Generations of racism created the conditions that made African Americans more susceptible to COVID-19, and reparations are the way to address that injustice.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jacqueline Luqm…: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. If we’re paying attention, we’re seeing very clearly the systemic issues that have subjected Black Americans to centuries of economic, social and political oppression resulting in segregated, underserved, environmentally dangerous and heavily overly policed communities across the country. And even when we live in so-called nicer neighborhoods, the specter of centuries of racism show up in our children’s schools. And the value of our homes compared to those of others and the interest rates we pay for our mortgages. And the rates we pay for our insurance and the quality of healthcare we receive even if we have good insurance. The inequality that was the virus before the coronavirus is being laid bare now, but my question is what are we going to do about it? We’re here to talk about one of the things that has long been advocated to remedy this systemic inequality is Kamm Howard. Kamm is a commissioner at the National African American Reparations Commission and national male co-chair of the National Coalition for Blacks for Reparations in America. Kamm, thank you so much for joining me today.
Kamm Howard: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So Kamm, if people hadn’t guessed by now, one of the things that black people have been advocating for to address these longstanding issues of racial inequality that we endure is reparations. So, while we’re seeing the disparate impact of COVID-19 on black people, we’re having conversations again about the inequality practically ground into the foundation of the country, but for people who would all see or understand what we’re talking about, why are black people in particular, poor and working class black people dying insignificant numbers from this virus right now? And what is the connection to systemic racism to that?
Kamm Howard: So what we’re hearing from most reports is that most people who are dying are those who have existing health conditions. They may had been suffering from diabetes or heart conditions or lung disease, asthma, hypertension, high blood pressure, these so-called chronic diseases that are rapid in our community. And so COVID-19 like any virus, it exploits those who are weak. Well, weak immune system. So, the science is showing that those who have compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses are succumbing to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, and particularly in the area of death. And what we see having looked at, examined our health conditions for many years and we have always held that the health status of the black community, chronic diseases in the black community is from the longstanding racism that we suffered in this country. But what’s so important right now is that science is backing this up.
There is two levels of science, one called transgenerational transmission of trauma. It’s where historical trauma has been… A group of people have been traumatized. It’s not just an individual, but a group of people have been traumatized from one event and then after that event has ended, you can find the legacy of that trauma in generations to come, our future generations. That’s why it’s called transgenerational because it’s across generations. And so we see that in our community, there has been not just one episode of trauma, but there has been 400 years of ongoing trauma in our community. And so science has shown us that when you have this transgenerational transmission of trauma, weakened immune systems are a result. And if you have a weakened immune system, you’re going to have higher rates of disease because the immune system has been weakened.
Also, it shows there’s going to be more mental illnesses in the community as a result of this transgenerational transmission of trauma. So, that’s one branch to the science and then there is another branch in the science, that’s called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance or transgenerational epigenetic injury. And what this is again, transgenerational, it is something that happens across generation, but if you have this historical trauma that happens to a people, that historical trauma can damage or alter or modify the genes in the people and those altered genes are being transmitted transgenerationally to future generations. And again, those altered genes tell the gene to express itself as illness or to express itself as an auto immune disease, that way your body attacks itself or where your body is supposed to kick in and prevent things from happening and it doesn’t happen. And so again, you see these very, very high rates of chronic disease in our community as a result of the enslavement, as a result of the Jim Crow, the lynching, as a result of the ongoing police terror.
Every time you look in the news and see one of our brothers or sisters abused by the police, what you’re doing is adding onto the existing trauma and you trigger the damaged DNA to cause these illnesses and a weakened immune system, et cetera. So, it’s ongoing. And so, the COVID pandemic is putting a highlight on the bad health conditions of our community. And those bad health conditions are a direct result of the atrocities that have been committed against us for 400 years, from which reparations I do.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So, I mean, the question comes to mind now because I’m listening to the voices of people who I’ve tried to have this conversation with and I’m listening to their rebuttals. Well, this sound like lifestyle changes. If people would just eat right and exercise, then they would be healthy and they wouldn’t have these kinds of issues. What’s your response to people who believe that the chronic health issues that many in the black community face is not a result of transgenerational trauma, but it’s actually result of poor lifestyle choices as the surgeon general of the United States alluded to a few weeks ago?
Kamm Howard: So, what we understand again about this science and this is a new science, about 20, 25 years old. So a lot of people, even the surgeon general has no idea. Most of your doctors have no idea of this science of transgenerational genetics. You might find one in a thousand that may have heard of it. So it’s not something that, the majority of healthcare practitioners are going to be aware of because it’s a new science. Well, one of the things we found out, this science has also told us in the area of diet, if you shift the people from where they had lived and they ate a particular diet, you take them to somewhere else, like in the case of a famine and people have to move to another society or in case of a war, you have these refugees, they take them to another society.
What science found also is that this also can have a transgenerational epigenetic effect on the genes, which again is transferred generationally. So, we were removed from the African continent. We had our own diet prior to being removed from the African continent. We were brought here, we were fed primarily corn meal in the form of grit, some type of meal and bad fats. We’ve given chunk of fat and then we tried to mitigate this bad diet by putting some type of protein in our system. Ancestors were genius and they created… No, they took the pig tails and the pig ears and the pig intestines and the pig feet and they created a supplement to this poor diet that they were getting, which had no protein.
And so that diet, we have to understand that for 246 years, we existed on a deficient diet. Very few nutrients in the vitamins or minerals in the vegetation that we were fed, poor protein and high concentrations of fats for 246 years. And 100 years after that, we began to put a lot of vegetables into our diet, but we still had that history of those poor fats and poor protein.
And down today, you see that because of the food deserts, we have less access to vegetables. And so now we only have this one carbohydrate, in the past it was corn, now it’s French fries or potatoes, now this mix of chicken and the fish and all these other fast food items in our community because of the poor food desert situation. But even still the DNA was damaged from the 246 years of enslavement and that poor diet and so that is the foundation of the likelihood for these chronic diseases to take place. When we talk about cultural habits and the way we eat, well, we have to look at the likelihood that we can get fresh fruits and vegetables in our community as well. So, you can say it’s cultural, but the cultural is based on the crimes that were committed against us for 246 years of enslavement, 100 years of Jim Crow segregation and the ongoing crimes that are still being committed against us. So, it still has a scientific basis of damaged DNA, modified genetical, which again, produces a weakened immune system and the likelihood of these diseases to occur.
Jacqueline Luqm…: I think that is absolutely fascinating because I’m thinking of traditional African diets, which are usually rich in the same kinds of foods, yams and some type of greens-
Kamm Howard: That is right.
Jacqueline Luqm…: …. And meat is present in African diets. However, they were different quality, a better quality of food, there were not as many preservatives, not as much salt and so we had to use what was given to us-
Kamm Howard: That is right.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … In a culture that was manufactured for us in this country that we brought some things that we remembered, that our ancestors remembered from the motherland-
Kamm Howard: That is right.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … But we didn’t have access to everything. So, we had to make do with what we had and centuries later, and now we’re looking at not just the manufactured culture around food that was not good for us, that we did the best that we could with-
Kamm Howard: That is true.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … But now we’re looking at policy dictating still what food we have access to. And I think that’s a very fascinating line throughout history that we need to be very clear and connecting. So, I appreciate that explanation, but Kamm, these are issues that have been raised time and time again, only to be met with not just scorn and ridicule from your basic American who hears about it, but also it to be met with some kind of piecemeal or completely insignificant policy that doesn’t address these issues. And then people will incorrectly claim that some of the policies and programs that have been implemented like welfare and the Affordable Care Act are actually reparations. So, we shouldn’t be asking for anything else. So, can you tackle why those claims are misguided and honestly flat out untrue, especially now as we are in the middle of… We’re not even in the middle of this crisis, we are reaching the first peak of this crisis with coronavirus.
Kamm Howard: So first of all, all those social programs for this entire society weren’t designed to address the harms committed against us as a people, they were designed to lift… They were were designed to make things better for the American population who was going through certain crises, whether there was the depression or whether there’s other things that they were going through. So, it’s always been a disproportionate effect on people of African descent, even on neutral public policy, we always benefit much less on mutual policy and those who need it less benefit more. And so we understand that the only thing that would remedy the wide range of harms that we have is specifically targeted remedy or resources to our community. When you look at the health status and most people are focusing on the health, we are different than everybody in this country.
No one has been through the atrocities that we went through and had the genetic effect on our being as we have. The way the science really originally came out, they were trying to understand how did grandchildren of Jewish Holocaust survivors, why did they have a higher degree of lifestyle illnesses, heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, et cetera, than their peers whose grandparents did not go through the Holocaust. Jewish peer group, some of their grandparents went through the Holocaust, some of them didn’t. Those whose grandparents went through the Holocaust, they had high rates of chronic illnesses.
And they found out that it was because of the trauma their grandparents experienced during the Holocaust, was transferred generationally down to the third generation who they were measuring now and saw that it was because of that trauma, part of their genes were switched on and off to lead to these chronic diseases. So, if they went through six years of trauma, we went through 400 years of trauma, then we have to say that the reason we are in the position that we are in, not only health, but economically, socially and otherwise is because of our specific history. And the only thing that can address all of that is reparations.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So speaking about the issues that we face, that are being uncovered now by corona virus, not as if they weren’t already there, but it’s kind of hard to ignore them now-
Kamm Howard: Yes, you are right.
Jacqueline Luqm…: What are the specific restitutional remedies that are being suggested to address these issues? And I have to admit Kamm, that I’m using the term restitution intentionally-
Kamm Howard: Yes, you are right.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … Because we are talking about a repayment for injustice, not just the R word that people don’t want to use. So, what are the specific restitutional remedies that are being proposed in this moment?
Kamm Howard: Well, there are several, the National African American Reparations Commission has a 10 point reparations platform that is patterned out, the NAARC 10 point reparations platform. It deals with land, it deals with repatriation, it deals with compensation. It deals with restitution as you stated, it deals with economic development, it deals with rehabilitation and psychological development and treatment. It deals with apologies and markers and monuments. It’s a wide range of economic aspects that we’re looking at, the right away, just psychological and physical health initiatives that we’re looking at, but in the area of this COVID, in this transgeneration epigenetic injury that we’ve suffered from because this science is so new and we don’t have the answers, one of the things that we’ve put in the H.R. 40 legislation was that we develop some type of research Institute that look at our situation because we are different than any other people on the planet, people of African descent. Whether we in America, whether we are in the Caribbean, whether we in South America, we in a horrific 400 year period, 500 year period in some cases, it has damaged us. It does damage this physically.
And we need to understand how much we were damaged and how we can mitigate it. Science is saying, they are generally saying they haven’t did the studies on us and they are doing them on mice and in the laboratory, but science is saying there’s three primary ways that you may be able to mitigate it. And we are talking about mitigation, we are talking about neutralizing the effect, reversing the effect or minimizing reversing in neutralizing. How do we minimize the effect that the DNA damage? How do we neutralize it completely and how do we reverse it? Those are the three things that we want to do. And we have to have research institutions, hundreds of millions of dollars to do this research, this is very expensive research, to understand how we can mitigate, neutralize, minimize or reverse the damage to our DNA.
Now science is saying there’s possibly three ways in which you can do that. One is new diet. We had a survival diet during enslavement, that’s why we put together those delicacies out of the pig and we survived off that. And we are here because of the genius of our ancestors who survived off that diet. However, we need a new survival diet as a people. And what that is, we have to be able to broadcast it, we have to be able to teacher it, we have to train youth how to prepare meals and this diet, because we need a new survival diet. Nutrition is another way. There are certain vitamins that we know we need. And just like they had this government cheese program in the 70’s and 80’s where the government gave out all this cheese, the government needs to give black people, vitamins, new vitamin C, new vitamin D.
We need NAC, we need these main vitamins that will address our immune system and that will retard and minimize… And a B complex. In my study, they know that a B complex in these mice reverse the injury. And so these are things that the government should do right now, especially in the era of this COVID. And also lifestyle, meditation, sleep. So meditation and sleep are really good ways in which we can begin to deflect the amount of stress that we would see by just being black in this country-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Right.
Kamm Howard: … So these are the types of things that we have to begin to teach that if we want to not only succumb to the COVID pandemic, but also reverse the chronic diseases that are in our community. We need this type of research, we need this type of education, we need this type of implementation of nutrient and dietary and lifestyle education in our community. And that’s really what we’re pushing.
Jacqueline Luqm…: And certainly because we’re talking about conditions that were imposed upon us for 400 years, these are not decisions that we made for ourselves. The decisions to create environments through which we could not access anything better. These were decisions that were made by policymakers and much of the American public-
Kamm Howard: Exactly.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … That went along with it. These are remedies that the same entities should be responsible for implementing to address these issues. So, that’s a key point because I know someone is going to be watching this, Kamm saying, “Why can’t you just go to CVS and get some vitamins?” No, we’re talking about a restitution that needs to be directed toward us.
Kamm Howard: Yeah. And that’s a good thing, you mentioned where restitution costs, I mean, it nationally means how do you return the people back the way they would have been and not you injured them in the first place. So how do we turn our health back to us. so these are the types of things that they must do. And so we need the research, have a university has the human genome center, hundreds of millions, tens of million dollars should be going there. Meharry Medical College and other black medical school has a center for health disparity research center, have tens of millions of dollars should be going there right now. And for them to give us some answers to at least accumulate what’s already out there, the science is already out there and put it in a form that we can digest and begin to benefit from. But our law makers, legislators are not looking in that direction and so we have to thank you for giving us this opportunity so we can share that, but this is what they must be doing.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Absolutely. I think this is incredibly important because we think traditionally, and I’m certainly guilty of this myself, we think of reparations as the way we have been talking about reparations for the past 100 years since we’ve been talking about reparations, honestly, since we’ve been here. So this is an important discussion to have because now this is a new dynamic in the discussion, but it’s not a new issue. It is a problem that we have endured right along with everything else. But Kamm, I want to ask you this last question, because you did bring up the international connection that people of African descent have, whether we are here in the United States or whether we are anywhere else in the world, if we are not in Africa, we’re somewhere else in the world because of the slave trade, largely not entirely-
Kamm Howard: Largely.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … But largely. And I’m wondering what do we do about people who want to put African descended people in America against Africans throughout the diaspora and against immigrants and native Americans who have endured oppression as well, but a different kind of oppression. Well, how do we have these kinds of conversations about a restorative justice for an oppressed people, with people who want to hit those groups of oppressed people against each other in a misguided belief that, that’s how we in America are going to get our reparations?
Kamm Howard: Well, we say it’s bad thinking, totally erroneous thinking and as an action as well. We have been victimized because we are African. Not because we in this country… And this country, one of the things I share all the time is that when we got off those slave ships, our families were broken up. Some of them were broken up on the continent, some of them were broken up when they landed here. So some of them went to central America, South American islands, some stayed here, some went into Canada. We don’t know who’s our brothers and sisters, literally what bloodline we have. That’s one the injuries that we suffer from, we can’t trace who our brothers and sisters are. And so we have brothers and sisters in Jamaica and Caribbean that if we trace our DNA, they go back to the same village. We are all family.
And we’ve all been injured and so we all are fighting for the same type of remedy that will heal us all. In Jamaica for instance, they have a Centre for Reparation Research, only one in the world. They are doing fantastic research. What they found out is that some hypertension medication that works for whites and worked for continental Africans don’t work on us because of the genetic modification-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Wow.
Kamm Howard: … That we suffer. And so they’re trying to get pharmaceutical companies to tweak those drugs so that they work equally, even on us who have been injured in the tragic line of slave trade. If they do that, that medication would benefit all people of African descent. Black folks here in America, if they had found those pharmaceutical companies are you able to do that, and so they won’t be taking two or three medications for hypertension. It would only to be taken one.
So we see that this is all one struggle, one global fight for African people to be respected and to be made whole as a result of the crimes that the European world, it wasn’t America only, but the European world curated on African people. And so to divide it up is erroneous, it’s counterproductive, it plays into the hands of those who are against reparations in its entirety, in the first place. So we are totally against that. We welcome the brothers and sisters into the reparations movement, but they are come in with a sense of foundation on the history of what actually has taken place to us as a people.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So now that people have a better understanding, hopefully after this segment of reparations and the need for reparations, especially as we are in this moment, dealing COVID-19, how do people get involved in advocating for restorative justice for people of African descent?
Kamm Howard: So right now, H.R.40 is a major federal push to be repaired in this country. There are 126 federal representative co-sponsors on the bill. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson has done a fantastic job pushing the bill. She wants to get 150 co-sponsors before she brings it out of the judiciary committee to the house floor, vote on the house. We know we can get it out of judiciary, it is the first time in history that we’ve been able to get it to this point, but we still need those other 24 co-sponsors, so if you have a congress person, Democrat, black, white, Asian or Hispanic, who is not signed on, then that’s your job to get that person signed on, no matter where you at to move this forward.
There’s a lot of local reparations actions going forward as well and so work with your local congressperson, your local state rep or stay senator or your local alderman or mayor and get them also to engage this because what we found out during the civil rights movement, the more local action you have will push federal action. And so we are pushing local reparations in order to push the federal needle as well. So, get involved, join N’COBRA, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, you can go to N’COBRA Online, N-C-O-B-R-A online.org and you can sign up, you can register, become a member and we can plug you into a chapter or region within your area so you can get active in the struggle.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Well, Kamm Howard, thank you so much for joining me today to shed some light on this issue that will not go away nor should it until the demands are met. So, thank you so much for joining me today.
Kamm Howard: Thank you so much for having me. Greatly appreciated.
Jacqueline Luqm…: And thank you for watching. Remember, be safe, be well, be informed. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Washington, D C.
Studio: Taylor Hebden
Production: Taylor Hebden