Hamline discusses reparations

Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson reframes racial justice at “Truth and Reparations.

Christian Buonfiglio, Reporter

The matter of reparations, according to the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, is not a matter of cutting a check. It is a question: Is America ready to confront the moral injuries caused by the slave trade?

Citing the Gospel of John, the reverend phrased the question more simply: “Do we want to be made well?”

Jordan-Simpson, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, spoke on Sep 22 on the subject of reparations — the idea that America owes the descendants of enslaved Africans compensation for the legacy of racism and oppression left behind by the Atlantic slave trade.

Jordan-Simpson explained to the crowd of students, faith leaders and activists gathered in Anderson 111 that while America certainly has money to spend, a check requires no personal transformation to write. America must first reckon with its past, and most attempts have, according to Jordan-Simpson, amounted to white and black Americans “hugging it out, then going their separate ways into a world still unequal.”

This reckoning is difficult when many Americans are unaware, willfully or not, of the wounds inflicted by slavery that persist to this day. Other Americans, however, have no choice but to be aware.

“I’ve been living through it every day of my life,” sophomore Saffiyah Aziz Muhammad said during discussion.

Although slavery and American history are often taught as if they are separate, Aziz Muhammad said, the two are impossible to separate in practice, and as an African-American woman, she said she could not ignore reality.

Other students lamented the fact that they had never been truly taught what the slave trade entailed until later in their lives.

“I never really learned what happened from anyone [until college],” first-year Allison Stanke said. 

The lack of information means many myths about slavery persist. 

“[Americans] walk with the myth that enslaved people never rebelled,” Jordan-Simpson said.

In order to heal this wound, Jordan-Simpson said, America must do more than simply undo the past—it must build a new future, and start with education. 

The reverend emphasized the need to begin teaching Americans about the history of slavery earlier in life, using age-appropriate examples, because children are more than capable of understanding complex issues and finding answers.

“You will never find a more just advocate than an eleven-year-old who finds out something is not fair,” Jordan-Simpson said. 

A college campus like Hamline’s is also an excellent place to start the conversation, according to Jordan-Simpson.

“This is the place where we are supposed to ask questions,” Jordan-Simpson said. “There is no truth that cannot be interrogated.” 

An event like this is the first step in starting the conversation about reparations. The next step, according to Jordan-Simpson, is to find the “truth-tellers” who uplift the stories of oppressed Americans and can help their voices be heard. 

She pointed to “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” by Dr. Joy DeGruy, a book on the psychological trauma caused by racism, and the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” a collection of works by African-American creators covering America’s history of slavery.

“Those are my leaders,” Jordan-Simpson said.