On Colorlines, Barbara Ransby weighs in on Dr. Gates' reparations positions and takes exception to it. Below is an excerpt of her thoughts.
Gates essentially absolves Americans of the guilt, shame and most importantly, financial responsibility for the horrific legacy of slavery in the Americas. How does he do this—through a contrived narrative that indicts African elites. And they did collaborate in the trade. But this is no news flash. Every history graduate student covering the Atlantic World knows that people of African descent (like the elites from every other corner of the globe) waged war against one another, captured enemies in battle, and enslaved their weaker and more vulnerable neighbors. This is nothing unique to Africa. What is problematic about Gates’ essay is how he frames and skews this fact.
The frame is this. Black and white people in the United States should now “get over” slavery because as we all know, this was not a racial thing but an economic thing. Since both Blacks and whites were culpable, the call for reparations is indeed meaningless and bereft of any moral weight. If we take Gates’ argument to its full conclusion, we might claim that it is not America or Europe, but the long suffering, impoverished, and debt-ridden nations of Africa, that should really pay reparations to Black Americans. “The problem with reparations,” Gates proclaims, is “from whom they would be extracted.” This is a dilemma since Africans were neither “ignorant or innocent,” when it came to the slave trade.
At its worse, Gates’ argument resembles that of some Holocaust deniers who don’t deny that “bad things” happened to the Jews, but add that maybe the Nazi’s weren’t the only ones to blame. Maybe the Jews, in part, did it to themselves. Stories that over-emphasize the role of the Judenrats (Jewish Councils), for example, who were coerced into providing slave labor to the Nazis and organized Jews to be sent to the concentration camps, distorts the real culprits and criminals of the Holocaust, and in the final analysis, serves to blame the victims.