With all of the turmoil and uncertainty in our country, many of us are wondering, “What can I do to make the world a better place?” There are many organizations in our country doing amazing work in addition to intelligent and committed individuals. I would encourage you to determine what most concerns you and align with a group or work with an individual and create the change you want to see in the world. As the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”
There are a multitude of issues we need to work to improve: poverty, hunger, homelessness, voter suppression, police brutality, student loan debt, extreme homicide rates, affordable health care, mass incarceration, food deserts, underemployment, unemployment. I could go on and on. These issues are systemic.
NAACP National President Derrick Johnson defined systemic racism as “systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages African Americans.” The system is NOT BROKEN. The system is working exactly as it was designed. In order to affect change, we must break down these systems and rebuild them with a mind toward justice and equality for all. This is a time for us to live up to the ideals that are outlined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Enslaved Africans have lived in what is now the United States of America since the Spanish brought the first slaves to the colony of La Florida in August of 1526. Those same Africans revolted in October of that same year and sought their freedom. The fight for freedom for members of the African diaspora is not new. We must seize upon this current global call for racial justice and press for positive changes.
Racism exists in the very DNA of our country. And as integral and insidious as racism is, we do not study it at the K-12 or college level other than a random course here or there. This lack of understanding regarding racism and how it impacts every part of the United States is part of the reason that many white Americans feign ignorance about the plight of Black and brown Americans.
This dearth of study regarding racism, combined with incomplete and often downright false historical accounts, helps to create two Americas, both separate and still unequal. If you are interested in studying racism in America there are several books by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi that explore this topic, including “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,”
The fact is for several decades, Americans have been watching Black men and women being killed by police and receiving no punishment. And each time it happens, people remain shocked.
Rodney King was beaten by officers of the LAPD in 1991. Those officers were charged and found not guilty despite the video footage. Fast forward to 2020 and we are still seeing videos of Black men and women being beaten and killed by police. Time has come for the warrior police officer to be replaced with the guardian police officer.
Our problems are multi-faceted, and it will take a multi-prong approach to address them. I propose two answers to address these myriad systemic issues. These two things won’t solve all of our problems, but I believe it will move us forward toward healing: national truth and reconciliation for the citizens of the United States of America, and reparations for African Americans.
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in 1995 to address and remedy the many atrocities that occurred during the apartheid regime. No one escaped unscathed. The TRC wasn’t perfect, but it did offer a mechanism to confront the issues and then move toward healing on a nationwide level. As James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
My sister, Serina M. Hayes, is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Republic of South Africa after the fall of apartheid alongside Iris Winter and Manuel Zuniga Jr. Recently, Manuel has started a petition on Change.org to create a Truth & Reconciliation Commission for the U.S. Please sign the petition by visiting Change.org and doing a search for the title: “Create a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
HR 40, The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, was introduced 1989 by the late congressman John Conyers and subsequently every year after. According to the HR Primer written by National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), revisions were made in 2017 which emphasized two things. First: studying the history and legacy of the crimes against African humanity during the colonial, enslavement and Jim Crow periods, and it looks to also examine the post-Jim Crow period and the current harms that continue to this day.
Second, it charges the commissioners to craft remedies that address the multifaceted harms of these crimes in comport with “full reparations” as understood by international norms of reparations.
In 2019, Sen. Cory Booker introduced S1083 that establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.
It is imperative for us to write our Congressional and Senatorial representatives and implore them to back these two bills. Share this information with your family and friends around the country. According to NCOBRAonline.org, a simple majority in the House is needed (218 votes) to move the bill to the Senate. Currently, there are 122 congresspersons who have cosponsored HR 40. If, for over 400 years, countless laws can be created that injure Black Americans then surely a law can be created to study that problem and determine how a repair can be made.
Nichelle M. Hayes is an information professional, genealogist, civic leader and a lifelong learner. She can be reached at her blog thetiesthatbind.blog.