The concept of compensating descendants of slaves in the United States is known as reparations and aims to alleviate the opportunity gap created by the country’s history with slavery.
It’s a revolutionary and, to some, controversial idea. So anti-racism activist Anne Hirsch uses a simple metaphor to describe it: a bicycle.
“You live on the block and steal a kid’s bicycle, and you keep it for a couple of years, and then you decide you want to be friends with that kid because he’s kind of cool ... but he says you can’t be friends until you return the bicycle,” Hirsch told Real Change.
Reparations are more than a simple stolen bike anecdote. Hirsch said that racism won’t be solved by friendship between white and black communities; just being nice to one another is not going to change the country’s deep racial inequity.
“That’s almost a slap in the face to think that makes a difference,” she said. To Hirsch and the Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM), “to give back what was stolen” is the logical next step after recognizing the privileges granted to white citizens, compared to people of color.
Hirsch is a local organizer with the Seattle branch of the USM, a national organization presenting “Reparations Tour: A Revolutionary Demand” on March 18. The touring event will feature guest speakers from different groups created under the leadership of African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). USM works within White communities to address colonialism, racism and reparations. The organization is one of the many factions of ASPS.
Herdosia Bentum, Ferguson, Missouri organizer and president of International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (IPDUM) will speak at the event at Seattle University, as will chair of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, Penny Hess.
“What differentiates us from other movements [is] we are not just doing this on a whim and when we want to,” Hirsch explained. “We are doing what Black organization asks of us and we go out into the White community.”
USM does education outreach and political organizing, but ultimately most work is done to raise reparations, which she says makes up approximately 80 percent of USM’s actions.
In 1865, Union Army General William Sherman ordered that 40 acres of land be distributed to thousands of newly freed slaves in the South, considered the first attempt to pay reparations on a large scale. President Andrew Johnson rescinded the order the same year.
Since then, multiple attempts have been made to introduce bills that would create systematic restitution for Black Americans. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan has introduced a bill every year since 1989 in an effort to create a commission to research reparations and effects of slavery. It has yet to survive beyond committees.
Yet groups such as USM are still speaking loud about the need for reparations, despite the lack of political support.
“White power has continued to attack African and indigenous people and others all around the world to create our lifestyles,” Hirsch said. “So yes, we’re saying individual White people owe reparations.”
IPDUM, one of the organizations under APSP, is working beyond reparations as well. In 2015, the group began a petition to the United Nations, charging the U.S. government with genocide against African people.
“Reparations Tour: A Revolutionary Demand” takes place at 7 p.m., March 18 at Seattle University’s Wyckoff Auditorium. The event is free.