America needs to take care of its own before giving out charity
By Faisal Kutty – My first trip out of Canada was to my homeland of India in the early 1980s. Having left the country when I was barely six years old, I was not prepared for what I saw in Bombay. Extreme poverty, overcrowding, beggars, over a million living on the streets and run down buildings, or more aptly structures barely standing. It seemed like the “Twilight Zone.”
The experience had a profound impact on my siblings and myself. Upon my return, I told many of friends of what I saw. It never occurred to me at the time that such situations were not exclusive to India. In fact, this is the reality in most of the large cities in the developing world and even in some developed countries.
My second trip out of Canada was to the United States. To my utter shock the situation in large U.S. cities was not that different. Parts of large American cities, including Washington, D.C., the capital of the world’s wealthiest country, were not much better. In fact, in some respects it was better in Bombay than in Washington; you felt much safer in the streets of the former. Two friends and myself were greeted in D.C. with sounds of gunshots while looking for a mosque. The imam of a local mosque was so concerned for our safety in the neighborhood that he personally drove us to Dar ul-Hijra mosque in Virginia.
No doubt American inner cities are crumbling. The socio-economic conditions are deplorable. How much longer will African-Americans and other minorities put up with this third class living? A revolution will clearly emerge from these inner cities, as the haves get more and the have nots fall deeper into debt, depression and hopelessness.
It was like a breath of fresh air to read that the Tulsa Race Riot Commission recommended this week, that the state of Oklahoma pay compensation to the survivors and descendants of those who lost their lives and property in the Tulsa, Oklahoma riot of 1921. The exact death toll is not known and will never be known, but the commission has put the figure at 300. The riot, instigated by an editorial in the now defunct Tulsa Tribune titled “To Lynch Negro Tonight,” resulted in the destruction of over 1,000 black-owned businesses and buildings. Sadly, even those who made insurance claims were reportedly rejected because of riot-exclusion clauses in the policies.
This is not the first time that the idea of compensating riot victims has come up. In 1994, the state of Florida paid $150,000 to survivors of a 1923 riot in Rosewood, Florida.
Oklahoma clearly should follow the lead of Florida and accept the recommendations. The blame should not stop there. Indeed, the Commission found that “Both the state and federal governments allowed widespread abuses.” Federal authorities must also get involved to ensure that a fair compensation is awarded.
Unfortunately, 57 percent of Oklahoma residents are against the compensation of riot victims according to a poll conducted by the Tulsa World. Some lawmakers echo this feeling as well. The fear is that the idea of compensation will open up the proverbial can of worms. Many also fear that the next logical extension will be those seeking compensation for slavery. Clearly this will happen, but this cannot be a reason not to accept responsibility and pay restitution.
More than 60,000 Japanese-Americans have received compensation for their internment. And Germany has paid over $60-billion to Jews. It is time that African-Americans get similar treatment. Sure it is difficult to determine who to compensate and how much in the case of slavery, but there are ways to put money into African-American communities to level out the playing field. A start can be made by passing the bill that has been unsuccessfully put forth by Democrat John Conyers, the leader of the congressional black caucus, every year since 1989 calling for the establishment of a commission to examine the effects of slavery on American society.
The Tulsa Commission’s recommendation should be accepted and can be the impetus to begin a serious look into how to inject badly needed finances into African-American communities. As Randall Robinson, author of The Debt: What America Owes to Black, writes, “America and other interests that profited owe reparations to blacks following the holocaust of African slavery which has carried froward from slavery’s inception for 350-odd years to the end of U.S. government-embraced racial discrimination — an end that arrived, it would seem, only just yesterday.”
It is clearly in America’s long term interest to elevate the status of African-Americans and improve the condition of its inner cities. Lack of funds cannot be an excuse. Perhaps American authorities should reconsider the billions sent out to fund settlers of other countries on occupied lands. America should attend to its own before giving out charity.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto lawyer and writer and is also columnist for the Washington Report On Middle East Affairs
Note: First Published 2/11/2000 – Political – Article Ref: IV0002-821
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