‘Reparations’ premieres, making a case for redress for Black Americans

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There’s a powerful moment in Jon Osaki’s new documentary film, “Reparations,” when Congressman Ron Dellums (D-Oakland) takes to the floor of the House of Representatives during a hearing for Japanese American redress and reparations in 1987.

During his emotional and passionate speech, Dellums remembers being six years old in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. and having to say goodbye to his 6-year-old Japanese American best friend, who was being forcibly removed and taken by the U.S. military to a World War II “assembly center” and eventually to an American concentration camp.

“I will never forget … because the moment is burned indelibly upon this child’s memory,” the late Dellums said. “I will never forget the vision of fear in the eyes of … my friend, and the pain of leaving home. My mother, as bright as she was, try as she may, could not explain to me why my friend was being taken away as he screamed not to go. And this six-year-old Black American child screamed back, ‘Don’t take my friend!’”

“This is not about how long you were in prison,” continued Dellums. “It is about how much pain was inflicted upon thousands of American people who happened to be Japanese in terms of ancestry. But this Black American cries out as loudly as my Asian American brothers and sisters on this issue.”

The 34-minute film, which premiered June 15 during a Juneteenth Webinar presented by Stop Repeating History, lays out the case for reparations for African Americans, and how Japanese Americans need to support the movement, just as Dellums did for Japanese American redress and reparations 34 years ago.

Juneteenth celebrates “the holiday marking the day — June 19, 1865 — that Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and freed enslaved African Americans there some two and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture states. President Joe Biden signed a bill June 17 making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“Watching Ron Dellums’ testimony is so powerful,” says Emily Akpan of the New York Day of Remembrance Committee and Tsuru for Solidarity, a group of Japanese American social justice advocates. “It really speaks to the power of coalitions and also speaks to the fact that it’s so important to have multiracial movements, and to stand with the community that is impacted.”

Akpan is one of several individuals who appear in the film, including Shamann Walton, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Shakirah Simley, director of the San Francisco Office of Racial Equality; Steve Phillips, host of the “Democracy in Color” podcast; Mieko Kuramoto, legislative correspondent for Rep. Mark Takano; Susan Hayase of the San Jose Nikkei Resisters; and Eric Yamamoto, law professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law.

Funded by the Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation, “Reparations” was made, said Osaki, because “I believe we can make the greatest progress in addressing systemic racism in the country by working together. And I believe it is up to each of us to find ways to stand with one another, to lift up the issues that are important to each of our communities and to find opportunities to be allies for one another.”

Starting with the history of slavery, and how American wealth was built on the backs of African Americans who were enslaved, “Reparations” offers a history lesson on slavery, and every form of systemic racism, oppression, exclusion and inequities that followed, from generation to generation, for hundreds of years, up until this day.

Interviewees then talk about the movement and struggle for reparations for African Americans. One of the biggest challenges, they said, is the misperception that reparations is some sort of government “handout.”

“This is really about healing,” said Osaki, who said he remembers the healing his father, Wayne Osaki, experienced as tears flowed down his face when he heard fellow Japanese Americans share their stories at the Japanese American redress hearings during the early 1980s.

Reparations is also about leveling the playing field in terms of racialized economic inequality in housing, jobs, schools, policing and public safety, said Phillips.

“This is about addressing the racial wealth gap,” continued Osaki. “There are systemic barriers that are enabling this racial wealth gap that are so glaring right now. It’s time to move forward, to have a more harmonious society where people are working together.”

And given our history, Japanese Americans should be part of this movement, said attorney Donald Tamaki of Fred Korematsu’s coram nobis team, a California reparations task force member who is also affiliated with Stop Repeating History.

“Because of the Black American Civil Rights Movement, we have benefited from the sacrifices and struggles of Black Americans,” said Tamaki. “We owe a huge debt to Black Americans and the progress that’s been made.”

“Working together is the only way we can make this country better for all of us,” said Osaki. “I believe it’s important for us to stand with the Black community for reparations, and that will benefit everyone. I hope people can find their own way to help.”

For more information, visit stoprepeatinghistory.org.

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