The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks [NOOK Book]


The national bestseller by the author of Defending the Spirit.

In this powerful and controversial book, distinguished African-American political leader and thinker Randall Robinson argues for the restoration of the rich history that slavery and segregation severed. Drawing from research and personal experience, he shows that only by reclaiming their lost past and proud heritage can blacks lay the foundation for their future. And white Americans can make reparations for slavery ...

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The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks

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The national bestseller by the author of Defending the Spirit.

In this powerful and controversial book, distinguished African-American political leader and thinker Randall Robinson argues for the restoration of the rich history that slavery and segregation severed. Drawing from research and personal experience, he shows that only by reclaiming their lost past and proud heritage can blacks lay the foundation for their future. And white Americans can make reparations for slavery and the century of racial discrimination that followed with monetary restitution, educational programs, and the kinds of equal opportunities that will ensure the social and economic success of all its citizens.

In a book that is both an unflinching indictment of past wrongs and an impassioned call to our nation to educate all Americans about the history of Africa and its people, Robinson makes a persuasive case for the debt white America owes blacks, and the debt blacks owe themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Frank H. Wu
Robinson is respected for having brought the political influence of the black diaspora to bear on U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. He has met another challenge here: His book is easy to read....His engaging and conveys his estrangement from the mainstream.....He continues an important conversation. Democratic deliberation helps create a society in which we are all equal stakeholders. The process is as valuable as the outcome. In that context, even if reparations are a lost cause, they are a noble cause.
Washington Post Book World
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As founder and president of TransAfrica, an organization aimed at influencing U.S. policies toward Africa and the Caribbean, Robinson can be said to have contributed to the antiapartheid movement and the restoration of democracy in Haiti. Having vividly outlined the pervasiveness of American racism in his previous work, Defending the Spirit, he now summons America to acknowledge what he casts as its financial obligation to blacks for centuries of slavery and continued subjugation. Substantiating his analysis of America's ignorance of African history and the agenda of the Clinton administration with personal stories that illustrate the impact of de facto discrimination, he reveals slavery's legacy not only in our social and political lives, but also in the American psyche. In Robinson's view, the incessant deification of the founding fathers (many of whom owned slaves) and the denial of the benefits gained from centuries of slave labor are, in effect, an attempt to pretend "that America's racial holocaust never occurred." Juxtaposing domestic racism with the sufferings of people abroad, he contends that America's dubious foreign policy initiatives in Cuba and throughout the black world should be mitigated through debt relief. Methodically tackling one issue at a time, Robinson suggests the creation of a trust to assist in the educational and economic empowerment of African-Americans. Whether readers agree or disagree with his views, Robinson has made a definitive step in presenting these controversial and still unresolved issues. Book club rights sold to Doubleday/Black Expressions; author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"The problem of the twentieth-century," wrote W.E.B. DuBois in 1903, will be "the problem of the color line." At the close of that century, Randall Robinson, another eminent African American scholar/activist, suggests that the problem of the 21st century should be the problem of reparations to African Americans. Robinson, who went to segregated schools in the South before graduating from Harvard Law School, is the founder and president of TransAfrica, and was the single most influential person in organizing the movement that led the U.S. to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, resulting in the dismantling of apartheid. In The Debt, Robinson looks at the devastating consequences at home of centuries of slavery, segregation, and the refusal to acknowledge these wrongs. Reparations were paid to the Jews and Poles after the Holocaust, to the Japanese Americans after their internment during WW II, to Korean women forced into prostitution by Japan, to the Inuit in Canada and to the Aborigines in Australia, and they are due to the 32 million African Americans who continue to suffer from four centuries of institutional exploitation and disenfranchisement. Such reparations will finally remedy the psychological harm done to African Americans whose contributions to this country remain unacknowledged, and will lift them from the financial abyss they find themselves in today, as a result of multi-layered discrimination. Despite its title, which might suggest economic jargon, The Debt: What America Owes Blacks is highly readable, replete with pertinent anecdotes and accessible, convincing examples. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, andadults. 2000, Plume, 262p, bibliog, index, 21cm, 99-045728, $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Nada Elia, Visiting Assoc. Prof.; Afro-American Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
Library Journal
The title of this book shouldn't deter perspective readers: Robinson (founder and president of TransAfrica) dedicates only one of the ten chapters to a discussion of reparations. And his ideas about reparations are unconventional: it's true, he writes, that there is a precedent for paying reparations to the victims of history. But even just starting a national conversation about reparations, he suggests, would be useful--such a discussion would bring U.S. racial atrocities to the surface, make blacks aware that something has been taken from them through no fault of their own, and launch a critical mass of blacks "into a surge of black self-discovery." In the remainder of the book Robinson discusses his disappointment with the quantity and quality of black political participation and the long-term economic and psychic damage brought on by slavery, Jim Crow, blacks' lost African past, and unequal U.S. foreign and domestic policies. Robinson's political experience and readable prose should make the book appealing to a wide audience. For public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/99.].--Sherri Barnes, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Cornell West
Randall Robinson's powerful and poignant story of personal and political struggle is one of vision, courage, and sacrifice.
—Cornell West, Harvard University
From the Publisher
"Engaging...important...supports his attempts to reclaim African heitage and empower African-Americans." —The Washington Post

"Incisive...keenly observed...beautifully written." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101191491
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 432,131
  • File size: 585 KB

Meet the Author

Randall Robinson is the founder and president of TransAfrica, the organization that spearheaded the movement to influence U.S. policies toward international black leadership. He is the author of Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks and The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe To Each Other. Frequently featured in major print media, he has appeared on Charlie Rose, Today, Good Morning America, and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, among others.
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Read an Excerpt

An Excerpt from The Debt by Randall Robinson

In the fall of 1998, I went to the television studio of the University of the District of Columbia to tape an interview about my memoir, Defending the Spirit. Before the taping, Ed Jones, the station's general manager and an old friend, introduced me to a twelve-year-old neighborhood black boy who was there with his mentor, a student at the college, to hear my discussion. Billy was an attractive and pleasant boy with a stocky build and intelligent eyes.

"Billy," said Ed, "have you ever heard of Randall Robinson?"


Jesus, Ed, you might have spared me the sure-fire blow to the egoplexus.

"Well, Mr. Robinson is the president of TransAfrica. You've heard of TransAfrica, right?"

Christ almighty, Ed.


"Well, Mr. Robinson led the effort in the United States to free Nelson Mandela in South Africa. You've heard of Nelson Mandela, right?"

Now here we go.


On my way home from meeting Billy, I visualized the boy on a walk with his mentor on the long grassy Mall in Washington. He is surrounded by monuments and memorials. They can mean little to him although he consciously tries to compensate for his lack of emotional engagement. It isn't that he has no interest. He does. The monuments and buildings are big and impressive. Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt. Still, he does not feel anything much, other than small. Not small but small. The monuments don't seem intended for him. They do seem, from the look on their faces, intended for the white family of four from Nebraska standing near him. Look at them, sunny with pride in their ridiculous plaid vacation wear and dangling Kodaks. Mall-trekking well-scrubbed Norman Rockwell pieces of Americana as remote from Billy as the monuments that captivate them.

Where am I? Who am I Why am I here?

The questions buried deep and unphrased in Billy's psyche, with only boredom as a sustaining frame for the aimless remarks he makes to his mentor. The monuments, neutral before sighting the Nebraska family, stand now in odd rebuke.

"When are we going home?"

"Soon. But you need to know this stuff. History is important."


The mentor does not answer. Billy is exhausting his script and testing his patience.

"What is that? Over there with the long line?"

"That's the Holocaust Memorial."

"What's a holocaust?"

"During World War II, the Germans tried to kill all of the Jews in Europe. Six million Jews died. That memorial helps us remember the terrible thing that happened there."

"Oh yeah?" Genuine curiosity. Approval. "What about us?" Hopeful now.

"What do you mean? What about us?"


The estimates vary. Anywhere from ten to twenty-five million Africans died in slave ships en route from Africa to the Americas. A lifetime of bondage awaited those who survived the passage. This massive crime against humanity—the enslavement and exploitation of tens of millions of human beings—is an American holocaust. (The extermination of the Native American population is another.) Yet one can scour the commemorative architecture of the nation's capital and find little evidence that America's racial holocaust ever occurred.

It is as if, since its very establishment, America had chosen to hold, as Napoleon would, that "history is the myth that men choose to believe." The crypto-Machiavellians who serve as the perennial stewards of American public affairs understand that people on the whole are about as malleable as their history can be made to be. The landscape is rife with examples, from historically overarching lies and half-truths to popular culture deceits.

It is well know that Thomas Jefferson had slaves. It is less well known that he had them chased and brought back when they escaped.

Or consider Charles Lindbergh. When the nation needed a hero, Lindbergh flew the Atlantic nonstop from New York to Paris in the spring of 1927. Even in the era of relatively primitive communications technology, few in the world failed to learn almost instantly of Lindbergh's feat. His ensuing hero status has survived for over seventy years largely untarnished, although Lindbergh, a self-described racist, had written in Reader's Digest in 1939 that aviation was "a gift from heaven...a tool specially shaped for Western of those priceless possessions which permit the white race to live at all in a pressing sea of yellow, black, and brown." He urged the U.S. not to war with but join Germany in forming a "Western Wall of race and arms which can hold back either a Genghis Khan or the infiltration of inferior blood."

In Hollywood, press agents have gone to great lengths to suppress reports that film star Arnold Schwarzenegger's father was a member of the Austrian Nazi party. While the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son, that is not why the flacks are busy. Of course, sanitizing history is hardly a new practice. Socrates advanced ideas for selective breeding to produce a superior race. The ideas were later copied by Nazi Germany. Such theories are now seldom associated with Socrates.

In the animated Dreamworks movie Prince of Egypt the ancient Egyptians are drawn to appear more Arabic than African. But the ancient Egyptians came originally from Africa's interior to the south. They were not Arabs, not people from Arabia, but indigenous Africans. Egyptian civilization was thousands of years old by the time the Arabs, with a modest Army under General 'Amr ibn as- 'As, entered in December of 639 A.D.

Back around 3000 B.C. the First Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt had been founded by one Narmer. A stone likeness of the pharaoh survives, its features offering convincing evidence that the ancient Egyptians who built the great pyramids were black. (Pictures of Narmer's likeness and those of succeeding pharaohs can be found in UNESCO's General History of Africa, volume II, pages 52-57. Have a look.)

Three millennia later Egypt's throne had passed to Cleopatra, who herself may have been a good deal darker than any of the actresses who have portrayed her on screen. The queen belonged to the Polemic dynasty, a line of Macedonian Greeks who had ruled Egypt since its conquest by Alexander the Great, but the identity of one of her grandmothers is unknown. This grandmother may have been a concubine, not a member of the Polemic family. Cleopatra was the only one of the family to speak the Egyptian language. At least one Roman historian described her as dark-skinned. All this leaves open the question of whether she looked black or white. But it is not likely that she had the alabaster skin or violet eyes of Elizabeth Taylor.

It is even less likely that a Semitic Christ of two thousand years ago even vaguely resembled the ubiquitous blond image most Americans believe to be something near to Christ's actual appearance.

Again, I am not suggesting the presence of any grand conspiracy to suppress or distort history or ephemeral information. Accuracy can be elusive. For more than twenty years I have read newspaper accounts of developments in Africa and the Caribbean in which I have had direct firsthand involvement. Often the coverage has been fraught with factual error, critical omission, and wrongheaded perspective. Most of the misdescription was due, I suppose, to inadvertence or incompetence as opposed to bad intentions.

The point is this. Even well-meaning, competent journalists sometime misreport events that occur in the world only days before. Journalism is not an exact science. Historiography is a hundredfold less exact than journalism—even when historians believe themselves sincerely trying to be objective. Their subjects are long dead. Records are incomplete or nonexistent. Flawed premises beget more flawed premises.

And then, of course, are the built-in distortions. Would-be Machiavellis, some long dead before the Florentine statesman ever lived, anticipate the historian's enquiries by booby-trapping evidence, laying false trails, and liquidating artifacts. (This might have been what Napoleon had in mind when he blew off the nose of the Sphinx. Or was it Mohammed Sa'im al-Dahr who did it, in 1378 A.D.? No one really knows.)

In his book Black Spark, White Fire, historian Richard Poe makes a case that black Egyptians were among the first philosophers and explorers, traveling as far from Egypt as Russia and turning up with the Romans at Troy. Has such knowledge been suppressed heretofore, or simply lost? According to Poe, "History was designed to justify European domination."

None of this begins to adequately explain the near total disappearance of Africa's past and the denial of its information to the modern world. To me. To Billy.

—Excerpted from The Debt by Randall Robinson. Copyright © 2000 by Randall Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Dutton, a division of Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
Reclaiming Our Ancient Self 11
Taking Account of the Long-Term Psychic Damage 29
Race to Class to Race 59
Self-Hatred 81
Demanding Respect 97
Race, Money, and Foreign Policy: The Cuba Example 121
The Cost of Ignoring the Race Problem in America 161
and in the Black World 179
Thoughts about Restitution 199
Toward the Black Renaissance 235
Sources 249
Index 253
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Looked straight up and immediately saw the callous irony, wondering if the slaves who had helped to erect the structure might have bristled at it as quickly as I. The monumental fresco covering 4,664 square feet had been painted by Constantino Brumidi in 1864, just as the hideous 246-year-old American institution of slavery was drawing to a close. According to the United States Capitol Historical Society, Brumidi's Apotheosis of George Washington had been painted in the eye of the Rotunda's dome to glorify "the character of George Washington and the principles upon which the United States was founded."
Symbolizing the carapace of American liberty, sixty-odd robed figures are arranged in heroic attitudes around a majestic Washington, before whom a white banner is unfurled bearing the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum, or one out of many.
But all of the many in the fresco are white.

Beneath the eye and around the rim of the Capitol dome stretches a gray frieze depicting in sequenced scenes America's history from the years of early exploration to the dawn of aviation.

The frieze figures are not all white. Native Americans appear in several of the scenes. In one, the only depiction of an act of violence, a Native American holds back the arms and head of another Native American, as still another Native American coils to bludgeon the pinioned figure. Hmmm.

Although the practice of slavery lay heavily athwart the new country for most of the depicted age, the frieze presents nothing at all from this long, scarring period. No Douglass. No Tubman. No slavery. No blacks, period.

At ground level, set back into the circular stone wall are several huge oil paintings. We see the explorer de Soto discovering the Mississippi River. Next, an elaborately gowned, kneeling Pocahontas receives the baptismal sacrament amidst English gentry in a soaring sanctuary. And there is Columbus triumphantly landing in the Americas.

No reference is made to blacks or slavery in any of the paintings. In the whole of the Rotunda, only a small bust of Martin Luther King Jr. intrudes on an overall iconography of an America that is self-consciously homogeneous and pleased with itself. The King bust is a poor likeness of the man. Its aspect is forlorn. The shoulders sag. The head is bowed, implying surrender, not prayer. The eyes look into the floor, as if the figure understands but cannot quite bear what is going on around it in the Rotunda. A nearby statue of a standing, upward-gazing Thomas Jefferson serves to underscore the King figure's meekness. It was Jefferson who gave to a friend the contract to build the Capitol. The tall statue's countenance is proprietary, of the Rotunda if not of the country.
After completing the fresco in the eye of the dome, Brumidi spent many years painting frescoes and oils for the interior of the Capitol. In his words, he wanted to "beautify the Capitol of the one country in which there is liberty."
The frescoes, the friezes, the oil paintings, the composite art of the Rotunda-this was to be America's iconographic idea of itself. On proud display for the world's regard, the pictorial symbols of American democracy set forth our core social attitudes about democracy's subtenets: fairness, inclusiveness, openness, tolerance, and, in the broadest sense, freedom.

To erect the building that would house the art that symbolized American democracy, the United States government sent out a request for one hundred slaves. The first stage of the Capitol's construction would run from 1793 to 1802. In exchange for the slaves' labor the government agreed to pay their owners five dollars per month per slave.

Slaves were not only made to labor on the Capitol building but also to do much of the work in implementing Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's grand design for the whole of the District of Columbia. L'Enfant had decided to place the Capitol building on Jenkins Hill and the President's Palace (later the White House) on another hill, which was at the time covered by an orchard. Slaves were used to clear a broad swath of forest between the sites for the two buildings.

I looked up again at Brumidi's celebration of the "principles upon which the United States was founded" and visualized the glistening backs of blacks with ropes and pulleys heaving the ponderous stones of the dome into place. I then went down a floor to a gift kiosk run by the Capitol Historical Society to look for books about the Capitol's construction. I found two: In the Greatest Solemn Dignity and Uncle Sam's Architect: Builders of the Capitol. Neither book mentioned anything about the use of slave labor.

I returned to the Rotunda and took a seat on one of the low-backed cushioned benches arranged around the curved wall of the large room. I took out the notes I had made from a telephone discussion with William Allen of the Architect of the Capitol office. Allen had said that arkose sandstone blocks-in all likelihood the ones into which the huge and heroic oil paintings are set-were brought by slaves and oxen from the Aquia Creek quarry in Stafford County, Virginia. They had been mined and loaded onto boats by slaves and brought forty miles up the Potomac River before being unloaded near the old Navy Yard, which is very close to TransAfrica's former office on Eighth Street S.E. On the construction site, stone blocks that could not be handled by oxen were handled by slaves and pulleys.

My reverie was interrupted by a group of Asian tourists who stepped in front of me to peer up into the dome. (They credit America as America credits itself.) The worn and pitted stones on which the tourists stood had doubtless been hauled into position by slaves, for whom the most arduous of tasks were reserved. They had fired and stacked the bricks. They had mixed the mortar. They had sawn the long timbers in hellishly dangerous pits with one slave out of the pit and another in, often nearly buried alive in sawdust.

The third phase of the Capitol construction (the second occurred after 1812) would take place during the Civil War, just as Brumidi set about to paint the first of his "liberty" frescoes for the building. During the war, slaves dislocated in the turmoil gravitated to Union soldiers, who often brought them to Washington to be put to work on the Capitol. William Allen called them "spoils of war" and "contraband slaves." When I asked him about the term "contraband slave," he grew quiet as if questioning for the first time the purpose of my general inquiry about the use of black slave labor.

Atop the dome of the Capitol stands the Statue of Freedom in the figure of a Native American female warrior clad in a star-festooned helmet and flowing robes. The statue was designed for $3,000 by Thomas Crawford in Rome, Italy, in 1856. In 1863, it was cast in bronze in Bladensburg, Maryland, at a foundry owned by Clark Mills, whom the government paid $23,736 for his work.

Philip Reed, a slave owned by Mills, was given the responsibility for casting the Statue of Freedom and loading its five sections, each weighing more than a ton, onto reinforced wagons for the slow trip to the east grounds of the Capitol. There, Reed and other slaves reassembled Freedom to make certain that all of its pieces would fit together. The task of assembling Freedom took thirty-one days. The statue was then disassembled, hoisted, and reassembled by slaves on the tholos, a pedestal on the dome surmounted by a globe.

I sat on the bench musing for a good while. I love buildings. My earliest ambition was to be an architect, driven perhaps by a child's yearning for immortality. Buildings are in some respects like people. They run the gamut from hideous to beautiful. Some are powerful. Some are weak. Most are terribly ordinary. A few are works of surpassing genius. Virtually all provoke emotional reaction: awe, inadequacy, lightheartedness, revulsion, exaltation, boredom.
Buildings are like people in other ways as well. They are usually successful at revealing only what they wish the viewer to see. They embody human characteristics. They have souls, memories, traditions, and larger meanings that sum up to well more than the inert materials that constitute them. They clothe themselves in veneers of deceitful finery. They cornice. They gild. They dazzle. They inspire. They lie. And they keep their secrets very well. Beneath the grandeur, I thought as my eyes were drawn back up into the dome.

A full half of the people on the floor were looking up with me. Most of them were white Americans. At least a fourth of them, though, were tourists who appeared to be from either India or Pakistan, from Japan perhaps, and from western Europe. These upturned faces, bathed by the sun's rays streaming through the clerestory windows in the dome's hatband, looked to be in worship, transfixed.

I could not completely place myself outside this spell. Everything about the room was dwarfing-the scale of the art, the size of the round chamber, the height and sheer majesty of the dome. It had all combined to achieve the Founding Fathers' objective, which was, I am certain, to awe. And to hide the building's and America's secrets.

I thought, then, what a fitting metaphor the Capitol Rotunda was for America's racial sorrows. In the magnificence of its boast, in the tragedy of its truth, in the effrontery of its deceit.

This was the house of Liberty, and it had been built by slaves. Their backs had ached under its massive stones. Their lungs had clogged with its mortar dust. Their bodies had wilted under its heavy load-bearing timbers. They had been paid only in the coin of pain. Slavery lay across American history like a monstrous cleaving sword, but the Capitol of the United States steadfastly refused to divulge its complicity, or even slavery's very occurrence. It gave full lie to its own gold-spun half-truth. It shrank from the simplest honesty. It mocked the shining eyes of the innocent. It kept from us all-black, brown, white-the chance to begin again as co-owners of a national democratic idea. It blinded us all to our past and, with the same stroke, to any common future.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century African Americans lag the American mainstream in virtually every area of statistical measure. Neither blacks nor whites know accurately why. The answer can be found only in the distant past, a past as deliberately obscured as the Capitol's secrets.

Solutions to our racial problems are possible, but only if our society can be brought to face up to the massive crime of slavery and all that it has wrought.
Now never begins yesterday. To set afoot a new and whole black woman and man, we must first tell the victims what happened to them-before and after America was new.

Insights crystallize often under the oddest circumstances. Like a melodic idea to a composer, a light pops on for no apparent reason, allowing understanding where one has been well trained not to have it. In a small village in western Turkey a while back, I watched a dervish whirl in his mesmerizing dance, performing a ritual a thousand years old. I have witnessed such time-honored practices in forty-five countries across the world. Seeing disparate peoples in far-flung cultures held safely above the abyss by the stout rope of their traditions, I have always been left, as I keenly was in the case of the whirling dervish, with a feeling of sweet sadness, perhaps envy even. For the armaments of culture and history that have protected the tender interiors of peoples from the dawn of time have been premeditatedly stripped from the black victims of American slavery.

No race, no ethnic or religious group, has suffered so much over so long a span as blacks have, and do still, at the hands of those who benefited, with the connivance of the United States government, from slavery and the century of legalized American racial hostility that followed it. It is a miracle that the
victims-weary dark souls long shorn of a venerable and ancient identity-have survived at all, stymied as they are by the blocked roads to economic equality.
This book is about the great still-unfolding massive crime of official and unofficial America against Africa, African slaves, and their descendants in America.

I do not honor here with much attention the diversionary noises between protagonists and antagonists over notions of affirmative action. For while I support affirmative action, I believe that those who would camp blacks in an exitless corner expending all energy defending its thin dime do the black community no service.

It is, again, not that affirmative action concepts are wrongheaded. They indeed are not. They should remain in place. But such programs are not solutions to our problems. They are palliatives that help people like me, who are poised to succeed when given half a chance. They do little for the millions of African Americans bottom-mired in urban hells by the savage time-release social debilitations of American slavery. They do little for those Americans, disproportionately black, who inherit grinding poverty, poor nutrition, bad schools, unsafe neighborhoods, low expectation, and overburdened mothers. Lamentably, there will always be poverty. But African Americans are over-represented in that economic class for one reason and one reason only: American slavery and the vicious climate that followed it. Affirmative action, should it survive, will never come anywhere near to balancing the books here. While I can speak only for myself, I choose not to spend my limited gifts and energy and time fighting only for the penny due when a fortune is owed.

At long last, let America contemplate the scope of its enduring human-rights wrong against the whole of a people. Let the vision of blacks not become so blighted from a sunless eternity that we fail to see the staggering breadth of America's crime against us.

Solutions must be tailored to the scope of the crime in a way that would make the victim whole. In this case, the psychic and economic injury is enormous, multidimensional and long-running. Thus must be America's restitution to blacks for the damage done. As Germany and other interests that profited owed reparations to Jews following the holocaust of Nazi persecution, America and other interests that profited owe reparations to blacks following the holocaust of African slavery which has carried forward 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.

For centuries blacks have fought their battles an episode at a time, losing sight of the full ugly picture. Seeing it whole all but defies description.
I have tried in these pages to sketch the outlines of a story that stretches from the dawn of civilization to the present. The dilemma of blacks in the world cannot possibly be understood without taking the long view of history. I have, by necessity, painted basic themes with a broad brush and make no claim to comprehensiveness. (For those with an appetite for more information, a resource list follows the text.) Here my intent is to stimulate, not to sate. To pose the question, to invite the debate. To cause America to compensate, after three and a half centuries, for a long-avoided wrong.

Reprinted from The Debt: Why America owes to Blacks by Randall Robinson by permission of E. P. Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Randall Robinson. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2009

    A Compelling Argument

    Randall Robinson's "The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks" lays out a very cogent and compelling argument in defense of some form of reparations to its Black citizens. Beginning with an overview of African culture pre-slavery, Robinson contends that the issues Black Americans face even in the present can be traced directly to the evil brutality of the slave trade, thus making the 246 years of slavery and subsequent 100 years of Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, and disenfranchisement an anomaly in the course of human affairs. While I am not 100% convinced of the efficacy of any kind of reparations, this book has brought me closer to being an advocate for it than I ever would have imagined.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2002


    This book changed my life! Robinson speaks with grace and passion. Finally, the truth. Please read this book and pass it along. Mr. Robinson, I salute you. Your book is a breath of fresh air.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2001

    THANK YOU Mr. Robinson

    This book is an eye opener for people of the African Diaspora. Mr.Robinson tells it like it is with neither apology, nor radical rethoric.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2000


    I have never heard or read such biased writing in my life. Robinson says that he is merely defending the black population, but in the mean-time credits himself for the civili rights movement. He plays the victim when he was never a slave and never even faught for civil rights. He also says that he himself should recieve some kind of compensation and used Jews as an example. However, what he failed to notice is that the Jews that lived through the Holocuast got compensation. Not their ancesters. Why should my children have to pay him for what their ancesters did to his ancesters? And as if affimative action hasn't already granted his people, in modern society, privaleges over whites. Modern society is what counts, too because it is where he lives and what counts. And whether he spells it out or not, he definately accuses all white people of wrong-doing. He is trying to make everything that is wrong with him into prejudice. I am surprised that in our society today someone could prejudice against others the way Robinson has. How much more can he ask for??

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2001

    Join the Rest of the US

    This book although not rhetoric does not talk about the diffrent races involved servitude. How the Cubans, African-Americans, English (somewhat, not all) contributed to their own demise of culture. Retribution like the culture of Jews and American-Indians are partaking being paid for their own situation. Move on and UP. We are either a Union Of States or Individual States. The art of decision making is not taken away as before. We are either a one or divided. Pick you place of comfort, stay or go (all ethnicity).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2000

    Just What America Really Needs!!!!

    This book is long overdue. Mr. Robinson, in this book, explains why reparations and a historical unearthing are so important. The problem with the reparations debate is that too many people stop just at slavery. As Mr. Robinson points out in this book,the 100 years of de jure discrimination that followed slavery also hurt African-Americans tremendously. So the argument that a lot of people use that there is no one alive today that should get reparations today is wrong. Really, reparations should have been awarded right after slavery ended. But in a devilish twist of irony, following slavery there was legislation on the books that would have provided reimbursement for slaveholders who lost slaves and not for those who were exploited.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2000

    No Lip Service and Excellent Solutions...

    Due to this country's history, America may never be a place where race is NOT an issue due simply to the fact that there is a lack of true equity and effort to right centuries of inhumane transgression of one people towards another. Although there may be no present-day Caucasian slave-holders in the US, the inheritors of their wealth and privilege ARE here. Although there may be no black people in shackles working for free (besides prison chain gangs), the inheritors of that era of emasculation and dehumanization ARE here. The legacy of slavery is such a pervading part of our culture that we cannot be naive enough to think that almost 3 centuries of history's most brutal form of systemic, physical, and psychological slavery can be remedied overnight (in one-third of the time).The cat that gave Robinson's book a one-star rating ('Prejudice')obviously didn't read it and/or is seriously deluded if he thinks that black people are going to inherit the Earth through affirmative action and welfare; in fact, the statement is rather laughable. And second off, if Robinson's work through his organization TransAfrica does not represent his participation in the Civil Rights movement, I don't know what does; the movement was and is not limited to the 1960's and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Anyway, this book is one to be read and studied for what it truly offers: solutions and a way to truly end racial inequities and injustices in the United States. I don't think that any true American has a problem with that...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2000

    Right On!

    I am a 40 year old Black man employed as a Safety Officer in one of America's inner cities. Black folks have paid the highest price of any group, except possibly the Native Americans, as pointed out by Mr. Robinson. Black folks have been brainwashed or should I say whitewashed into believing that we are a people who have not contributed to this society. Black folks have paid the ultimate price in the building of America.Millions of lives were lost and ruined with 300 years of slavery and a 100 years of Jim Crow. Our tongue, our history and our since of identity were taken away.Mr.Robinson does a masterful job of explaining the importance of knowledge of self. I don't know of any group of people who are more worthy of reparations than Black people in America. It's an insult to offer 30 years of affirmative action for 400 years of hell as a way to offset the evil deeds inflicted upon Black folks. I pose this question to you the reader.If you had a business that had 30 years of free labor (let alone 300 passed down from generation to generation)and your business was a success, wouldn't you feel a debt was owed those laborers or their hiers? Thank you Mr. Robinson for such an honest portrait of the journey of Black people in America and how we arrived at the state we now reside.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2000

    Thank You Mr. Robinson

    This book is long overdue because it brings to the surface a page in American History that has been suppressed and virtually ignored by white Americans especially. The subject of reparations is not new but it needs a modern version and Mr. Robinson gives it to us beautifully and courageously. Thank God for people like Mr. Robinson who walks the talk and is willing to sacrifice the 'perks' of being a well-behaved Negro like the Clarence Thomases and the Alan Keyes of this wicked society. Slavery was a crime committed against the African people and the only remedy is to compensate the victims in one way or another. I would suggest readers to also check out Eric Williams' book: Capitalism and Slavery to begin to understand how much is really owed to us after over three centuries of involuntary servitude. May God bless you, Mr. Robinson. I hope every African gets a hold of this book and reads it so we can begin a global effort to sue the European countries that benefitted from the slave trade: Portugal, Spain, England, Holland, France and yes, the United States of America. No one can request something that they do not deserve. After 300 years of hell on earth, affirmative action is an insult not a corrective measure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2000

    something white kids as well as black kids need to know.

    White are in charge (of U.S. history) and they don't know that blacks people come from such a well developed background. There are some that would hide these fact but, many that would not hide the facts because, it's the complete history of the people of the U.S.. One reason to teach the ones in charge of history is to bring a better understandind of all it people. A fuller history will bring a fuller person and a better life. The Dedt is to big at this time (in terms of money) but the knowledge is there. The combined histories of your people is so great as to make us a much greater people because of it and I thank you for it.

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    Posted October 25, 2010

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    Posted June 29, 2011

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    Posted November 14, 2014

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