In the United States, the debate persists on compensations to the descendants of slaves


In April, a special vote was held on the campus of Georgetown's famous Washington University. Students had to decide whether or not they agreed to increase their tuition bill by $ 27.20 per session.

The money collected would go to the descendants of the slaves who belonged to the institution. In the 19th century, to solve important financial problems, the Jesuits who owned the university sold 272 slaves to plantations in the south.

The campus of Georgetown University, Washington.

The campus of Georgetown University, Washington.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

The rise in tuition fees, which was not universally accepted on campus, was adopted at 66%. Details, such as the form these compensations will take, are yet to be determined.

Short-Columbian Mélisandre, a woman from Louisiana who recently returned to school, argued for higher tuition fees.

Melisandre Short-Columbus, a student in Georgetown, is a descendant of slaves who belonged to the university.

Melisandre Short-Columbus, a student in Georgetown, is a descendant of slaves who belonged to the university.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

For her, the debate was of particular importance: Mélisandre Short-Colomb is descended from slaves who worked on the Georgetown campus.

Maybe these students are not changing the world, but they can change the culture on campus by investing in the future.

Melisandre Short-Colomb

A debate that persists

This decision by Georgetown students is part of a national debate about offspring compensation for slaves, which has been going on for decades.

At the end of the American Civil War, the authorities intended to offer land to emancipated slaves. This plan, approved by President Abraham Lincoln, was canceled by his White House successor, Andrew Johnson. Since then, no solution has been found.

In mid-June, for the first time in a decade, Congress held hearings on a bill to study the issue.

Several people trying to find a place in the hall where congressional hearings on offspring of slaves took place.

Congressional hearings on offspring offspring were very popular.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

Sign of the interest aroused by the issue, hundreds of people, including a large proportion of African Americans, had made an appointment in the capital, not all of them to enter the room where stood the Commission.

Our blood, our sweat and our tears are what built this country. To deny it would be to hide one's head in the sand.

Bobbie Coales, a citizen for compensation

The debate raises a lot of questions. How to determine the citizens eligible for compensation among the tens of millions of African-Americans … and above all, how much would be necessary?

Various studies on the subject evoke scenarios ranging from a few hundred billion to trillions of dollars. The bill presented to Congress does not mention a precise figure. The Democratic candidate who sponsors the text wants above all that the subject be the subject of discussion and exchange.

Ta-Nehisi Coates before a congressional committee.

Ta-Nehisi Coates before a congressional committee.

Photo: Associated Press / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

For some advocates of the concept of reparation, like the author Ta-Nehisi Coates, one must take into consideration the consequences of the legacy of slavery.

It highlights among other things the problems of poverty. In the United States, in 2016, an African-American family had a median wealth of $ 17,600, which was about ten times less than that of a white family.

Ta-Nehisi Coates also focuses on issues related to the imprisonment of African Americans. The shame in this land of freedom is to have the largest prison population on the planet, and slave descendants to be the largest proportionhe told the representatives.

But for some, like columnist Coleman Hughes, who also spoke to US officials, financial compensation will not solve these social problems.

If we paid for repairs, we would only divide the country further. This would make it more difficult to build a coalition that is needed to deal with the problems blacks are facing today.

Coleman Hughes, columnist

Is there a political appetite?

In Washington, the political class is divided on the issue.

<q data-attributes = "{" lang ": {" value ":" fr "," label ":" French "}," value ": {" html ":" I do not think compensations for what happened there are 150years and for whom no one is responsible today is a good idea "," text ":" I do not think compensation for what happened 150 years ago and for which nobody is today hui responsible is a good idea "}}" lang = "en">I do not think compensation for what happened 150 years ago and for which nobody is responsible today is a good idea, for example, said Republican House Leader Mitch McConnell.

In the Democratic camp, the idea is making its way into the broad pool of candidates for nomination for the presidential election. Many of them, including Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, support the idea of ​​compensation in varying degrees.

Ana-Lucia Araujo, a historian at Howard University in Washington, notes that no other country that has used slavery, whether in Brazil or the Caribbean, has compensated descendants.

The great positive aspect of all this is to bring the debate into public space.

Ana-Lucia Araujo, historian

The professor notes, however, that the debate around compensation makes it possible to bring to the fore the history of slavery and its legacy for the African-American population.

She also notes that in the absence of a national system, some institutions may set up their own compensation mechanism, as students in Georgetown have demonstrated.

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