Corporate reparations and transgenerational trauma

It’s admirable that Wachovia Corp., the nation’s fourth largest bank, under pressure from the cities of Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, finally revealed and apologized for their role in the heinous transatlantic slave trade. (“Wachovia finds role in slavery in its past,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 2.)

Certainly we applaud Wachovia for acknowledging and apologizing for its historic institutional part in the dehumanization of Black Americans. This is a necessary first step in the process of healing transgenerational trauma perpetuated on African American people via banking and financial transactions which enriched Wachovia’s predecessor institutions and their slaveholding clients.

However, acknowledging responsibility for damaging behaviors and policies toward the enslaved Black Americans and their living descendants should not be the last step that Wachovia takes. Much more than an apology is required to meet the standards of justice, integrity and real sincerity.

A concrete demonstration of institutional regret must proceed from the initial apology, for a people’s healing is a process, not a one-shot deal to be quickly done with and all is then deemed well. In a word, apologizing for historical wrongs should be understood as a necessary precondition to full-blown justice in fact and deed.

Besides admitting guilt and apologizing, other components in the process of helping to heal transgenerational trauma among descendents of enslaved Africans include: repentance coupled with a sincere show of remorse; a willingness to listen respectfully to the views of those who speak now for the victimized; willingness to negotiate in good faith with representatives of the victimized, and willingness to arrange some method of compensation as a key remedy to the victims or their living descendants.

Given Wachovia’s wealthy profile, as the nation’s fourth-ranked banking behemoth, which was derived in some part from its predecessor institutions’ trade in or holding of Black flesh, compensatory measures or reparations of some sort to Black American descendants on the part of Wachovia should be forthcoming or at least negotiated in good faith.

Compensation will serve towards at least promoting economic and social viability for the living descendents of slavery’s victims.

Few crimes historically can compare with the transatlantic slave trade and the resulting post-traumatic stress for African Americans.

The painful shame is white America’s legacy until the United States and involved corporations and financiers of slavery create and promote a viable reparations program, including the passage of Rep. John Conyers’ HR 40, a bill that has languished in Congress since the late 1980s.

This bill calls for a study of the results of slavery and its aftermath and, as a result of the study, consideration of whether or not compensation is due to Black Americans.

As corporations apologize for their role in the enslavement holocaust, we would like to see them also submit tangible ideas for reparations for the descendants of victims, which — in our eyes — include all people of African American descent.

It is only by admitting culpability, apologizing for involvement, memorializing victims, compensating descendants, and installing truthful education about the monstrous transatlantic slave trade, that we can truly begin to heal as a nation and close the rift between those who perpetrated the immoral disaster of slavery, and those who were victimized.





Noni Bookbinder Bell is a student at Rutgers University – Camden, majoring in political science and pre-law. A.S. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the same university.