June 4, 2008
Meet Obama's Reparations Model
While some question the impact of preaching from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ on Senator Obama's thinking, the influence of one of Trinity's most recommended authors on Obama is clear.
Three of Randall Robinson's books are available for purchase on Trinity's website. One, entitled "The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks," is particularly important to understanding Obama's notion of reparations.
So who is Randall Robinson?
He's a Harvard-educated lawyer, author, and civil-rights activist born in 1941. Robinson is described by Wikipedia this way:
"Robinson founded the TransAfricia Forum in 1977, which-according to its mission statement, serves as a ‘major research, educational and organizing institution for the African-American community, offering constructive analysis concerning U.S. policy as it affects Africa and the African Diaspora (African-Americans and West Indians who can trace their heritage back to the dispersion of Africans that occurred as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade) in the Caribbean and Latin America.'"
Today, the TransAfricia Forum website lists Danny Glover as Board Chair, and Harry Belafonte among its dozen board members.
After moving to the island of St. Kitts, Robinson wrote of his decision to leave the U.S. in another of his books featured on the Trinity website: "Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from his Native Land."
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Robinson wrote a rant that appeared on the Huffington Post website wherein he stated,
‘I am a sixty-four year old African-American. New Orleans marks the end of the America I strove for."
Robinson's definition of reparations closely matches that suggested by Obama.
First, let's review what Obama said about reparations during the South Carolina, April 26, 2007, CNN debate. Anderson Cooper asked, "Senator Obama, [what is] your position on reparations?" Obama said,
"I think the reparation we need right here in South Carolina is investment, for example in our schools. I did a town hall meeting in Florence, South Carolina, in an area called the corridor of shame. They've got buildings that students are trying to learn in that were built right after the Civil War. And we've got teachers who are not trained to teach the subjects they're teaching and high dropout rates. We've got to understand that there are corridors of shame all across the country. And if we make the investments and understand that those are our children, that's the kind of reparation that are really going to make a difference in America right now."
Earlier, in February 2007, the CBS news affiliate in Chicago quoted Obama on the issue of reparations.
"The legacy of slavery is immeasurable, but the best strategies for moving forward would be vigorously enforcing our anti-discrimination laws in education and job training."
Obama's Blueprint For Change document includes multiple programs aimed at improving public education. In a National Public Radio interview he said this:
"And that [referring to his K-12 education plan] would all cost about $18 billion a year -- a significant increase in federal funding, focused on schools all across the country, but with a great emphasis on poor urban and rural school districts that really need resources."
Now, let's compare Obama's statements with these excerpts from Robinson's "The Debt."
"There will always be differences in the abilities and achievements of individuals, but achievement differences that correlate with race must never be tolerated. That gap must be fully closed...To do what is necessary, of course, will require a virtual Marshall Plan of federal resources, far in excess of anything contemplated between the nearly touching poles of conventional palliatives. (p.107)"Like slavery, other human rights crimes have resulted in the loss of millions of lives. But only slavery, with its sadistic patience, asphyxiated memory, and smothered cultures, has hulled empty a whole race of people with inter-generational efficiency... It is a human rights crime without parallel in the modern world. For it produces its victims ad infinitum, long after the active stage of the crime has ended. (p. 216)"Whether the monetary obligation is legally enforceable or not, a large debt is owed by America to the descendants of America's slaves. (p. 231)"With respect to the question of compensation to African American, it has been proposed by Robert Westley, in ‘Many Billions Gone,' that a private trust be established for the benefit of all African Americans. This trust would be funded out of the general revenues of the United States to support programs designed to accomplish ‘the education and economic empowerment of the trust beneficiaries (African Americans) to be determined on the basis of need.' (p. 244)"I believe such a trust would have to be funded for at least two successive K-through-college educational generations, perhaps longer. Among other programs funded from the trust would be special K-12 schools through the United States with residential facilities for those black children who are found to be at risk in unhealthy family and neighborhood environments." (pp. 244-245) [emphasis added]
When Robinson's approach is compared to Obama's K-12 plan, outlined here, we see the influence of Robinson's understanding of reparations reflected in Obama's education plan.
It's also possible to see the influence of Robinson's thinking on Obama's sponsorship of the Global Poverty Act of 2007 (S.2433) that, if passed, would mean the $845 billion over 13 years in addition to existing U.S. foreign aid expenditures.
"Lastly, I would urge the United States government to begin making amends to Africa and the Caribbean by initiating discussions that might constructively start with an American commitment toward debt relief, fair trade terms, and significant monetary compensation." ("The Debt," p. 246)
Eight-hundred and forty-five billion dollars is "significant" international reparations, for sure.