Whites Attend Reparations Rally in D.C. 2004

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Whites Attend Reparations Rally in D.C.
By Donna Lamb

As soon as the Millions for Reparations Rally in Washington DC was announced, members of CURE knew we wanted to go. When the day finally arrived, representatives of our organization came by bus from New York City, by train from Georgia and Tennessee, and by car from in and around Washington DC.

Founded in 1992 by Ida Hakim, CURE is comprised of white Americans who have a passionate conviction that during the enslavement--and afterwards--our people committed a horrendous crime against people of African descent, and that we owe reparations. We also know that slavery and the lingering effects of slavery are so far reaching that there will never be a way we can fully make up for it. As whites, we do not see ourselves as deciding in any way what justice would look like. We back all Black-led initiatives for reparations and work in our own white communities to win support for the movement.

WAITING FOR THE BUS

As she stood on West 14th Street in Manhattan in the dawning light waiting for the International Action Center's bus that would take us to Washington, CURE member and teacher Janice Cline spoke of a major reason she supports reparations. "As a teacher who's taught African American students since the 60s, I see every day the racial injustice in the schools and the lingering effects of slavery," she said.

Another CURE member, Carol Chehade, spoke both as a person this society identifies as white, and from her Arab American perspective. "I also have a passion about reparations," she said. "I admire African Americans so much for fighting for their ancestors who have not been respected as human beings, and we need to join them and support them. There is no reason for us not to stand up for these people whose labor built this country."

Chehade said too that as a person from the Middle East, she's very aware that people there are fighting for something that pre-dates Biblical times. Yet here, people try to say that slavery, which was so much more recent, was too long ago to be dealt with now.

AT THE RALLY

First to arrive were Ida Hakim, who had come from Atlanta, Georgia with her son Sham, and one of CURE's bravest warriors, Ferrell Winfree from Tennessee. It amazes me every time I hear Winfree talk about reparations, articulating views one doesn't expect to hear expressed in such a deep Southern accent. She is a Reparationist for a very simple reason: "because it is just, and all of us would hope, at some time in our lives, to be on the just side."

Hakim and Winfree unfurled CURE's banner which read, C.U.R.E. / White Americans Supporting Black Reparations / www.ReparationsTheCure.org. From the beginning, upon seeing the banner, numerous people of African descent came over to talk with us and find out more about us. We were each so grateful to have the opportunity to speak of our remorse about what our people did and why we love the reparations movement. As Ida Hakim told one person, "The reparations movement is creating a spiritual revolution. Our race of people, especially here in America, seems to have a very peculiar illness. Whites committed unspeakably savage and inhumane acts against Black people during slavery, and these acts were justified with a belief in white superiority. Reparations forces us to examine whether we still feel this way deep within, and it offers us an opportunity to right ourselves as we work to right the wrong."

White people who oppose reparations try to make it seem that if you support reparations to Blacks, you're against justice to all other people. How untrue that is could be seen as Ida Hakim said, "The reparations movement to me is a movement for justice, and I hope that it envelops the whole earth, beginning with justice for the descendants of enslaved Africans."

Dorothy Fardan, who lives about 40 miles outside Washington, drove in to be part of this important rally, as did Larry Yates, a Washingtonian who, for 30 years, has written and spoken out against racism. He said, "I support reparations because the demand is morally right. But I also believe it represents wise policy, and not just for African Americans. The struggle for reparations, as I understand it, is a struggle about the fundamental issues around the white supremacist system--wealth, power, and the basic rules by which resources are allocated. It seems to me that this is the appropriate field of struggle. If African American activists and leaders are prepared to go there, it would be hypocritical of me not to support them."

And he said of why he, a white man, welcomes the vision of living in a country that has paid reparations, "I believe that while I might be a little less wealthy, I would be much happier, safer, and less oppressed by unjust power in a 'post-reparations' society--one that had granted reparations to the descendants of those who have suffered chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and today's orgy of incarceration."

PRESS, MEDIA, DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Throughout the rally, CURE members were interviewed by the press and media, as well as for several documentaries. For me personally, one of the high points of the day was being broadcast live over WPHT radio in Philadelphia--even though the white host, Richard Sacco, and all the call-ins were hostile to the idea of reparations. It was an opportunity to rebut several of the standard instances of misinformation and wrong thinking that white people pull out to argue against reparations: that slavery happened so long ago we should just drop it; that whites fought and died in the Civil War so that settled any possible debt; that Blacks should use some personal initiative instead of asking for a handout; that reparations would be robbery of other poor people; that if Africans hadn't sold each other into slavery there wouldn't have been slavery in the first place, and more.

I had heard these arguments many times, and have always enjoyed bringing out the truth. In a nutshell, I told the listening audience that the aftermath of slavery is excruciatingly current now; that, as the draft riots showed, most Northerners saw themselves as fighting to save the Union, not to end slavery; that standing up for your rights and insisting you be given back what was stolen from you, which the demand for reparations is, is self-empowerment not begging; that reparations will actually help other poor people, and that whatever some Africans did, that doesn't reduce or excuse for a moment this country's crime.

Brent Buell, who shot much footage at the rally to use in his own documentary about reparations, was tremendously affected by the people of African descent he spoke with. "It was such a refutation of what some whites want to think--that if we ever started to say we're sorry for what we did, Blacks would just take us over completely. But here we are, the people whose ancestors perpetrated hundreds of years of atrocities against people of African descent, and yet when someone sees that you truly have regret for what took place, and that you are doing what you can to change the situation, the generosity of response is overwhelming."

And Buell expressed what we all felt as he said, I'm very happy to fight for reparations which is the one thing that could really heal this country, really change it from the inside out. There's nothing like having that good, clean feeling of being able to look into A Black person's eyes and say 'I don't know all of what I should do to make up for what we did; I'm glad to ask you what else I can do, and I'm sure here to support whatever you think should be done!'" Long after dark, we each returned to our homes tired yet very happy to have been a part of this historic rally.