02/16/2016 01:13 EST | Updated 02/16/2017 05:12 EST

America Must Deal With The Ramifications Of Its Racist Past

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Mixed race couple holding hands

There's one major issue in this year's American presidential campaign that isn't being dealt with by the candidates: race and, in particular, the plight of many African-Americans. There are discussions about everything from ISIS to immigration but little, if anything, is said about America's shameful history of slavery and its failure to fully deal with the modern ramifications.

Notwithstanding the horrendous history of slavery and the failure to fully and adequately deal with its fallout, most Americans pretend that all that is ancient history and need not be dealt with any more. There seems to be an attitude among many white Americans along the lines of "what more do these people want?"

That's not to say that there has not been progress over the years, however agonizingly slow. After all, the country finally did the right thing a century and a half ago by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing the slaves.

That was quickly followed by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution granting freedom, citizenship and the right to vote. Sadly, those noble actions were followed by a century of de facto segregation relegating America's black population to an informal slavery.

What is needed is a mammoth national endeavor to begin to rectify the disparities between America's different racial communities.

Yet the battle for civil rights continued and eventually gave rise to such watershed moments as the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and serious attempts at affirmative action. Sadly, some of those initiatives are even now being curtailed by an increasingly tone-deaf right wing majority on the Supreme Court.

Granted, today's situation is a far cry from 150 years ago or even 50 years ago. But from where I sit, it appears that little has been done to truly make amends.

A first step might be a truth and reconciliation commission, a platform to allow African-Americans to come forth and detail the wrongs visited upon them and their ancestors. We in Canada adopted this approach in an attempt to heal the wounds from our shameful treatment of our aboriginal population.

It has been successfully employed in South Africa to attempt to deal with the wrongs of apartheid. Rwanda, too, used this method to try to get past the horrors of the genocide in 1994. Surely there also needs to be such a commission to deal with the 250-year history of American slavery and the 150 years of segregation that followed.

Another important step would be a national apology for slavery and segregation. It may seem like a small thing but it can have a very powerful effect as shown here recently in Canada when the prime minister apologized for Canada's treatment of aboriginals. Such a statement can help to educate and heal.

Related steps might include a national day of mourning which could help to focus squarely on the heinous antebellum treatment of African-American slaves and the century and a half of post-Civil War racism and segregation. A national slavery museum and a national slavery monument are long overdue initiatives.

Perhaps the most powerful and meaningful step would be to implement a reparations program. I'm not talking about the post-Civil War illusory promise of "40 acres and a mule," nor am I talking about cash settlements to descendants of former slaves.

What is needed is a mammoth national endeavor to begin to rectify the disparities between America's different racial communities. It would involve the expenditure of billions of dollars on education, health and employment initiatives directed primarily to those who are still entrapped in the social ghetto that has its roots in slavery and segregation.

It seems to me that these various initiatives are not just needed to compensate African-Americans for past wrongs. Their true importance is to help to get past the denial that there still exists a problem and to educate white America that it has a moral duty to acknowledge that problem and accept responsibility for rectifying it.

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