The Case for Emotional Reparations
Any serious conversation about reparations must begin with a deep and broad appreciation of the dynamics of enslavement, Jim Crow, and colonization. It’s one thing to condemn the past as a “crime against humanity,” it’s something else to try to appreciate and then calculate the full extent of the damage.
The issue is much bigger than the trillions of dollars owed for the multi-generational financial damage inflicted upon people of African ancestry. It’s true that much of the wealth of Europe, the United States, Canada, and Latin America was built with the uncompensated labor of Black people. But even if that enormous debt were to be paid in full, there would still be a long way to go.
Our moral and legal claim for reparations for financial harm pales in comparison to our moral and legal claim for emotional reparations.
The term “emotional reparations” refers to what will be needed to repair completely the generation upon generation of emotional and psychological harm inflicted on our ancestors, on us, and on our children.
The emotional harm is the greatest harm of all.
To fully assess the emotional and psychological damage, we need to look beyond enslavement and colonization, and even racism. We need to focus on the source of the many manifestations of anti-Blackness. Full reparations must include repair of the damage done by the poisonous lie of White superiority and Black inferiority: the root cause of the devaluing of Black lives and the underdevelopment of Black communities. It must include the work of extinguishing the lie.
Every person of African ancestry born over the course of the last 600 years has come into a world that profoundly devalues our lives.
Starting in the 1400s, in order to justify the enslavement of Africans and the economic exploitation of Africa, Europeans devised a hierarchy of humanity with “White” people at the top and “Black” people at the bottom – often even outside of the circle of humanity. They created a poisonous ideology of White superiority and Black inferiority, a lie that dehumanized people of African ancestry and has come to permeate nearly every institution of global society and the global mind.
The advantages conferred by “Whiteness” and the disadvantages imposed by “Blackness” have been multiplying over the course of nearly six centuries.
For all of that time, people of African ancestry have been living our lives according to a narrative written for us by Europeans to serve their interests. The result has been racial trauma, a multi-generational, historical and continuing wound, that has profoundly undermined our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. In order to step out the narrative created for us by Europeans and into a narrative of our own making, we must go through a process of emotional repair.
The greatest damage done by the lie of Black inferiority can be seen in the way that it has undermined our ability, as a people, to fully love ourselves and each other. It undermines our ability to love what we see in the mirror, to walk with confidence in the world, and to think clearly. That is at the heart of the crime against our humanity.
We as people of African ancestry, notwithstanding the weight of the lie on our shoulders, have accomplished truly remarkable things. But these attainments have come at a heavy price: relentless racial stress and trauma and their physical and psychological effects.
So by all means let’s keep pressing for full reparations because they are due and owing. Let’s support H.R. 40 to create a commission to study the issue. But let’s not forget that the greatest harm that has been done to people of African ancestry is the harm to our psyche and our emotions. Our strongest moral and legal claim for reparations is our claim for all the resources, including financial, that it will take to make us whole emotionally— to restore our dignity and humanity as people of African ancestry and restore us to our rightful place in the human family. That is the greatest debt that is owed to us.
But whatever others may or may not do to meet their moral and legal obligations to repair the emotional damage inflicted upon our ancestors, us, and our children, the basic work of emotional reparations—the repairing of that emotional harm– depends upon us. That is the fundamental premise of the movement for emotional emancipation—the movement for freedom from the lie.
So even if those outside of our community fail to meet their obligations, even if they do nothing, we can—and will—follow our amazing ancestors, and make a way out of no way.
Our children — and our ancestors — are waiting.
By Enola G. Aird
CHN Founder and President
- National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America
- National African American Reparations Commission
- Caricom Reparations Commission
Flick photo:Rasande Tyskar