Reparations for Slavery

Groups like the NAACP are actively pursuing claims for compensation from both corporations and governments for slavery in the United States 140 or more years ago (that's 7+ generations in the past).  The particular article linked is on seeking reparations from corporations, but many efforts exist to extract compensation from taxpayers, e.g. you and I.

Lets forget for a minute why I owe money for what my great-great-great-great-great grandfather did to your great-great-great-great-great grandfather.  Lets even forget that my great-great grandparents and all preceding generations of my family did not even live in this country.  Forget even about whether a statute of limitations has been exceeded by waiting 140+ years and seven or more generations to file a claim.

Lets however ask the question of what damages are incurred by the current generation of African-Americans who are decedents of American slaves.  Clearly the slaves themselves were irreparably harmed by slavery, but lets talk about the people who are actually bringing the suit.

If it were not for slavery, then many African-Americans today would be ... in Africa.  And in Africa, they would very, very likely be in horrible mind-numbing poverty (see Live8).  Its hard to pin down a number, but estimates of average incomes in Sub-Saharan Africa are between $600 per year and $1,770 per year.  By comparison, the average income of an African American was $14,397 in 1999 and is certainly higher today, since black incomes are growing rapidly in this country and actually falling in Africa.  And African American life expectancies, which still have some catching up to do with whites in the US, are nevertheless 10-25 years longer than their counterparts in the old country.  Everything from AIDS survival rates to education levels to VCR ownership and Internet access are far superior for American blacks than blacks in Africa.  So in this context, how does one demonstrate economic damages from slavery?

If I were an African American, I would give thanks every day that my ancestors endured the torture and humiliation and horror of slavery so that today my family could live, despite frustrations that sill exist for blacks, in relative wealth and prosperity and good health instead of some sub-Saharan shit-hole.

One Note:  I have certainly gotten some interesting emails on this one, including at least one "you will roast in hell" offering.  One comment I have gotten several times is "But there is no statute of limitations on murder, so how can there be on slavery?"   To which I answer - yes, there is not statute of limitations on murder, BUT, if we fail to catch a murderer in his lifetime, we don't throw his kids or grandkids in jail in his stead, nor do we ask his grandkids to pay reparations for his murders.  If we suddenly could absolutely prove the identity of Jack the Ripper, would we track down all his descendants and sue them for his actions? 

The second comment I get, presumably from African-Americans by the pronouns "I" and "we" used in the emails, is "we had our heritage ripped away".  I will confess that I may have a blind spot on this loss-of-heritage issue.  My great-grandparents were forcibly exiled from Germany about a century ago, and I don't shed any tears for my lost heritage, particularly given Germany's atrocious actions during the twentieth century.  I am thrilled to be an American and reject or at least ignore my German heritage.  I am not at all saddened my disconnectedness from the Kaiser or Hitler, and am not sure in turn that if I was black I would feel a loss from not being closer to Robert Mugabe or any of a zillion other repressive African regimes. 

By the way, in terms of being disconnected from one's heritage,  I have no way to prove it or get the numbers, but I would be willing to be that there are more college students right now studying black and/or African history in the US than in the whole of Africa.

  • Tom

    Perhaps reparations should take the form of free, one-way transporation to Africa for all who request it.

  • Mike F

    Well said. Thanks for your putting it so eloquently.

  • Not to mention that, since Africa is the only place on Earth where slavery is still openly practiced, and the folks who enslaved their ancestors were just as black and just as African as the victims were, it should be pretty easy to make a defensive case.

  • As much as I agree with your overall conclusion, there are a few reparations arguments that you are not addressing. On the issue of damages, the folks in this camp tend to argue that the depopulation, colonialism, disease introduction, etc. etc. are all harms inflicted on Africa by external powers. Further, this camp tends to argue that at least part of the economic prosperity the US enjoys today is a result of profiting from the benefits of a slave system. So, a comparison of African-Americans today and Africans today does not address the full scope of their argument.

  • Bill

    "So, a comparison of African-Americans today and Africans today does not address the full scope of their argument. "

    Matthew, are you saying that had we plucked blacks off their homeland of Africa, that today, Africa would be better off and America worse off? It would be my opinion that slaves had very little to do with the success and growth of America, since the greatest growth occurred after the abolition of slavery.

  • lrC

    "decedent" = dead person. I'm not sure the decedents of slaves are in line to benefit much from reparations.

  • I'd like reparations for having been subjected to public schools, for the slavery of paying into social security, and for the fact that I wasn't elected Pope. Damn it, I've been subjugated. Witness the oppression inherent in the system.

    Ugh.

  • Bill,

    Just as a quick aside, I don't agree with the reparations crowd, I'm only trying to reference their argument in this case. Those who agree with reparations do in fact argue that America's economic development materially benefited from the slave labor. If it didn't result in a net economic benefit for the plantation owners, they wouldn't have pursued it just for kicks. Therefore, we can reasonably presume there was an economic benefit being had here. Of course, there's always the issue of the economic loss the US incurred in the whole civil war, but that's another line...

  • I think it is safe to say that any econmic net gain incurred from slave labor was subsequently totally consumed by the inflation & taxation of the last century.

    We are all slaves to that!

    Inflation-Reparations anyone?

  • Young Daniel

    First, I don't agree with the argument that the ends justify the means.
    Second, I don't think reparations would be only for slavery. I think the effects of segregation and jim crow are easier to trace and connect to people living today then slavery.
    Third, Even if the lowest rung of our economic ladder in America is better off then the rest of the country, that doesn't excuse the entitlement that was given to generations before. Many economists say that 75 of wealth is locked, meaning that it is not earned but passed down from one generation to the next. Real estate is one way families pass down wealth. I think you can trace housing discrimination en mass up until the 80's.
    Fourth, because capital builds more capital you will never get parity between non-whites and whites in this country. There are many studies that show the growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

    I'm not for wealth redistribution plans but I think some form of reparations is just and needed. Perhaps in the form of scholarships and small business loans.

  • markm

    I can see the next reparations lawsuit - on behalf of the residents of west Africa, against the descendants of the slave traders for NOT kidnapping the plaintiffs' ancestors so the plaintiffs could be relatively rich American welfare cases instead of starving Africans.

  • Young Daniel

    Here's a quick news story that demonstrates part of

    url = http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/12118911.htm

    "Johnson Dorn, a white whose family has been in South Carolina nine generations, told how his great-grandfather had fought in the Civil War, then came home and joined the Red Shirts, whose actions, he said, helped paved the way for lynching in South Carolina."

    "Rhodes, an Anderson native and Furman graduate, said he was inspired by the U.S. Senate’s public apology last month for its failure to pass anti-lynching laws during the 20th century, when blacks were lynched in Southern states like South Carolina."

    "One of the worst lynchings took place in Abbeville, when hundreds of whites in October, 1916, went on a rampage and publicly murdered Crawford.
    On hand Tuesday night were relatives of Crawford, who said that for 89 years, area whites had expressed no regret about the lynching."

    "Crawford’s lynching was one of South Carolina’s most public and brutal murders, taking place during what writer Susan Garris called “a violent decade.” From 1915 to 1925, she writes, there were 15 lynchings, two probable lynchings and 13 attempted lynchings in the state."

    Crawford was one of the state’s most prosperous black citizens. He owned 400 acres of prime cotton land, had 16 children and was a leader in a local AME church.

    Several days after the lynching, several hundred whites meeting in the courthouse “voted unanimously” to force the entire Crawford family to leave the state within three weeks, according to the Oct. 25, 1916, Abbeville Press and Banner. After the meeting, some 100 whites went to every black business in town.

    “The Negroes were told by the mob to keep their shops closed indefinitely,” the newspaper reported.

    Eventually, thousands of blacks left Abbeville County. By 1920, there were 7,018 fewer blacks in the county than there were in 1910, according to census figures. Today, about 30 percent of the county’s 26,000 residents are black."

    ------

    There is clear evidence of capital being stolen, and means to produce capital being limited, to the families of the shousands of blacks that left Abberville. While some may say that they should be thankful they are not in Africa, I think that it's disingenuous to think that they should be thankful for what happend after slavery.

    Like Chris Rock said: America is like the uncle that paid for you to go to college...but mollested you along the way.

  • Dwight in IL

    Personally, I'm tempted to just agree to the reparations. In fact, I'll go one better and propose that reparations should be calculated both for slavery and for all the civil rights abuse through, say, the 1960s. Then we can calculate one-time payments for all African-Americans based on family ancestry, residence in various regions of the nation, etc.

    Of course, that will be somewhat tricky, but, heck, let's go ahead and make the most generous call---whenever somethings in doubt we'll choose the most generous settlement for the recipient.

    And, then, once that's done, well, that's it. We've now paid reparations for slavery to all American citizens affected by it. Our debt: moral, legal, and ethical is now fully paid. So we can then remove African-Americans from qualifying for any minority assistance. No set-asides for black-owned businesses, no publically-funded scholarships (other than those open to all), etc.

    Of course, many black-owned businesses will need to adjust to the sudden loss of contracts, funding, set-asides, etc. So we should probably give them, say, 6 months from the time of the reparations before cutting them off from all these programs.

    Best of all, we will be completely free from all responsibility for any continuing problems in African-American communities. Since we've paid up in full, we can now dismantle any guilt-based programs, scale back welfare massively, redistrict without regard for race or ethnicity, etc.

    Slavery has been the moral fuel for all manner of racist policies. It will be good to finally put an end to that unjust justification. We can then actually implement the guarantees of due process and rule of law for all Americans actually specified in the 14th Amendment.

  • Ben

    I'm Jewish, so can I have some reparations? Throughout the centuries we have endured unimaginable amounts of suffering with no reparations. African Americans are not the only people that have ever been victims of prejudice.

    I think that african americans are trying to take advantage of a prosporous country. They see an opportunity to exploit a wrongdoing by a group of people 200 years ago. I agree that enslaving them was incredibly despicable, but that was then and this is now. If we could go back and change the past we would, but until then we will just have to accept the fact that what is done is done and move on with our lives. Its definitely heartbreaking to hear about how the slaves were treated and uprooted from their homes, but if there is any consolation for them, it is that their ancestors are better off for it.

    My point is that at some point in time everybody's ancestors have been wronged by somebody and I think it is ridiculous to ask for reparations for something that had very miniscule effects on you.

  • Carnival of the Vanities #148 part 4 presented by Justice Stevens!

    John Paul Stevens is the most senior member of the Court. It follows he's done the most damage! Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Kelo v. New London, the eminent domain case, and Raich v. Gonzalez, the medical marijuana case, and co-author...

  • Carnival of the Vanities #148 part 4 presented by Justice Stevens!

    John Paul Stevens is the most senior member of the Court. It follows he's done the most damage! Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Kelo v. New London, the eminent domain case, and Raich v. Gonzalez, the medical marijuana case, and co-author...

  • Carnival of the Vanities #148 part 4 presented by Justice Stevens!

    John Paul Stevens is the most senior member of the Court. It follows he's done the most damage! Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Kelo v. New London, the eminent domain case, and Raich v. Gonzalez, the medical marijuana case, and co-author...

  • Young Daniel

    I personally think the mistake lies in tying today's disparity directly to slavery instead of jim crow and segregation. Decendants of people living in Black Wallstreet 75 years ago would most likely be in the upper 10% tax bracket today despite of having slaves in their bloodline. The fact that they are not is not because of slavery but because of domestic and government sanctioned terrorism.

  • A concerned black man

    I realize this is an old post but I had a hard time turning away. You have to look at the negro-American today. They are taught from an early age that whites ruin them. I say they, I realize this isn't with every black but I believe it’s a misconception from childhood. So let’s get back to how the shit rolls down hill effect.

    1. A black is born

    2. His loser father tells him"da white man getes uses down, ya wonta getes shit in this life thanks to da white man"

    3. Young black man grows up believing this. Refuses to go to college because hey what’s the point, the white won’t give me a good job any how.

    4. Has a brand new bouncing baby Negro of his own.

    5. Explains to baby Negro”jess like ma daddy told me, da white man wil' getes you down.

    So let this be a good lesson to the uneducated black living in this country. If you don’t go to college you have no right to complain about the way your shit life rolls out. You also have no right to expect the white man to pay for crimes he didn’t have anything to do with to a group of people who where never involved. I will celebrate my 35 birthday next week, I'm middle class, and I have white neighbors who look at me the same way I look at them. For the record this was written by an educated African American. If your black and lack a degree your the common nigger dragging us into the "shit rolls down hill effect"

    Forget what your Nigger father told you, get involved in the many african american to college programs and learn the truth : your skin color no loger matters. If you think it does your the uneducated nigger I was speaking about.

  • David

    If a man can inherit the estate of his father who inherited the estate of his father who inherited the estate and so on...we have an agreement in America that one inherits. That is regardless of a statute of limitations. Blacks were kept from even voting or sharing water fountains until the 60's. They would have had no support for over a century after the end of the civil war to receive reparations for slavery. Victims of child abuse have until the age of 21 to take civil action against their abuser because they are considered incapable of bringing suit until 18 and are allowed three years. If inheritance is legal, then reparations are legal. It is as simple as that.