As part of the World African Community Relationships Conference, author and human rights advocate Randall Robinson told an audience, which nearly filled the Marshall Center Ballroom Thursday night, that a major difference exists in black and white college students.
“White and black students might look alike and might drive around in the same little Hondas, but statistics show that white students have financial assets,” he said. “Black people are usually first generation graduates and live one paycheck from poverty.”
Robinson wrote the national best seller The Debt-What America Owes to Blacks. He graduated from Harvard and is past president of TransAfrica – an organization that has influenced U.S. politics in international black leadership.
Robinson has also been working to gain support for reparations for blacks.
Robinson told the audience to think of the reparations he proposes as restitution or as American compassion.
In response to people who will say that they personally never owned a slave, Robinson said simply, “This isn’t about you.” What it’s about, Robinson explained, is the unfair disadvantage black people have suffered in America.
Rather than using the designations of black and white, Robinson offered an example using tall and short people.
“Imagine a 100-yard dash,” Robinson said.
“Imagine that the short people are allowed to run now and 50 yards into it the tall people are allowed to run. But before they can go, they are shot in their kneecaps and then affirmative action is abolished. The tall people are told to catch up, but they never can.”
Further supporting his position on reparations, Robinson explained that cotton harvested by blacks made the U.S. tremendous amounts of money, but black people were never paid for their labor.
Robinson also said slaves built the foundations of the White House, again with no payment.
“So much of what this country knows found its beginning on the backs of the uncompensated black people,” he said.
“(The black people) were never paid but in the process lost their languages, mothers, fathers, religions, contact with our mother continent and culture.”
After his speech, Robinson said it is unfair to first discuss a dollar amount for the reparations allowed to the black community.
“We have to talk about the cause first,” he said.
“Then we can talk about the remedy.”
Robinson said the reparations could also come in the formation of certain programs “to lift the whole floor of the community.” For example, Robinson said, programs could be developed to improve inner city schools
Robinson also addressed Black History Month, an occasion he has mixed feelings about.
“Black History Month proves that American history is a lie,” he said.
“It’s ludicrous to segregate history. Either it’s complete, or it’s not history. (Black History Month) gives us to believe that that is the size of our history. We think that’s all the story to be told.” Robinson said the black people are conditioned to believe their history began with slavery.
Robinson, who worked in Washington, D.C. for five years, said that his wife once told him to go back to the Capitol but instead of looking at it, she told him “to see it.”
Although Washington, D.C. is 60 percent black, Robinson said he counted six black people at the Washington Mall that day. Two of which were him and his daughter.
“It occurred to me that (blacks) were not at the mall because there is nothing there that has anything to do with us,” Robinson said noting the absence of black recognition.
Robinson said it is the lack of a complete black history being taught to students that does significant damage to the race as a whole.
“They told us about Rome and Athens, but they didn’t tell us our story because our story empowers,” he said. “The didn’t tell us about Native American and Hispanic history.”
Kerrell Joseph, a sophomore and mass communications student, said he agreed with Robinson’s message.
“It was food for the soul,” Joseph said.
“He was speaking so much sense. Every other culture has their history, but (blacks) have only bits and pieces.”
Contact Rachel Pleasant at firstname.lastname@example.org