Exploring the Black American path toward redress


“In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War there was a set of promises made to the formerly enslaved, including the promise of land and that Black folks would have an opportunity to educate their children under their own discretion and control,” American economist William Darity Jr. shared with the Nichi Bei Weekly. “To the extent that those promises were not fulfilled, I’m really curious what my ancestors would have to say. How did they move forward in the midst of white terror campaigns? Did they have to make compromises? How did they maintain their own sense of identity and dignity amidst these circumstances?”

The University of Southern California Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture launched its “Black + Japanese American Reparations” series of virtual events and book club Jan. 19. The project is designed to explore the deeper meaning of reparations through examining critical texts on the Japanese American Redress Movement, the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and the long history of struggle for Black liberation and Black reparations since the end of the legal institution of U.S. slavery.

As guest speakers for the event, Darity, a professor of public policy at Duke University, and his wife, Kirsten Mullen, a folklorist and arts consultant, spoke about their recent book “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.”

Joined by John Tateishi, author of “Redress: The Inside Story of the Successful Campaign for Japanese American Reparations,” all three guest speakers engaged in a moderated discussion around the historical precedent and model for seeking reparations that the Japanese American community fought for and won, on behalf of the wartime inmates who were incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps.

Reflecting on his experience as the Japanese American Citizens League’s national redress director in the 1980s, Tateishi recalled the controversial decision to narrow the eligibility for reparations recipients to the surviving U.S. citizens or legal resident immigrants of Japanese American ancestry incarcerated during World War II, a decision that ultimately excluded Japanese Latin Americans and cut short any potential precedent for living descendants to be eligible for reparations.

Still, the redress campaign was successful, according to Tateishi. From the unification of the Japanese American community to the controversial but effective commission strategy, many lessons came out of the movement that Darity, Mullen and other advocates of Black reparations have identified as a point of reference for creating a path toward acknowledgement, redress and closure for U.S. slavery and its ramifications on Black Americans.

“As soon as I saw his (Tateishi’s) book advertised I ordered it,” Mullen told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “It’s one of the most annotated books I own. I was trying to understand where the overlap was for both communities in evolving their understanding of what had happened and what response they wanted to see come out of the process.”

For Darity and Mullen, a sufficient and restorative Black reparations resolution must include specific eligibility to Black American descendants of U.S. slavery, a commitment to eliminating the racial wealth differences in the U.S. and a system for direct payments to descendants.

“We have this mountain of suffering that has come out of racialized harm. When there is a karmic legacy of this, we need to attend it in any way we can and relieve the suffering. When we don’t, those seeds get passed on to the next generation,” Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture Director and Soto Zen Buddhist priest Duncan Ryūken Williams shared with the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Japanese Americans found a form of redress and repairing, but everyone knows one piece of law isn’t enough.”

According to Williams, who co-hosts the book club with Kelsey Moss, USC assistant professor of religion, this work of acknowledgement and repair is the reason the book club and event series exists.

The book club previously discussed Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent,” as well as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” article, which was published in The Atlantic.

Every third Tuesday at 4 p.m. PDT, book club members discuss the assigned reparations-themed reading for the month.

Partnering with Densho, the Japanese American National Museum and Tsuru for Solidarity, the book club will run through July 20.

To learn more about the book club and its accompanying event series, visit http://ow.ly/FOog50Eh1JJ.

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