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Belinda's Petition a Perfect Primer on the Subject of Reparations

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The timing of my reading Belinda's Petition: A Concise History of Reparations For The Transatlantic Slave Trade by Dr. Raymond A. Winbush (2009) coinciding with Black History Month was completely random, but obviously fitting. Back in December 2009, I shot an interview with Dr. Winbush for my documentary film. Winbush, who is the Director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, was very kind to give me a copy of his book; I immediately bumped to the top of my "To Read" list -- which is a very long list!

Only 65 pages in length, Belinda's Petition is exactly what it describes itself to be: a concise overview of the long history of struggle to repair the damage wrought by the transatlantic slave trade, making it a perfect primer on the subject of reparations. Winbush begins with the story of the first formal record of a petition for reparations made in the US, which was made in Massachusetts in 1783 by an ex-slave known only as "Belinda." Belinda, who was about 70 years old at this time and had been kidnapped from her home in Ghana before her 12th birthday, petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for years of unpaid labor for her former slave master. Belinda argued that Isaac Royall -- who had since escaped to Nova Scotia -- profited from her labor, which entitled her to lay claim to his estate. She won and was granted £15,12 shillings per year, payable from the Royall family estate.

From there, Belinda's Petition moves through the different epochs of the reparations movement from the early 15th Century to the present. By correcting misconceptions and exposing myths about the reparations movement, Winbush shines a light on what is arguably the greatest crime against humanity to date.

This history is related without hyperbole and does not attempt to put a soft edge on it. Belinda's Petition is also a crash course on the stories of the revolt aboard the Amistad, the liberation of Haiti, Callie House, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Queen Mother Audley Moore, James Foreman, The Black Manifesto, and still much more.

I wanted to make a point about my reading this history through a particularly white lens; I think there is still some unpacking for me to do before I am able to consciously express what that point would be. I was a supporter of reparations before I read the book. Now, I'm an even better informed supporter. Suffice it to say, this is an important book that everyone should read, including White people. Or perhaps I should say, especially White people. Particularly those who lack a basic understanding of the transatlantic slave trade, its practice and legacies, and what the fight for reparations is really about. As Winbush clearly puts it, the reparations movement isn't about victimization, it's about restorative justice.

The book ends with an appendix titled Ten Practical Things You Can Do for the Reparations Struggle, which I will simplify here:
  1. Read about the history of the reparations struggle
  2. Join an organization that supports reparations
  3. Ask all politicians running for office if they support reparations for the transatlantic slave trade
  4. Organize a study group in your community on reparation
  5. Keep up with current developments in the reparations struggle
  6. Lobby for local "slavery disclosure resolutions" that will aid in the development of lawsuits against governments and corporations that profited from the transatlantic slave trade
  7. Understand the international dimensions of the reparations struggle (which is not confined to the USA)
  8. Have viewing parties of films that document the current exploitation of Africans in the world (films such as Life and Debt and Darwin's Nightmare)
  9. Immediately write a rebutal to any article that opposes reparations
  10. Tell others about those nine
For my part regarding the tenth, I submit to you this article and review. To continue with the first step, I am already following-up Belinda's Petition with the book Should America Pay?: Slavery and the raging Debate on Slavery (2003) to which Winbush contributed and edited. And although I am still early into it, I can confidently tell you now that Should America Pay? is also one to be considered required reading for those interested in social and racial justice.

Cross-posted from Race-Talk.