Guest columnist Thomas Dourmashkin: Reparations belong on the national level 


Published: 03-16-2023 7:18 PM

The issue of “reparations” is about as confusing as it can be. Many issues are raised but few really have bearing on the problem.

To be clear from the start, I am for reparations, but not on a local level. There is a debt, but attempts to pay it on a local level are bound to fail. It will immediately lead to various people saying, “I had nothing to do with slavery.” However, if one believes, as many say, that this country was built on the back of slavery, then we all benefit from the wealth that slaves provided to this country.

The wealth of cotton fields in the South, the prison crews who built roads and railroads, those who did the heavy labor for all sorts of construction projects, even the White House was built by slaves. The canals in the North were more than likely built by slaves. The industrial might of the North almost certainly was originally established by the descendants of slaves.

Everyone benefited except the slaves. Of course we are not allowed to look too closely, otherwise one might be called “woke.”

A tremendous amount of free work was supplied by slaves that contributed significantly to the wealth of this country, while at the same time, their society was systematically destroyed and they were paid nothing for their labor and denied the privileges of citizenship. Their children were stolen from their parents to sell to others. One of many godless indignities.

What happened next was horrific. Almost every right of citizenship conferred on them as a result of the Civil War was brutally revoked in many areas of the country. Their homes were redlined. If a successful Black community evolved, just as often there was a white mob to burn it down.

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Their schools did not provide an opportunity for advancement. Equal pay for equal work was nonexistent. If a leader appeared, there was a strong likelihood that he would be shot. People should keep in mind that no other immigrant community was systematically destroyed, as were the communities of Black people.

To all that claim they are not responsible because their ancestors had not even immigrated here during slavery: The answer is that they too benefit from the history of slavery. The truth is, had not slaves built the foundation for a country as free and strong as the U.S., our parents and grandparents would probably never have come here.

It is not right, now or in the past, to not pay one for their work and to blindly confine their offspring to generations of inescapable drudgery. As all that occurred was done on a race basis, the cure should be administered on the same basis.

Northampton does not have a significant history of slavery, which ended in 1783 in Massachusetts. The Historic Northampton Slavery Research Project provides useful data. Their review indicates there were only about 50 slaves mentioned in the records from about 1690 to 1767.

The Reparations Project claims that the “lack of affordable housing, access to transportation and educational inequality” are goals that should be addressed here in Northampton. But facts are not provided.

Northampton has a housing plan (several years old now) which includes data on every community. Northampton had an affordable housing stock of 11.4% at that time. That was the highest level of any town on the west side of the Connecticut River in Hampshire County. An extensive transportation system is available. Public housing is maintained. There is no police violence to speak of.

Should one rest on our collective laurels? No! Northampton, because it is a community of educated and devout individuals, should reach out to all people who have not been able to find success in life and try to lift them up. There are many ways in which we can help.

Reparations, however, which are due for a national crime, can only be granted on a national level. Reparations should not be done on the basis of whose ancestors were here at the time, but on the basis of race, which was the basis on which the crimes were committed. That is, restore community peace and prosperity in the best way possible to those who, as a race, have suffered under many generations of inequality. Give them the opportunity to achieve what every other immigrant group has achieved — a happy and successful life.

Do not try to take away from them because you do not receive an equal benefit. If that is important to you, first put yourself in their shoes.

Thomas Dourmashkin is a retired physician who lives in Florence.