Policy Inequality

The Holocaust isn’t the only genocide that Germany needs to be held accountable for

When you think of a German-led genocide in the twentieth century, the Holocaust may come to mind. In all its ugliness, the Holocaust constituted a series of inhumane living conditions, brutal medical experiments, and other truly, truly horrific crimes against humanity. However, this also fits the description of the Herero-Nama genocide, which took place in German-occupied South-West Africa, now Namibia.

Unlike Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, the Herero and Nama people have not received reparations from Germany. You may have never heard of it, either. I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago either. This lack of recognition and education about the Herero-Nama genocide, unfortunately, seems commonplace in the West.

So, what happened? In January 1904, the Herero and Nama people attempted to lead a rebellion to overthrow German colonial powers twenty years after German colonized the region. Unfortunately, their attempts to gain sovereignty over their land were unsuccessful, and the Germans responded with intense violence. Thousands of Herero and Nama people were subsequently taken from their homes and shot. Those who survived this initial slaughter escaped into the Namib Desert, where German forces guarded its borders and trapped survivors. This genocide “resulted in the annihilation of approximately 80 [percent] of the Herero people and 50 [percent] of the Nama people.”

The German government has since apologized for the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people, but descendants of survivors have yet to see any financial compensation or the return of land.

The colonial legacy left behind by the German colonizers in Namibia is blatant. German is still recognized as a national language. White Namibians, the descendants of German colonizers, control 90 percent of the country’s land. Efforts by black Namibians to gain control of land where their ancestors lived before nearly being wiped out under German colonial rule have been unfruitful.

The experiences of the Herero and Nama people should be enough to receive reparations, including receiving control back over their ancestors’ land. The 1985 United Nations Whitaker Report on Genocide established that the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people at the beginning of the twentieth century qualifies as genocide, just like the Holocaust. Why, 40 years later, hasn’t Germany taken measures to adequately address this genocide when they often take responsibility for their crimes during World War II? 

Germany has given several lackluster excuses for its inability to provide reparations. The German government argued that because they had led development projects in and gave aid to Namibia, they would not need to give reparations.  The real reason, though, maybe attributed to implicit racial biases.  Predominantly white German leaders may have been quick to give reparations and apologize for the brutality of the Nazis because it affected white people living in Europe and conditionally white Jews. When it comes to violence on black and brown bodies in Africa, however, it’s a different story.

Herero and Nama people have continued to fight to receive reparations from Germany despite Germany’s reluctance to even entertain giving reparations. In 2018, a U.S. court heard the case from descendants of survivors of this genocide. They sued Germany for financial “reparations akin to those Jewish Holocaust survivors received after World War II” and for direct negotiations with Germany on how to figure out how to “reckon with colonial-era atrocities.” Unfortunately, in March 2019, a  U.S. judge dismissed this lawsuit, saying that “Germany was immune from claims by descendants of the Herero and Nama tribes.” On May 7 2019, however, lawyers representing the Herero and Nama Plaintiffs in New York filed a motion U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to have their case reviewed again.

Despite this setback, the Herero and Nama people have scored some victories in their quest to receive justice. In 2018, Germany returned the skulls of Herero-Nama genocide victims, (which were initially sent to Germany to conduct research on the racial superiority of white Europeans) back to Namibia. This success shows that the activism by Herero and Nama people to receive justice for genocide victims and survivors is working.

The Herero and Nama people deserve reparations for the genocide that their ancestors survived. Germany’s extremely delayed recognition of returning the skulls of genocide victims and even recognizing this genocide, alongside their refusal to give reparations, shows that we cannot expect them to reckon with the Herero-Nama genocide for the sake of doing the right thing. The activism that the descendants of survivors of the Herero-Nama genocide have done in an attempt to receive reparations deserves more international recognition and should not be in vain.

Note: A lawyer representing the Herero and Nama people in New York reached out to the writer after the publication of this article with information about the U.S. Court of Appeals filing. 

Race Inequality

The ultimate guide for not having the cops called on you for being Black

Technically speaking, the police do not exist for one’s benefit of harassing a group of people.

But in the world of concerned white civilians and neighborhood watches, which are arguably interchangeable, we have been inundated with stories of Black people having the police called on them for sleeping in their dorm common rooms, asking for plastic cutlery, and barbecuing in a public park. It’s as if an agency whose roots can be traced to preserving slavery can be weaponized for white convenience, but also the Caucacity to do so with impunity.

Though to be fair, it’s not their fault we’re not white. Have you tried to discern who is the threat: a Black child with a pellet gun from a white teen who brings an assault rifle to a school? Or a Black girl hanging poolside in a bathing suit. The onus is on us to be less threatening. So in the spirit of black preservation, here are some tips on avoiding white people calling the cops on you.

1. Hire a skywriter so you never show up unannounced

Body camera footage of two women being pulled over my police.
Via AP

Understand that seeing a minority in a white space can be jarring. To put everyone at ease, keep a skywriter on retainer, so they can introduce you whenever you’re staying in an Airbnb or taking a campus tour.  Remember your existence is to entertain. And who doesn’t love seeing a small plane write “Jesus” in the clouds, followed by your criminal history?

2. Align yourself with the “Justice for Harambe” crowd

People protest the death of a gorilla at his vigil outside the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Photo by John Minchillo

Casually mention the injustice and savage murders of Cecil the Lion and Harambe. They’ll forget to report that you were trespassing on your property by going into a diatribe on why the kid’s neglectful parents should have gotten shot instead of Harambe.

3. Wear closed-toe shoes to the park

Women calls police on black people barbecuing.

If you’re a Black man 40-years-old and up, consider trading in your fisherman sandals with a closed toe shoe, ideally something with velcro in all designated grill zones in city parks. This is more so for your safety as wearing open toe shoes does create a pending threat when worn while barbecuing.

In other news, the city of Philadelphia will honor the brave men who celebratory burned, flipped, and committed other forms of self-expression towards cars after the Eagles victory by giving them the key to the city.

4. Ditch the cutlery and start eating with your hands

Black woman wrestled on the ground by two cops.
Via Canita Adams/ Storyful

Get rid of your cutlery in exchange for eating with your hands.

White people will follow suit thinking it’s some strange, new trend that you created despite it being the norm across the world. Plus, opting out of plastic cutlery will help lower your carbon footing, which will win you points with your white, bohemian neighbor with dreadlocks who was five minutes away from reporting you to the homeowners’ association for leaving your garbage can out the day after pick up.

5. Give them permission to say all the words in M.A.A.D City

Five black posing for a picture.
Via Myneca Ojo / Facebook

What white people won’t admit is that they really want to say the n-word in rap songs. Kendrick Lamar’s M.A.A.D City helped them through a rough patch last month, in which they witness a group of Black golfers using a putter throughout the course, instead of switching between clubs for short and long distance shots. The situation still has them shaken.

Besides aren’t we just oppressing ourselves by not letting them say it? For it was Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “no one is free until we are all free to say it.

6. Use the “all Black people know each other” excuse to your benefit

Black teen interviewed by off screen reporter.

Unlike white people, who share the one Black friend, all Black and Brown people know each other.

Use this to your advantage, by suggesting that “Tyrone had wanted you two to meet.” Brad will be too busy trying to remember this nonexistent friend that he won’t notice that cashier has finished ringing up that jacket he had accused you of stealing.

7. Just don’t be black

White woman posing as a black woman.
Via KXLY News

I would suggest donning white face, but that’s reverse racism.

Race The World Inequality

Priority admission will never repair the suffering Georgetown University slaves went through

I come from the great state of Texas that has literally erased the history and the true brutality of slavery from our schools and textbooks. The reality of the cruelty of chattel slavery in America is often displayed as a sugar coated fantasy that is over simplified, dishonest, and unrealistic.

Slavery is often a topic brushed off and ignored for something more favorable and modern. Often, concern from Black Americans about how the institution of slavery impacted our current experiences are often met with demands telling descendants to, “get over it, slavery was a long time ago.”

Until this day, Black Americans haven’t received a dime for centuries of brutality and unpaid labor that is responsible for the majority of today’s economy. Even the promise of forty acres and a mule was quickly taken away after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Black Americans had to pick themselves up from bootstraps they never had in the first place. However, even with my ancestors’ newfound freedom, every move made to establish independence and equality was met with hate and violence that left us years behind in trying to catch up to our White counterparts.

On September 1st, 2016, Georgetown University president John J. Degrecia gave a public apology to students and faculty about its hand in slavery. The move was made in response to students’ cries and demands that the public institution acknowledge and address its dark past.

The university has now promised to step forward with promises of renaming campus buildings after some of the slaves, a non-profit called the Georgetown Memory Project, a memorial, removing the names of the presidents over the sale of slaves from buildings, and the creation of an institute for students to study the America’s history of chattel slavery.

However, the biggest offer the media’s been buzzing about is giving descendants of Georgetown University “priority admission,” the same privilege given to family of alumni.

The promises altogether seem very reassuring. I also commend the university’s apology, as well as its establishment of educational implementation and institutional changes, to recognize not only its part, but the lives of Georgetown slaves. The fact is that Georgetown University wouldn’t have made it without selling the slaves of Georgetown to keep the University going. It made 115,000 dollars from auctioning off slaves, which is the equivalent to just about 3.3 million dollars today.

The question is, do the descendants of Georgetown slaves deserve more? Some have even argued that the privilege of priority admission shouldn’t even be given. Yet the descendants of Georgetown slaves deserve much more than a couple of extra points on a first class admission ticket to college.

Especially if it may be no use to the many generations that aren’t far removed from slavery. Keep in mind, slavery wasn’t even that long ago and carried on past 1865, especially in Southern states. My great-great-granddaddy is still alive until this day, and is the grandson of a slave. My great-great-great-granddaddy Tutu died in the year I was born, 1993. My three times great granddaddy was born in 1875, and he couldn’t read or write, but he knew the Bible front and back.

To make it worse, slaves were often separated from their families. They were often given their new owner’s last name once reaching a new plantation. The erasure of one’s former identity was done purposely so families couldn’t reconnect to their past. This just may be the case for the many descendants of Georgetown slaves. With a lack of documentation, proof, or maybe even a story passed down, not everyone will have the privilege to proclaim that they are a descendants of Georgetown slaves.

Georgetown slaves were taken from the state of Maryland and sold to the state of Louisiana. Although the university itself has created a non-profit that will work to find the descendants, it makes me wonder how long this would take and whether they would be successful with the amount of resources they have. The number of slaves sold in 1838 was 272, which means you have a long line of descendants standing behind them.

The truth of the matter is that Georgetown University and many other institutions and corporations would not be in existence today, if it weren’t for the labor of enslaved African Americans. The university profited off of the slave trade, and therefore descendants and generations deserve much more than “priority admission.”

The University’s investment page states that “at the end of the most recent fiscal year, ending June 30, 2015, Georgetown’s pooled endowment was approximately $1.5 billion.” It’s time to realize that the institution of slavery is the backbone and life source for the American economy today.

It’s great that Georgetown chooses to acknowledge their role and educate students on the topic. However, the refusal of reparations or any type of compensation is the exact reason why African Americans haven’t got a strong establishment in this country till this day.

Yeah, we all know slavery is over and it isn’t current students’, faculty’s, or white America’s fault. However, the institution itself has gained much more because of the slave trade, and that is enough of a reason to hold the institution responsible.

History Race The World Policy Inequality

Why do Holocaust survivors get reparations, but Black Americans are told to forget their history?

In October 2015, then-Vice President Biden awarded $12 million in “assistance” to Holocaust survivors. The money was given to help the “quarter of whom live below the poverty line.”

This gift was a continuation of Germany’s efforts to pay Jews reparations from 1952. Then, Germany awarded over a billion dollars primarily to the government of Israel, which had resettled many Holocaust survivors. This money genuinely helped a community who had lost everything – family members, friends, homes, clothing, jewelry, their livelihoods. It helped people who had lost everything and had to rebuild with nothing.

Reparations helped these people put their lives back on track. Much of the original reparations payment in 1952 went to building Israeli infrastructure, and look at how powerful and strong Israel is today.

Reparations helped these people put their lives back on track.

As a Jew, when I read about the Holocaust, it boiled my blood and made me sick. I remember as a young girl, I was obsessed with Hitler and World War II and learning about every circumstance that led to this enormous event in the history of my people. On my father’s side, we lost many family members to the Holocaust. It wasn’t just reading about history.

It was personal.

When I learned about the reparations that were paid by the German government, I was pleased. No, it did not bring back my lost family members, and it didn’t reverse the blow dealt to thousands of my people, but it was comforting to know that at least survivors weren’t being sent home empty-handed. At the very least, it ensured a roof over the heads of the victims.

No, it wasn’t everything, but it was at least something.

Yet I will never forget the night when I was driving home with a family friend and we were arguing about many things: the election, the state of our economy, etc. We had been clashing over our opposing socio-political views for some time, but she really shocked me when we started talking about our views on racism in the United States.

For over three hundred years, Black people suffered extreme hardships under slavery.

I mentioned something off-hand about reparations for the Black descendants of slaves in our country, and she turned to me, the Manhattan skyline behind her. The lights in Manhattan glimmered, hearkening passersby to a world of diversity, the first stop for immigrants – but none of that mattered at that moment.

My friend exploded in anger.  “Oh, come ON! Slavery was 150 years ago! They need to get over it! Just stop already!”

“Why?” I retorted. “Why not? What, us Jews can holler ‘Remember the Holocaust’ until our throats are sore, but Black people have to forget their history?”

“Come on Liz, it’s not the same, and you know it.” The conversation was over for her, but not for me.

Why? Why isn’t it the same?

Consider this. A government paid billions of dollars to a group of people its former leader tortured for a period of twelve years. Twelve years.

Amidst this – a quick note: this conversation is not meant to derail those classic arguments that some posit: our people have suffered because of anti-Semitism for thousands of years, so reparations were obviously owed.

I am focusing on the fact that Jews suffered extreme hardships (bodies enslaved, children torn from their mothers, over 6 million dead, business destroyed, homes ransacked, wealth stolen) from one government in particular for just twelve years, and that government paid the survivors billions of dollars.

Now, take the issue of reparations for Black people in this country – those descended from slaves, which is estimated to be approximately 85-90% of the Black population.

For over three hundred years, Black people suffered extreme hardships under slavery – bodies enslaved, children torn from their mothers, hundreds of thousands of innocents dead, wealth stolen.

True, many of these atrocities were committed by “regular” white people, but the U.S. government often sponsored and supported their actions, going so far as to enact the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which bound law enforcement to return runaway slaves to their master.

Even if the slave was in a free state. Even if that “free” state no longer believed in slavery.

Even after slavery was outlawed, Black people still suffered extreme hardships, sponsored and protected by the U.S. government. They were lynched, had their businesses destroyed, homes ransacked, wealth stolen – just like Jews.

The only difference? The Black community suffered at the hands of the state-sponsored violence for much longer than twelve years.

Between slavery, Jim Crow, and the contemporary school to prison pipeline, the suffering lasted (and continues to) for over four hundred years.

The Black community suffered at the hands of the state-sponsored violence for more than twelve years.

So why is it ridiculous for Black Americans to ask the U.S. government for reparations? After all, our administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has now set aside millions to Holocaust survivors, to be distributed through the Jewish Federations of North America.

Critics of Black reparations say that reparations to Holocaust survivors are just that: payments to survivors, not the descendants of survivors. They argue that paying reparations to people who never “did the time” is foolish and not useful.

However, I would argue for reparations for descendants of survivors if the original survivors did not receive any benefits to their hardships.

Why? When wealth is stolen, it is not easily replaced.

After slavery ended in the United States, slaves were supposed to receive reparations of 40 acres and a mule. This sentiment was not enforced, and so Black people were sent out in the world with nothing. Even when something was built and a moderate amount of wealth was created, like in the town of Durham, North Carolina, threatened Whites would burn businesses to the ground.

Why? When wealth is stolen, it is not easily replaced.

A quick Google of “black wealth vs. white wealth” brings forth an abundance of articles that all state the same thing: Black wealth is significantly lagging in comparison to white wealth.

One article even says that it will take Black families over 200 years to amass the wealth that white people have today. How can one confidently say that billions of dollars given to former slaves, especially at the time that slavery ended, would not have narrowed this gap?

As a Jewish woman, who has family living in Israel, I wholeheartedly support reparations for the thousands of Black descendants of slaves. I can only think back to when I learned about German reparations to Jews, and the thought that crossed my mind: “…at least that. It’s not everything, but AT LEAST THAT.”

I cannot imagine reading about the atrocities of the damage that was inflicted on my people, only to learn that nothing was done in an attempt to help remediate that damage.

It’s time for all Jews to stand up and support the Black community when it comes to requests for reparations. Even if symbolic.

It’s simple: if the United States found it in its heart (and budget) to help Holocaust survivors, then it can certainly help slavery survivors.