Saturday, January 10, 2009

Questions of the Day

Are modern-day African Americans owed slavery reparations by modern-day European Americans or the United States government?

If yes, how should these reparations be paid?


bob said...

No, these are actions that happened 150 years or more ago.
Another issue is who would collect or pay such reparations. Take Obama's or my own case neither one of us has any connection to slavery my ancestors came from Ireland in the 1900's and Obama's came from Africa in the 1900's as well.
People should realise that a wrong was committed in the past but take advantage of the opportunities our great nation provides and move on.

Tom Jackson said...


Other than the quarter-million or so Union soldiers who died in the war that ended slavery?

doodlebugmom said...

No, I don't believe there should be reparations. Because how could it ever be enough?

I would like to see real eqality, respect and an end to racism...we have come a long way, but there is still so far to go.

Jody Leavell said...

Talk about lightening rods! ;)

I am forcing myself to not cling too tightly to my position against them as I do see a need to make amends to the deceased former slaves and to make amends to the injustices that continued for most of the century that followed emancipation. Having said that I can say that I feel very strongly against reparations for many reasons, much of which has to do with the "price" that was paid by the southern citizens in the same century that followed. Indeed, much of the hate crime that was committed in the southern states post-emancipation could arguably be attributed to the severity of economic suppression that resulted after losing the civil war. No one I know even tries to argue the justifiable nature of slavery itself in the present day. Whatever economic prosperity generations of free southern citizens gained from non-free African Americans prior to the war was almost completely wiped out within the first generation. Some economic exploitation did evolve again, but the net losses were tremendous to most Southerners. So who would be responsible for paying such reparations? It seems obviously unfair to consider any American other than those of the old South, yet my point is even the old Rebels could not possibly pay back from any gains they once may have made off of slavery. That wealth was essentially destroyed as a result of the war.

On a more technical matter, I believe the idea of reparations are extremely time sensitive in a legal sense. Reparations made my Germany and Japan after the second World War were legally settled in very rapid fashion in the post-war restructuring of each. It could be said that the reparations were an extension of their ability to sue for peace with those who had victory over them. Once a peace has been established between warring nations it is very difficult for the victor to come back after the fact to impose reparations.

It is remarkable to consider the similarity of the situation in Iraq between the once dominant Suni's and the Shia with that of the North and South in America post Civil War. Adding to the similarity is that freed slaves were essentially a new third political faction in the U.S. that had to be reconciled in the post war restructuring.

Coming back to the time sensitive nature of reparations I think one has to consider that most anyone has in their past ancestry an epoch of both dominating and being dominated by some other social group. Many Anglo Southerners were once severely dominated in the old caste systems of Europe. Do they still have a right to sue for reparations from the descendants of European royalty? Are some native Americans of the Pan Americas due reparations from other native groups?

At this point, some 150 years after emancipation, I believe the only justifiable exchange of reparations can occur on a voluntary basis between the known descendants of both parties. Having learned much of my own ancestry in the South I am keenly aware of how my descendants contributed to the exploitation of certain individuals they once held as slaves. The whole process of learning and coming to terms with such information was painful and really required me to reconsider the moral character of even my late grandparents. I think there is hope that true fellow Americans who share a close history could potentially reconcile through voluntary efforts. But it would have to be specifically exchanged as much as possible between the direct descendants of each party. Also, there would have to be a huge commitment to forgiveness made by the party receiving reparations. Could two families, one white, one black, who have such ancient links with one another come together to provide an economic exchange to truly benefit the whole? Can the once aggrieved party relinquish their claim of mistreatment once and for all?

This last point is salient. Reparations once paid are paid in full for the misdeeds of one party against another. All social programs currently addressed to righting social unjustices born out of slavery would necessarily have to end once the reparation is made. Is that really a good idea?

the reverend mommy said...

Interesting question. I live in a very mixed racially suburb -- my kids' schools are 85 percent African American. There is a rhetoric used around here that I am not comfortable with -- either side.

Reparations were paid to Palestinian people some 60 plus years ago, but the money didn't really trickle down to the displaced. Does someone (Israel) owe more reparations? Is that not the question that is being played out in the Gaza strip today?

How about a year of Jubilee? When do we STOP all the talk of reparations? When is enough enough?

I can't say that my childrens' classmates will have the same opportunities as my children will have; partially because of the work my husband and I have done to earn livings, partially because there is a deeply entrenched culture that is anti-intellectual and partially because of societal limits. Do I owe these children reparations? Or do I owe to them effort toward a culture of tolerance and true equality?

John said...

I like Rev Mommy's approach:

How about a year of Jubilee? When do we STOP all the talk of reparations? When is enough enough?

When do we get to break free from the past?

I know that if I, as a white American, owe reparations to black Americans because my ancestors once enslaved their ancestors, then modern Britons owe me money because their ancestors once conquered my ancestors.

Shoot, I'm 1/32nd Choctaw. The White Man owes me money, too.

Dan Trabue said...

I like Rev Mommy's approach:

"How about a year of Jubilee? When do we STOP all the talk of reparations? When is enough enough?"

When do we get to break free from the past?

You recognize that the Year of Jubilee was an ongoing (forever) ideal in which land was returned to original owners, ie, that folk who fell upon hard times (or been cheated/oppressed into hard times) had a chance to restart by structural redistribution of land.

Thinking of it that way, seems like to me that some reparations are always appropriate. The problem for me is not conceptually that something is owed - I'd say clearly there is, especially considered in light of Jubilee/Sabbath teachings - but rather, HOW would we possibly go about settling "owed" accounts?

In other words, I have no problems with reparations in theory, it's in practice that I'm not clear on a sure path. Certainly, reparations OUGHT to have been made 140 years ago, or soon thereafter.

I find Tom Jackson's comment a bit on the offensive side - but perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, Tom. The notion that soldiers fought in a war partly (largely?) over slavery does nothing to settle accounts owed for hundreds of years of injustice. All it did (poorly, says I) is work to end an existing injustice, but merely ending an injustice is not in any way an attempt to repay what was owed.

Think of a person who has been freed from jail after being imprisoned for years. Sure, it's great that he's been freed, it's great that the state or someone devoted attorney time and money into resolving that injustice. But merely being let free does not balance the scales.

John said...

Dan wrote:

Think of a person who has been freed from jail after being imprisoned for years. Sure, it's great that he's been freed, it's great that the state or someone devoted attorney time and money into resolving that injustice. But merely being let free does not balance the scales.

You remind me of a hidden, but horrific injustice in American society: exhonerated convicts are often denied compensation for their incarceration, but simply tossed out onto the street.

This, however, is not really comparable to modern-day descendants of slaves, as they themselves are not the ex-slaves. They may live with the impact of slavery within their families from past generations, but they themselves cannot claim to have been enslaved.

This is the problem with affirmative action and reparations: to give to one person, you have to take from another.

To give special opportunities to African-Americans, you must do so at the expense of European-Americans. And we are not talking about blank faces in racial categories, but individuals. Why should an individual white man who has done nothing to oppress his black neighbor be placed at a deliberate and conscious disadvantage in hiring because of his race?

To give compensation to the descendants of slaves, you must take it away from the descendants of slave owners -- who may have long since renounced slavery and never directly benefited from slave labor. Why should the distant descendant of slave owners (or, worse the descendants of white immigrants since 1865) be forced to suffer for crimes that he did not commit?

That, if anything, is the proper analogy to the unjustly imprisoned person.

Bro. Dave said...

1-Who would we pay? What proof would we need to show that one's ancestors were really slaves in America? Native Americans were also enslaved, and I suspect even some poor whites. Even today our country has sweatshops comparable to slavery. Pay them too?
2-How much would we pay? 40-acres and a mule? Back wages? ... plus interest?
3-We have already made reparations. Our country offers to every descendant of a slave a free public education, much more valuable than money. Get an education and make something of your life; don't let the past define/limit you.

So mark me down as opposed to reparations; I think we've done enough.