“The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks” Randall Robinson

The DebtThe most prevalent and evading topic to enter the minds of Black intellectuals, working poor, community leaders, and youth is the idea of reparation for African Americans.  Randall Robinson, in his 2000 literary “The Debt”, defined the topic in concrete and passionate terms to bring the issue to the conscious mind of African Americans.  If the conversation was on the platform of law professors or political scholars, I argue that Robinson brought the conversation out the confines of academia into the hearts of the everyday Black public.  His audience was the average public, with a specific emphasis on Black minds.  He wrote it from a personal subjective point of view; however, with the sharpness of the best analyst and scholar.

The book is centered around America’s unjust past through out the slave institution and its defining repercussion in the present that has influenced domestic and international policy, politics, economy and financial security, culture, and education.  Whether this be termed “reparation”, “restitution” or addressing a gap, he argues the topic from many different angles carefully sculpting a picture of the scheme of African American life and its direct connection to America’s not to distant past.  Robinson’s examines Black leadership, our political endeavors, and the ever-present “smoke” of racism that permeate every facet of American life.  To offer a glimpse, I will give a brief shadow of my interpretation of the main ideas of each chapter.

Reclaiming Our Ancient Self: Chapter 1 is a historical quasi-reflection of Ancient Africa through out time.  It attempts to reestablish the contributions of Ancient African contributions to the building of human civilization through out time; from Ancient Kemet the pillage and assault on West African nations from foreign invaders.

Taking Account of the Long-Term Psychic Damage: Chapter 2 is a subjective reflection of the affect that distortion in history has placed upon African Americans.  He takes into account what could be an experience of a 12 year-old Black boy and his mentor touring the Memorial Mall.  Robinson expounds upon the historical deliberate attempts upon eradicating Africa’s past, extracting the long memorializing of monuments, parks, symbolic statues, and stories of the founding fathers and patrons of this country.

Race to Class to Race: Chapter 3 I argue offers a heavy theme to the argument of the entire book.  Robinson introduces a concept called “condition expectation”, the idea that society tends to set forth expectations about a group of people, determining their economic, political, and social destiny.  He creates the argument by reliving a story of Anna, a single mother of two children who has to work two jobs in order to survive.  He brings the argument full circle by bridging the idea that American slavery, carved by racism, created the economic conditions which Anna is grappling against in the modern.  “Lines, begun parallel left along can never touch”.

Self-Hatred: In chapter 4 Robinson explores the reality of self-degradation, self-abnegation, and eventual self-denial and self-ignorance about the psychic affect of society’s Eurocentric ideas in politics, economy, education, and history.  He argues that this self-hatred, a by product of white supremacy ideas, leads to mis-contempt and self inflicted anger.  Robinson demonstrates that racism isn’t predicated on black inferiority only, but depended upon the subjugation of all non-Europeans people, articulating the self-complacency of our culture towards Native American icons on sports teams (Cleveland Indians).

Self-Respect: Chapter 5 becomes the central critique toward Africans Americans lack of appreciation ofBill Clinton Mylerie Evars Williams themselves and their concerns.  Robinson creates discussion on the overwhelming support for Bill Clinton’s presidency and the political sway toward Democratic support, though he claims unwarranted.  Within the chapter, the author elaborates how we have accepted a comfort in symbolic political actions and issues.  He argues that their needs to be a “black” renaissance type movement to rekindle the marginalized discussion of African Americans who sought options beyond the 1960’s integration movement.   Robinson sites that our lack of self-respect in our political endeavors can be addressed with a “black” issues card that may become common place for Africans Americans when addressing political figures.

Race, Money, and Foreign Policy: The Cuban Example: Chapter 6 is observation and subjective analysis of Robinson’s experience in Cuba.  Observation of America’s  white supremacy ideology is compared to the ideological structure of current Cuba. The author also discusses the 40 year embargo upon Cuba by the United States and the economic impact.  Race relations has more hope of being addressed in Cuba than his projected analysis of America.  After connecting with Cuban officials, he relates the political affairs of America, decisions of American officials (Al Gore), and its social aftermath not only against the American public, but the black Afro-Cubans of the country.

The Cost of Ignoring the Race Problem in America: In chapter 7, Robinson confronts Americas’s inability to acknowledge racism.  He argues that racism permeates a large portion of politicians; though they are representative of the social blindness that the average public cannot see about race.  Robinson metaphorically connects racism to smoke, detrimentally it is fatal yet unseen.  The chapter blends and fuses many examples of social issues pertaining to racism and highlights the self-interest of politicians persuasion from private funding.  He concludes with America’s unwillingness to grip its distorted historical pass as it relates, citing that many African American scholars have attempted educate the masses about the African past confront white ideology.

And In The Black World: Robinson lives the confine of Black America and begins to analyze America’s imperialistic endeavors over Africa and the Caribbean.  He discuss in depth the entrenching economic and political exploit Europe and now the West has established over the past 300 years.  He parallels the atrocities of slavery to modern international relationships between the nations.  Robinson also raises the issue about Clinton’s deliberate support for the Cincinnati based banana company Chiquita.  He also examines Black leadership’s support for Clinton despite the visible trends in policy that isn’t favorable towards Black’s interest.  The main point Robinson illustrates is the power and wealth of this nation has always been predicated upon African (Africa, Caribbean, Black) exploitation.

Thoughts About Restitution: Robinson makes the case that a debt is owed to African Americans from the inhumane economically profitable institutions of slavery, Jim segregation, and modern discrimination.  A makes his argument by analyzing a 1915 case where Cornelius Jones filed a lawsuit against the United States Treasure for the economic benefits from taxing cotton in the century before.  He compares the Jewish Holocaust to the African maafa and compares Germany restitution actions toward all Jews and Israel.  Restitution becomes the term applied to a reparation direction from the American government to rectify past wrong and to address race relations and socioeconomic gaps.

Toward the Black Renaissance: Chapter drives the point of the book home, specific charges that would address the reYoung Sister in Schoolrestitution case to bring about reparation actions toward African Americans.  He begins with a reflection upon his daughter’s friend who academically wasn’t achieving.  Robinson draws the connection between his daughter’s friend and the long history of injustices inflicted upon the Black poor in this country.  Continuing, he quotes a slave narrative, criticizes the educational system, and brings about partial ideas to began to remedy the historical crime.  He elicits the organizing and unifying power of all African Americans to create a political presence in Washington to put the issue in face of power holders and leverage attention needed to bring about reparations for Africans and their enslaved descendants.

Robinson’s ability to scalpel many aspects of Black America’s candid reality has to be marveled in every chapter of the research.  I recommend this book specifically, however, for three chapters; 3, 9, and 10.  While each chapter is indispensable in framing the entire argument, these three chapters have both the witting subjective and analytic appeal that will capture anyone.  Chapter 3 framed the experience of a single Black mother from the lens of generational development.  His “conditioned expectation” theory can be applied to many aspects of he Black community in order to interpret the historical impact.  Chapter 9 begins his assault, in deliberate terms, to draw the connection of America’s current policies, political will, and racist agenda to the over-shadowing case of a debt toward African Americans.  He clearly illustrates that a debt is owed despite America’s current inability to talk about its historical injustices.  Robinson maintains that reparation is not question of a America’s conceding toward correcting the wrong, but rather African Americans will decide to make the case. Chapter 10 offered a brainstorming session provoking ideas of what “restitution” may formalize institutionally.  Robinson carefully tie the link between the need and issues of the Black community and its historical directive to offer direct address of a reparation action.  It is with these three chapters that the book offers its strongest depiction and case for restitution while capturing an audience with sweeping and convincing examples.

Admirably, I couldn’t offer any critic of the writing.  I do recognize that I say this will a moderate level of bias.  I am convinced that the current plight of African Americans in America’s political-economy can and will not be remedied until the United States government issues a firm investigation into its white-ideological past.  The dizzy idea of striving to close the achievement gap, home ownership and housing, economic disparity between white and black income, health issues, black incarceration, racist assaults from law enforcement etc. can not be fully mended without knowing the historical backdrop to its current face.

Similarly to chapter 2 (Sankofa) in “Handbook of African American Psychology”, the theme as it applies to Black folks is the importance of looking back beyond slavery to our roots.  Robinson begins his argument with this very concept in “Reclaiming Our Ancient Self”.  In the chapter “Taking Account for the Long-term Psychic Damage”, the author elaborates on the psychological cost upon African Americans as a result from white-supremacy in American social construction.  The affect, Robinson argues, has created a deep disconnection from ethnic identity, denial of African roots, and indifference about ones on history, and an attempted identification toward European nationalities from African Americans.  This parallels the handbook in chapter 17 “Racial Identity and Peer Pressures in Gifted Black Children”.  In this chapter research explores the psychological impact racism has had on youth’s development with defining their academic talents and ethnic belonging.  The handbook offers and in-depth discussion about racism in chapter 12, “Racism, White Supremacy, and Resistance”, which I argue complements Robinson’s discussion in chapter 7, “The Cost of Ignoring the Race Problem”.  In this chapter the author clearly demonstrates the relationship between white-supremacy ideology and power.  The sweeping notion of white preference over any other group that pervades the policy decision of politicians becomes the one of the clearest examples he put forth to articulate his position of racism in the modern.

In closing, “The Debt” is a must read for any person who has a desire to understand the modern from an historical lens.  Further, the research will bring anyone update to the about current issues, politically and/or socially, affecting African Americans.  I would encourage one to read this writing with deep reflection upon one’s own ethnic background in mind.  Retrospectively, this will help the reader connect our current experience with our great great grand-parents experience.  Its from this perspective that we understand the generation wealth/poverty and legacy inherited from our predecessors.  This perspective will also help to connect our own passions to the plight of our fellow Americans, specifically African Americans.  Randall Robinson offers a manual to addressing a deep rooted issues of poverty, race relations, and ethnic health with this book.  It is my hope that his written legacy becomes the conversation of our youth, in affect to finally create that national front to restore a victimize people to its rightful health.

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