Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Reparations should be on agenda this Black History Month

But what most students, and frankly most Americans, don’t know is that critical black history developments have happened in the past six months. As we look into our history and highlight the contributions of black Americans this February, this will introduce a new and challenging discourse.

On Sept. 8, the United Nations drafted a document that declared the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism “crimes against humanity.”

This news may seem rather insignificant to many of you. But don’t be fooled. This long overdue statement came only after highly charged rhetoric and vocal protest from activists who gathered in Durban, South Africa, for the historic World Conference Against Racism, which I attended.

The week long gathering in Dukban attracted hundreds of delegates from all over the world bound by similar struggles against racism, sexism and xenophobia. Dynamic figures such as Winnie Mandela, Angela Davis and Kofi Annan, and representatives from all over the world proclaimed their intentions to fight against structures that have perpetuated racism, economic exploitation and oppression.

Despite biased media coverage in the United States, the international community, especially many from the African, Caribbean and Muslim worlds, gathered in a peaceful demonstration to address and redress the persisting legacies of white supremacy wherever they may be.

Many may remember the blatantly offensive and dismissive participation of the U.S. government at this monumental conference, but few are aware that specific attention given to the slave trade and colonialism committed by European countries were among the U.S. government’s biggest reasons for boycotting this event. Despite all of the persistent, and persisting, attempts to sabotage the conference’s goals, slavery was clearly defined as an unquestionable crime against humanity for which necessary action should be taken.

So what does all this mean, you ask?

Well, frankly speaking, the entire world has finally called the United States out of its pompous denial of its atrocities and human rights violations, and has recognized that one of the worst acts of human subjugation and economic exploitation in history occurred on this very soil. Its crippling legacy of racism still reigns today.

But slavery, unlike almost all other internationally recognized atrocities, has yet to receive a targeted push for serious repair and redress. Not even so much as a public apology has come from the U.S. government for its participation in 254 years of human enslavement and forced labor of millions of blacks. Community activists, civil rights leaders, lawyers and academics are looking into more seriously the issue of reparations for those horrible deeds.

But why should they grapple with this issue alone? I believe that as Northwestern nears the conclusion of this month of black celebration, we should all tackle the enormity of the reparations issue. In fact, it is essential in effectively celebrating black history that we have challenging discourse on campus that will urge us to look critically into U.S. history.

This month is full of programs and events on campus and in the city that should challenge us all on issues related to black history. I invite students who are ready for respectful, eye-opening and critical dialogue to attend many of these events.

Highlights have included the African-American Theatre Ensemble hosting its annual “CafeNoir” on Feb. 16, where art, poetry, dance and music expressed thoughts and sentiments about racism and reparations. South-African native Bishop Desmond Tutu spoke at the St. Sabina Church in Chicago about confronting racism.

So this Black History Month, let’s not only celebrate in our traditional manner, let’s also be brave enough to embrace new dialogues that incorporate the seriousness of the U.N.’s monumental declaration.

Terrenda White is an Education senior. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Reparations should be on agenda this Black History Month