ADOS members held signs outside the Democratic presidential debate at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta in November. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

OPINION: Why ADOS is unapologetic in seeking reparations, black agenda

About four years ago, Amirah Lawson came across a couple of podcasts about the state of black America that resonated with her.

When it came to their politics and data analysis, “Tonetalks” and “BreakingBrown” were unlike anything she’d ever heard. And so every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the 49-year-old marketing research analyst found herself tuning in and then launching into deep discussions with her sister about the issues authors Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore had shared.

Issues like the racial wealth gap, mass incarceration, and reparations.

As a child of the North who was among the first black students to experience integration in her suburban Philadelphia school district in 1979, Lawson had already been primed for what would come next.

“My evolution started with (former President Barack) Obama and seeing the possibilities if you fight and push and get involved,” she said. “Once you see your voice matters, then you’re always looking for the next thing to become a part of.”

For Lawson, that was the American Descendants of Slavery, a social movement born in our backyard and advocating for meaningful political and social reform solely on behalf of the black community.

If nothing else, it has certainly amplified the argument for reparations in the national consciousness.

RELATED | Georgia Democrats embrace slavery reparations proposal

The group, which grew out of the hashtag #ADOS created by Moore and Carnell, a resident of Atlanta, believes among other things that there should be set-asides for American Descendants of Slavery only; that the U.S. census should include a new designation for those descendants to differentiate them from black immigrants; and that those black immigrants, along with other “minorities,” should be barred from accessing reparations, affirmative action and other set-asides for blacks who descended from American slavery.

In ADOS, Lawson, who makes her home northeast of Atlanta in Bethlehem, said she found people who shared her worldview like Carnell and group member Michael Adams; people who believe voting is an exchange not a gift, political education is necessary and the only way to truly make a difference is to engage in the political process.

Amirah Lawson (center), with her husband Theodore Lawson (right) and Michael Adams, members of ADOS. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Contributed

More importantly, she said, they share a common lineage — descending from “those who were enslaved in America and who, despite having built this country, still suffered Jim Crow, convict leasing, redlining, racial terrorism and mass incarceration.”

If, for some reason, your blood pressure just shot up, check your heart. You’ll need it to get through the rest of this and Black History Month.

Adams, 53, of Stockbridge asks that you remember one thing — “your life is not your own” and political involvement is not a choice but a responsibility.

“Our ancestors fought and died for full citizenship and economic security,” he said. “Without a major paradigm shift, ADOS will literally become nonexistent in the country they built.”

Adams said that America would have blacks believe their condition is of their own making, but the truth, he said, is the black condition is the result of generations of government policies and laws designed to create an intentional failure or bottom caste group.

RELATED | From slavery to mass incarceration?

“Each of us is responsible for teaching our children and making them understand who they are and what this country owes to them,” he said.

Lawson describes ADOS as a loosely formed confederation of people interested in reparations and political advocacy that has grown to about 60 in number in Atlanta. It holds voter registration drives, participated recently in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade, and back in November was among the groups waving signs outside the Democratic presidential debate at the Tyler Perry Studios. The group can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The idea of reparations for slavery is nothing new. The question is what that should look like — debt forgiveness, expanded social programs, and direct government payments as ADOS has demanded.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Adams and Lawson point to a study by William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University, that shows the gains to white Southerners from owning blacks in 1859 was $4 billion. In today’s dollars, the value of that debt is estimated to be between $5 trillion and $10 trillion, depending on the interest rate used for compounding purposes.

Darity, by the way, agrees with ADOS that only descendants of chattel slavery in the United States — not Caribbean immigrants who’ve also made claims for reparations via CARICOM — should get reparations.

That isn’t to say that the movement is not without its critics who say ADOS’ politics is xenophobic, fosters voter apathy and promotes divisiveness within the black community. For instance, while some blacks applaud ADOS’ efforts to raise awareness about the importance of exercising our right to vote, others have questioned the group’s call to support only those Democratic candidates who support reparations and a black agenda.

As for charges of xenophobia, Lawson said such accusations amount to a double standard while giving a pass to other marginalized groups who advocate for their needs.

“Why isn’t it OK for us to have pride in our unique history, culture and contributions to this country when everybody else does the same thing?” Lawson asked.

Works for me.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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