A Republican mayoral candidate, Paul Congemi told activists seeking reparations for African-Americans to “go back to Africa” if they didn’t like it in America. Congemi is running for the mayoral seat in St Petersburg and was speaking at a forum in the city. The racist diatribe was targeted towards the Uhuru movement and candidate Jesse Nevel.
At the St Petersburg Town Hall meeting, Paul Congemi impudently said, “Mr. Nevel, you and your people talk about reparations. The reparations that you talk about, Mr Nevel, your people already got your reparations. Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama.”
He was not done. He added, “My advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport. Go back to Africa. Go back to Africa. Go back.”
The Washington Post says Nevel’s campaign has been backed by the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, a group which has been pushing for reparations so as to mend racial inequality. It also says, “Nevel has also highlighted other racially tinged issues, including gentrification and police violence against minorities.”
On his campaign website, Nevel says, “St Petersburg cannot call itself a progressive city unless economic injustice for the black community is addressed and resolved.”
Reparations for slavery
In September 2016, a United Nations panel declared that the United States of America owes reparations to African-Americans for “the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality.” An estimate by a University of Connecticut researcher placed a rough estimate of the cost of slave labour in the region of $5.9 trillion to $14.2 trillion. He compared existing slavery reparations estimates based on slave prices as expected future income to alternative estimates on the number of unremunerated work hours multiplied with historical free labour market wages. He however, ignored the period before American independence choosing to zone in on forced labour and also not calculating the costs of lynchings and other forms of oppression. Craemer said reparations did not bring anybody back that is dead nor did it begin to repair for the damages incurred but it is a symbolic gesture going beyond a bare apology.
A brief history lesson
Writing for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to summarise the ills of America and how it is built on the exploitation of blacks. The article reads, “To briefly restate it, from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and governments-federal, state, and local-repeatedly plundered black communities. Their methods included everything from land-theft, to redlining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labour, to lynching, to enslavement, to the vending of children. So large was this plunder that America, as we know it today, is simply unimaginable without it. Its great universities were founded on it. Its early economy was built by it. Its suburbs were financed by it. Its deadliest war was the result of it.”
It is such facts that men like Congemi refuse to appreciate yet they cannot be avoided. Financial gains were derived from the oppression of blacks and surely financial reparations can show the seriousness of the modern world to right the wrongs of the past. Demanding reparations is demanding absolute acknowledgement. It is not laziness or an attempt to divide a people. Coates then rightly adds, “One cannot purport to plunder a people, incur a moral and monetary debt, propose to never pay it back, and then claim to be seriously engaging in the fight against white supremacy.”
The Capitalist in Congemi does not find reparations appealing but he does not realise that most things he holds dear in the United States were built on foundations of the Negro’s pain and suffering. It is the Negro whose humanity was sacrificed on the altar of capitalism. Surely a piece of the cake is not too much to ask for when you are the baker. What needs to be noted is the simple fact that even that money will never fully restore all the Negro lost at the pleasure of the white man.