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International Reparations Conference Concludes With a Call to Action

by Jamal Eric Watson

110915_reparationsEDINBURGH, U.K. — The ongoing fight for reparations in the United States and abroad should fundamentally be about atonement, said Amos Jones, an associate professor of law at Campbell University in North Carolina.

“We’ve already seen that official U.S. law and policy is capable of significant self-correction, though bloodshed has been required,” said Jones. “In the U.S. context, we can be hopeful that justice will prevail because our history is filled with moral conviction that has engendered dramatic self-corrections, from abolition of slavery to fulfillment of the Fourteenth Amendment through civil rights measures including affirmative action remediation ordered by presidents of all ideologies.”

Jones, an expert on discrimination, was a panelist at the three-day interdisciplinary, international conference held at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The event, which concluded on Saturday, featured a spirited series of panel presentations and interactions among scholars, activists and lawmakers who committed to turning their ideas into action.

Jones opened his presentation by declaring America’s legacy of segregated schools and colleges to be “a chain of implication that creeps contemporary.” In speaking about the need for reparations in the United States, he said that the time was long overdue for the victims of underfunded, segregated schools — whose plight was examined in the 1972 book by Yale Law tax scholar Boris I. Bittker The Case for Black Reparations — to receive “direct” financial compensation.

Jones called for Blacks to “reclaim our brains, our traditional values” in order to foster fruitful, nonpartisan and interracial interaction as the issue of reparations continues to be debated.

“What, to me, is paramount is to consider the reality of how Black Americans, always a not-large minority, have from time to time — and in dramatic fashion, through sheer moral authority — forced America to live up to the ideals adopted by the Republic on paper,” Jones told the audience. “America has been situated in what I call a convictable posture.”

On Friday night, Sir Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian historian who is the current vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica and an expert on reparations, said that he believes that support for the idea is gaining momentum and that reparations for slavery are long overdue.

“In the Caribbean, I think it’s fair to say that we have more or less made up our minds that Britain has a case to answer,” he said, adding that the governments of the region have recently come onboard in supporting some form of reparations nearly 40 to 50 years after independence from Britain. “There have been decades of conversation right from the end of slavery to the present time and after 200 years of civil society discussion and debate, I think we are more or less settled around the position that there is a case to answer and we will proceed with that case in one way or another.”

In 2006, Tony Blair expressed his “deep sorrow” for slavery, months after the Church of England apologized for its role, but the prime minister stopped short of admitting historical guilt. Current Prime Minister David Cameron has been fiercely criticized by Black British activists for his refusal to discuss the issue.

In the United States, there is an effort by some scholars to push President Obama to create the Dr. John Hope Franklin Commission on Reparative Justice, which would be similar in scope to the One America Initiative that President Clinton established on race. Dr. John Hope Franklin, the preeminent historian, was selected by Clinton to chair the commission’s advisory board.

The controversial issue has also been revived in the United States last year thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 15,000-word article that appeared in The Atlantic titled “The Case for Reparations.”

Wheelock College and University of Edinburgh co-organizers said they hope the networks developed at the “Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond” conference will build momentum in collectivizing what is becoming a mainstream global push for reparative justice.

Jones, the law professor, placed the onus on all in power, including Black elected officials. “If 40 Tea Party members with very little seniority in Congress can shut down the government and defeat Speakers of the House,” he asked during a part of his presentation taking politicians to task, “then why can’t 42 Blacks wield greater influence on behalf of their distressed constituencies, who form safe districts and are aligned in their longstanding calls for transformative justice?”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at jwatson1@diverseeducation.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.

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