The 2008 Seattle Race Conference meets Oct. 11 to discuss the issue of reparations and how they help to address racial inequalities and heal diverse communities.
"We hope to implement some counter-balance to the inequality," said John Lovchik, a member of the planning council for the Seattle Race Conference. "It is a natural follow-on to how past discrimination effects the present."
In its sixth year, the Seattle Race Conference is a forum for discussion on issues of regarding race and culture in America. The conference, which is in part funded by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, will look at reparations as a positive tool for social change.
The issue of reparations comes during a year in which Congress formally apologized for slavery. On July 30, The United States House of Representatives passed a resolution that, in addition to issuing an apology, gave a "commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future."
The Seattle Race Conference is also being held 20 years after The Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This act was justice for Japanese Americans and their descendents who were interned by the United States government during World War II.
"Their experience is relevant to the discussion," said Lovchik.
The Civil Liberties act apologized for the government's behavior, but, unlike Congress' apology for slavery, compensated surviving internees with up to $20,000. The reason for the monetary compensation was that the government concluded that the "incalculable losses in education and job training" resulted in significant human suffering for which appropriate compensation has not been made.
Reparations are sought by a number of groups in the United States as way to provide restitution for the harm done by slavery. Many of these groups point to historical examples such as the redress of Japanese Americans and those made by European countries to holocaust victims.
The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA), which is not part of the Seattle Race Conference, also sees that reparations "will allow United States' residents to make peace with a significant part of this country's shameful past and end the intergenerational trauma of its current effects."
The Seattle Race Conference's keynote speaker is Dr. Raymond Winbush, who recently wrote a book called "Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations." Winbush points out that slavery and its effects remain Europe and the United States' "longest unpaid debt." According to his research, he estimated that this debt amounted to over $900 trillion.
The event brings together a number of different professionals, speakers and members of the general public. Lovchik sees it as an opportunity to provide for an open discussion of the issue.
The organization has seen as many as 500 participants at its first two conferences in 2003 and 2004. Lovchik estimated that they average around 250-300 people for the last couple of conference and hope to draw over 300.
Lovchik mentioned that while many of the participants work professionally in relation to issues of social and racial justice, each conference also draws regular people who are interested in the issue. Demographically, the race conference's participants have been about 60 percent White to 40 percent non-White.
The Seattle Race Conference tackles a different issue every year with the goal of providing a base for discussion. In 2007, the event looked at the legacy of racism in neighborhoods and in previous years discussed other issues related to racism and the community.
The goal of the overall effort is to start a discussion which will trigger an impact on the issue in the future.
The Seattle Race Conference will be held at the Seattle Center Northwest Rooms. The conference is free, but donations are suggested. For more information on the conference and to register, please visit http://www.seattleraceconference.org.