afforded to all. The plea that is being heard from protesters all over the nation and the world is that communities of color are here to stay. America’s greatest tragedy, most public national embracement and greatest divide has never been about what African Americans have done to white America, but it is all about what white America has done and continues to do to Black, Brown, and Yellow America
As a side bar, in my research I came across an article entitled “Guam Residents Get Payments for Suffering During Occupation.” The article goes on to note that the U.S. Territory of Guam was attacked and captured by Japanese forces in December 1941, and thousands of native islanders suffered horribly at the hands of their captors. In 1951 a peace treaty relieved Japan of the burden of paying reparations, and early this year (2020) the US government began making payments ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to certain residents of Guam as compensation for the hardships they or their family members endured during the occupation, as reported by the Associated Press.
Wow! When I read this article, I began to reflect upon and weep at the dismal plight of slaves ancestors and their descendants who have fought long and disappointing battles to be respected, to be treated as humans, and compensated for the pain, humiliation, anger and suffering endured for more than four hundred years. While a federal review commission determined that the nation had a “moral obligation” to offer compensation for the suffering and loyalty of the residents of Guam, African Americans have been given no such consideration. They have been in a holding pattern waiting for a commission to review requests for reparations to members of the Back community for the years of suffering and ill treatment at the hands of white Americans with the government having taken the lead in the mistreatment of Black Americans.
Please do not misunderstand me, (I am grateful for the generosity extended to the residents of Guam), however, my frustrations and concerns are that the United States of America is quick to dismiss or discuss any claim(s) advanced by the descendants of African Americans, of slaves, who were subjected to forced labor, personal injury, rape and murder, separation of families, denial of education and of the most basic human rights, while claims are being funded and awarded to citizens of Guam for far less atrocities than those suffered by Black Americans!.
Even more interesting, conflicting, confusing and disturbing, I came upon another article revealing the fact that slave owners received reparations from America for losing slaves when slavery finally ended. ln April 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill, known as the District of Columbia Act, which paid loyal unionists up to $300.00 for every lost or freed slave. Yes, reparations are nothing new to America! Slave-owners received reparations and enslaved African Americans got nothing for their broken, strapped, beaten and worn bodies, for their years of misery and suffering, for their free labor, and their years of frustrations in being forced to build a nation that they would never be truly welcomed in, compensated for or accepted as equals. The only benefit that African American slaves received was the appearance and symbolism of freedom from legal bondage. It is amazing that slave owners were the beneficiaries of public outrage and of having enslaved humankind and were rewarded for having abused innocent slaves. Slave owners were also compensated throughout the nation by local, colonial and state legislatures for any loss of slave labor, (chattel as slaves were commonly referred to). The only benevolence extended to African Americans following slavery was a trip “back to Africa” ($100 per person back to Liberia or Haiti). Wow! Unbelievable but true!!
Back to “getting real;” again I stress that we are in the midst of a major health crisis, a life and death situation, a pandemic where more than three thousand citizens in the US are dying each day, no cure in sight, and a time when we are experiencing more than 10 thousand new COVID infections per day, yet citizens are seemingly taking these phenomena for granted. It is evident and quite shameful that many citizens are saying I don’t care, I will not be forced to wear a mask, it will happen to someone else, not me, no it won’t happen to me, or I am too young to contract the virus, it only affects older citizens, I am white, the disease is killing more African Americans than any other race, so why should I be that concerned. Citizens are refusing to adhere to the basic recommendations and warnings of public health experts for limiting the spread of and defeating this virus, an enemy that if not stopped, could be around for many years to come.
We must begin to view this virus for what it is, acknowledge that it is real, it’s not fake news or something that will be gone in a few days, it is a serious and deadly virus, a life and death situation, one that encourages citizens not to gather in large groups, to practice public health guidelines, to wear masks when in public settings, practice social distancing, wash and sanitize hands and affected surfaces frequently and staying at home to avoid contact with the individual who may be vectors of the virus. More people must be tested to determine the level of the virus, and contact tracing must become more aggressive. The virus is controlling us at this moment and while there is hope that a vaccine may be available at the end of the year, the public is growing more skeptical about seeing an end to the pandemic any time soon. Other countries have flattened the curve in the spread of the virus by adhering to mask wearing, social distancing, lockdown at home, and not reopening governments too soon. We encourage citizens to remember the wisdom from an old African saying that “fools do last what wise men do first and wise men do last what fools do first.” Let’s get real, wise men are following social distancing, wearing masks, staying at home, staying away from large gatherings, for these are the measures, the formula and prescription that America must ultimately mandate and follow if we are to overcome this pandemic.
Dr. Herbert Simmons, Jr. is an Associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Grambling State University, former President, Grambling State University Faculty Senate and former Chair, Department of Consumer Education and Resource Management, Howard University, Washington, D.C.