How Reparations is Being Used to Divide African People Against Each Other

I recently reed an article by Patrice Onwuka in which she argues that Black Americans do not need reparations, they need jobs. Onwuka’s reasoning for her opposition to reparations is curious. She writes:

I am a black immigrant whose parents chose to come to America in 1985. Would I qualify for reparations? My son is the child of two black immigrants and was born in 2018. Would he qualify?

The American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS)movement has raised this issue as well; this issue of whether or not black immigrants should get reparations. According to Antonio Moore, reparations should only be for the descendants of those who were enslaved in the United States, not Caribbean and African immigrants.

My question is since when has reparations become such a divisive issue among African people? For decades the fight for reparations has been connected to the global Pan-African struggles of African people. Many of the most prominent exponents of reparations have been Pan-Africanists or people with an international vision for African liberation. Now it seems like reparations has become an issue which is dividing African Americans and black immigrants.

The situation has become so divisive that supporters of the ADOS movement have even attacked non-ADOS who support reparations. For example, look at this exchange between Tariq Nasheed and Roland Martin:

Tariq Nasheed argues that Roland Martin’s Haitian grandparents are the reason why Martin gets offended when people discuss what tangibles African Americans should receive. Tariq Nasheed is not the only one in the ADOS movement that has criticized Martin, but the interesting thing is that Martin is himself a strong advocate of reparations.

Rather than building a united front in the struggle for reparations, the ADOS movement takes a rather narrow position which seems to be that any black person who has a non-ADOS ancestor is not an ADOS and therefore should be excluded from the reparations discussion. So Martin, who has both African American and Haitian ancestry, is apparently excluded from the ADOS tribe and the fact that Martin is an advocate for reparations matters very little because Martin’s Haitian ancestry excludes him from the “tribe.” This approach seems self-defeating in a sense because it alienates many allies in the fight for reparations.

As I said, I am not sure since when reparations became such a divisive issue. In the clip below Malcolm X manages to simultaneously advocate for reparations while also speaking on the global struggles of African people and where African Americans fit into those global struggles. Keep in mind that Malcolm’s mother was from Grenada, so if Malcolm were alive today I am sure there would be some in the ADOS movement trying to exclude him from the “tribe”.

Martin Luther King also advocated for reparations. King was not as committed to Pan-Africanism as Malcolm X was, but King also recognized the connection between the African American struggle and the African struggle.

The Republic of New Afrika was an organization which demanded that the United States give reparations to African Americans in the form of territory so that African Americans could build an independent nation within a nation — which is what the Nation of Islam demanded as well. One of the most prominent members of the Republic of New Afrika was Queen Mother Moore, who brought a reparations petition before the United Nations.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the people who were on the frontlines of the demand for reparations were also individuals who were involved in the global struggles of people of African descent. Reparations for slavery was seen as being an aspect of this global struggle. I am well-aware that people in the ADOS movement will argue that Pan-Africanism is outdated now, or that it is dead as Yvette Carnell as argued. The reality is that reparations has never stopped being an aspect of the global African struggle. The irony is that the ADOS movement should be thanking Pan-Africanists for helping to keep the reparations discussion alive throughout the decades.

There is All For Reparations and Emancipation , which is one of the many groups that has been advocating for reparations for slavery for African Americans. In 2005, AFRE joined a group of delegates for a United Nations meeting in Peru on the topic of reparations. Among those who were involved in this meeting was the Brazilian activist Edna Roland. In 2001, at the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa, Roland was among the speakers who raised the issue of reparations for all of the African descents of slavery throughout the diaspora.

In 2015 the National African American Reparations Commission was formed by Ron Daniels and others who were inspired by the reparations demands from the Caribbean. In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a piece on reparations which garnered a lot of national media attention. Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian scholar and one of leading advocates of reparations for the Caribbean, shared a stage with Coates and used the opportunity to give Coates a copy of Beckles’ book, Britain’s Black Debt. So there has been a direct connection between the recent reparations movement in the Caribbean and America. The reality is that social and political movements in the Caribbean and the United States have always influenced each other. The Haitian Revolution inspired resistance on the part of African Americans. Booker T. Washington’s efforts inspired many Caribbean leaders, including Marcus Garvey of Jamaica and Jean Price-Mars of Haiti. The history is too extensive to address here, but the point is that the struggles of African American and Caribbean people has always been an interconnected one.

Black Lives Matter has also included reparations as part of its platform. BLM’s position on reparations is one of the reasons why Bill O’Reilly accused BLM of being a “destructive movement” and he ironically invoked Martin Luther King in his criticisms of BLM.

Although BLM does not explicitly refer to itself as a Pan-Africanist movement, BLM has worked to internationalize its message, which has included reaching out to activists in Brazil. Brazil has also developed its own version of Black Lives Matter, with the slogan Vidas Negras Importam. The international outlook adopted by BLM is not surprising given that Opal Tometi, a Nigerian, is one of the co-founders of BLM.

The ADOS movement has no doubt played a significant role in helping to bring greater national attention to the reparations struggle, but the reality is that ADOS is also building on the momentum of BLM and other groups and individuals that have been advocating for reparations before the ADOS movement was formed. This has also included the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), which has been in existence since 1987. N’COBRA was one of the organizations which participated in previously mentioned conference in South Africa. N’COBRA has worked with African people throughout the world to advance the cause of reparations. Not surprisingly, Yvette Carnell has been in a bit of an online spat with N’COBRA.

To return to Patrice Onwuka’s article, I think she misses the mark by trying to suggest that Black Americans need jobs not reparations when the unemployment rate among Black Americans is a direct result of centuries of exploitation. The claim for reparations is based on the recognition that the United States and other Western countries have built up their wealth through the exploitation of African people, which has left African people around the world in a state of poverty. In The Devastation and Economics of the African Holocaust I highlighted the various ways in which Europeans enriched themselves through the exploitation of African people. I also point out that this exploitation has left African people around the world in a state of underdevelopment.

Reparations is not about merely giving a check to people of African descent. Reparations is about distributing to African people the wealth and resources which have been acquired by other people through centuries of unpaid labor on the part of African people. The United States not only stole the labor of the Africans who were enslaved in America, but it has also stolen the labor and resources of Africans throughout the world. As Huey Newton explained: “The United States, in order to correct its robbery of the world, will have to first return much of which it has stolen.”

We are not speaking about past injustices alone. There are things that have happened recently that African Americans deserve reparations for. My organization, the Federation if Afrikan Liberation, has called for reparations for the people of Flint for the water crisis there.

Reparations are also due to African Americans who live in federal housing projects such as Griffin Park where the living conditions are so poor it has caused health problems among the residents. As Roland Martin mentioned in the debate that I posted above, the end of slavery was not the end of the injustices which were inflicted against African Americans. Unemployment alone is not the issue. Onwuka argues: “ There’s no guarantee that another government check would improve the economic standing of black America overnight or even within a generation.” Reparations is not simply about improving the economic standing of African Americans. It’s about correcting centuries of abuse, exploitation, and neglect. It is about correcting historical wrongs. The United States awarded reparations to Japanese-Americans for the injustices that the Japanese endured during World War II and the Japanese were not subjected to anything near the level of abuse that African Americans have had to endure.

I argued in Faure Must Go that the money that the American government spends to finance oppressive African governments like the one in Togo should instead be spent on addressing the many issues that African Americans continue to deal with. There should be a discussion about the fact that African Americans are being taxed in order to help support American imperialism against African and Caribbean nations. Keep in mind that I come from a country where the United States and Britain intervened to undermine our democracy and put a dictatorship in power. This is one of the reasons why I also think the fight for reparations is an international issue because Western nations have always worked together when it comes to oppressing African people. The best example of this is the fact that the British and Germans worked together in East Africa to quell John Chilembwe’s rebellion. This was in 1915, during World War I. The two European colonial powers were able to put aside their differences for the sake maintaining European dominance of Africa. As Antenor Firmin explained:

Specifically, all White European nations naturally tend to unite in order to dominate the rest of the world and the other human races. They may argue about who is to dominate in Europe and which of the Slavic, Germanic, or Latin civilizations is to set the tone for the common evolution of the Caucasian race, but they unanimously recognize the right of Europe to impose its laws on other parts of the world.

There is a case for reparations from the United States on the part of Caribbean and African nations because of America’s role in those countries. Likewise, I would also argue that African Americans could ( and should) make a case for reparations against Britain, Spain, France, and the Netherlands because all of those European nations enslaved African people in their North American colonies.

Reparations has always been a Pan-African issue because those who have advocated for reparations in the past have recognized that this is a global issue. It would appear that as of late reparations has now become a divisive issue which seems to be pitting black immigrants against African Americans. Reparations has apparently also become a divisive issue even among African American advocates of reparations.


Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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