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Lasting Social Justice: The Only Equitable Recompense


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Lasting Social Justice: The Only Equitable Recompense

Commentary by Pete Haug

Last month, The Guardian published several soul-searing articles about its own heritage of links to American slavery. “We are making an important announcement about the Guardian’s origins,” wrote Editor-in-chief Katharine Viner.

The Guardian was founded in 1821 by financiers who “derived much of their wealth from Manchester’s cotton industry,” which relied on America’s cotton plantation enslavement. Frederick Douglass encapsulated the connection: “The price of human flesh on the Mississippi was regulated by the price of cotton in Manchester.”

Yet from the start, The Guardian’s “inspiring mission argued for the right of working people to have parliamentary representation and for the expansion of education to the poor.” It was “in favor of the abolition of slavery.” Still, its founder and financial backers profited from cotton and sugar plantations.

Although Britain abolished slave trading in 1807 and slavery itself in 1834, Manchester continued importing slave-grown cotton until the American Civil War. In 1868, Baha’u’llah, then incarcerated in the Holy Land, commended Queen Victoria, although trafficking was abolished before her reign:

“O Queen in London! …We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this. He, verily, will pay the doer of good his due recompense.”


The truth

Largely undiscussed for 200 years, Viner writes, “The truth” has recently been “powerfully laid out … by historians.” Huge portions of wealth “generated during the British imperial heyday, are inextricably linked to transatlantic slavery in the Caribbean, the United States, South America and beyond.”

The Guardian has been investigating this apparent paradox for more than two years, asking “Why is there nothing about the links to slavery in the extensive histories of the Guardian?” Slavery, Viner observes, “has played a role — some say the defining role — in creating the racism and inequality that persists today” throughout the world.

The Scott Trust Legacy of Enslavement Report, published last month by The Guardian’s owner, documents this heritage. “The Guardian will redouble its efforts to change representation in our sector,” Viner pledges.

Slavery possibly played “the defining role” in creating racism and inequality throughout the world.

The Guardian Editor-in-chief Katharine Viner’s observation on slavery

This response is an example of why The Guardian is my go-to source of information. Though not my only one, it’s often my reality check. The publication is socially responsible, thorough and factual. Opinions are clearly labeled.

Viner’s observations are daunting: Slavery possibly played “the defining role” in creating racism and inequality throughout the world. How do we reckon with such a legacy, formed over centuries?

Thoroughly discredited, the concept of “race” continues to be weaponized by generations of ignorant “populists” across the globe seeking to marginalize ethnicities, religions, even gender identity — anyone who isn’t “us.”

Other recent soul-searching

Four years ago, The New York Times published “The 1619 Project” to recall the 400th anniversary of the start of American slavery. One essay states, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” The Project documents how, beginning with the gaggle of early colonies under England’s governance, America thrived economically on its slave culture.

The Project has since been linked to “critical race theory” (CRT), “a framework of legal scholarship” that emerged in the 1970s and 80s “amidst the backdrop of a growing civil rights movement in the United States.” It postulates that, because power structures enforced by our legal system are racially prejudicial, race-based power structures have been woven into American institutions since their founding and been used as tools of oppression and exclusion.

Though very different, CRT and the 1619 Project share similarities. Both are based on extensive scholarship, yet many state legislatures have prohibited teaching CRT in schools. Excluding such well-documented information from public school systems is like denying climate change.

Brookings Institution observed “CRT has become a new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present.” Or, as The Guardian editorialized: “Without understanding our past, it becomes harder to grasp what the present means and what the future holds.”

What does that future hold for all of us? The question of “reparations” is thorny. How can justice be served? Reparation plans are underway in some localities. Elsewhere the “throw money at it” point of view is debated. Well-meaning piecemealing is not the answer.

A paradigm shift

The only sustainable solution requires a paradigm shift. Our prejudices run deep. They’ve been imbued throughout generations. Equitable reparations for injustices past and present require recognizing that we are one humankind, then behaving accordingly.

We can’t control conditions we’re born under, but we can rise above them and help others do the same. As we come off another Easter season, we can follow Jesus’s words from the Mount: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

That’s what equitable, enduring reparation should be about.

Pete Haug
Pete Haug
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for favs.news in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 62 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.

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Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
1 year ago

Thanks, Pete, for these thoughtful comments on the need for social justice drawn from “The Guardian” and “The 1619 Project.” I disagree, however, with your view that economic reparations are not needed. This is not just “throwing money.”. The last essay in the the project, “Justice,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, provides cogent reasons and plans for economic reparations I urge everyone to read it.

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