Reparations for slavery?

Reparations for slavery is becoming part of the “progressive” full Monty that Democratic presidential candidates must endorse. It’s a terrible idea.

Recently The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah acknowledged the issue’s complications, but waved them away, as mere details that can be worked out. An over-used cliché that I really hate is “the devil is in the detail.” But here it’s unavoidable.

Even if reparations for slavery were an appealing idea, it falls apart the moment you consider seriously the problem of who, exactly, to pay. There’s nobody who’s totally descended from slaves. Slavery ended around six or seven generations ago. For any living black American, the direct ancestors from that era would number dozens to hundreds. Surely not all were enslaved. Many came here later from other countries. Many were white. Okay, maybe you could (arbitrarily) draw a line at 50% slave ancestry. Or some other number. But nobody can document their whole family tree that far back anyway. Any such program would be an implementation nightmare.

Or would you propose to sidestep this morass and simply base payments on skin color? The darker, the bigger the payment? Sounds like a great idea, no?

Slavery was a horrible crime (as I’ve written:http://www.fsrcoin.com/Slavery.htm). But history is full of crimes. Look at Native Americans. And how about women, also seriously oppressed and denied rights in past times? Why not reparations for descendants of all those women?

It’s a fundamental precept of justice that wrongs should be redressed among victims and perpetrators — not others. It’s a principle we fallible humans too often violate. As in collective punishments and vengeance. The sins of the fathers visited upon the sons. If a Xendari has committed an atrocity against your people, then by all means punish him — but do not exact revenge by committing a new crime against other, innocent Xendaris. That’s no justice. So too, taxpayers who did no enslaving shouldn’t be made to pay compensation. Let alone to people who were not themselves enslaved.

It is true that slavery has had lasting impacts, a key factor in black Americans’ lower average socio-economic standing. But can one say that any particular person today would be better off had no ancestors been enslaved? Some surely would be worse off. Many U.S. descendants of slaves are doing very well. But had history been different, they would not exist today at all, making any such considerations quintessentially meaningless.

It is also true that many whites take for granted their “white privilege” — exemption from a lot of crap non-whites experience. For this some feel “white guilt.” However, the concept of guilt should require some causal responsibility. Most whites today have done nothing wrong to feel guilty for. Certainly not to be punished for.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. If we really think slavery’s reverberations still cause disadvantage to some Americans, then the proper answer is to create public policies that remove that disadvantage. Basically, to create a more just society overall. Which indeed we’ve been working at (though far from perfecting). “Affirmative action” is a case in point. Never mind all the issues affirmative action raises; but hasn’t this been reparations, by another name?

A better way to make reparation for the disadvantage suffered by many African-Americans would be to at least stop aggravating it with sub-standard education. Public schools in poor/non-white neighborhoods are often disgraceful. Yet Democrats calling for reparations mostly refuse to face up to this huge issue, in hock to teachers’ unions and ideologically opposing school choice to give those kids at least some chance to escape dysfunctional public schools.

It’s argued that reparations would be a way to give recognition to what blacks have suffered. But their feelings are not the beginning and the end of the matter. Indeed, to the contrary, a big part of the problem is what white people feel toward them. If we want whites to stop being racist, is reparations the right answer? If we really want to heal our nation’s wounds from slavery and racism, wouldn’t reparations enflame those wounds? Many would see reparations as an injustice, and for the reasons I’ve suggested, they’d have a plausible argument. The issue would be disastrously divisive. We already have a big problem of white racial antagonism and resentment. Just wait till reparations are enacted.

Furthermore, if Democrats push this issue it would feed every negative stereotype about them. As coddling some interest groups at the expense of others, and even of the nation as a whole. Defying what many people consider common sense. And it would be a huge distraction from what really should be the issues for 2020 – all the ways Trumpism is degrading America. If Democrats truly want to achieve a better, more just nation, the main thing they can do right now is to ensure getting rid of the racist-in-chief.

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One Response to “Reparations for slavery?”

  1. Lee Says:

    This feels like a “black lives matter” vs. “all lives matter” debate. The Black Lives Matter movements came into being because excessive force by law enforcement is killing way too many people, and is disproportionately affecting people who are black. The “all lives matter” retort is, on the face of it, true but its merit depends upon how it is then used. If the follow up argument is that we don’t need to do something about excessive force by law enforcement then its purveyors are opening themselves to accusations that they don’t care about this deadly issue that is disproportionately affecting People of Color. On the other hand, if “all lives matter” supporters agree that we should solve the problem of excessive force and are merely pointing out that it will help all people, not just People of Color, then that’s cool.

    With reparations, the scenario is similar. Those who have descended from slaves have been robbed of their financial inheritance. The odds are much, much smaller that a descendant of slaves comes from generations of well-to-do business leaders, politicians, or other people with wealth, power, or connections. Without these benefits the playing field is not level. Yes, there are others in a similar boat. Anyone from the butt side of several wars — Native Americans, Jews & Eastern Europeans, Mexicans, Israelis and Palestinians, and many more — are also deserving. So are people whose ancestors did not benefit from quality education. So are people who weren’t necessarily robbed in history but are being put upon in modern times due to their not being heterosexual, cis-gendered, male, white skinned, Christian, etc.

    Rather than saying that reparations should be opposed or are unworkable, let’s go with the better of the “all lives matter” routes. Let’s support a universal basic income so that all the deserving people benefit. It is reparations if it helps the descendants of slaves; or you can point out that it also helps others — doesn’t matter. On the other hand, the route of not helping any of these deserving people, who are disproportionately People of Color, smacks of racism.

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