Ok so today’s Huffington Post contains an article about Obama’s opposition to slave reparations.
On its face, reparations to ancestors of slaves sounds like a great idea… slavery was obviously a terribly embarrassing blemish in this country’s not-too-distant past, a mistake from which we are still suffering the consequences of… but at the same time, it’s…
It’s not realistic to expect we can make reparations to individuals, as some people currently support. It has been estimated that from the start of slavery through its abolition in 1865, black people contributed over 100 trillion dollars worth of unpaid labor. Who’s going to help us foot that bill? The UK? The Spaniards? The US wasn’t even a country until 1776, but slavery was alive and well way prior to that time.
Even if we were to do something like this, who would be eligible for the compensation?
I know plenty of white people who have at least one black ancestor tucked away in their family tree… during slavery it was extremely common for white plantation owners to sleep- and procreate- with black slave women. Southern states even passed laws with this in mind, and many states still have them on record. It’s because of such laws that my race of record is white. My father is black, my mother is white, but the laws dictate that a child’s race is that of their mother. This way white plantation owners could father children with black slave women, and the children born as a result would still be considered slaves.
How could we possibly apply the reparations fairly? Would people who could prove a certain percentage of black-blood get a higher compensation than those whose race is mixed? Do families who have not blended over the years, who have remained all black, get more money than those families that didn’t?
How does one measure racism from the past, or the destruction it caused? We can’t look at a living person’s experiences from today to determine their compensation amount- otherwise we aren’t paying reparations for slavery, we’re paying reparations for the injustices suffered by the current generation. If that’s the case, damn near everyone would be entitled to a piece of the pie- or at the very least, just about anybody could make a good case for being eligible. Slave owners didn’t necessarily keep pristine records with regards to who fathered whose child. They were treated as animals, and very often, little effort was made to preserve their family trees.
What about those black families whose ancestors managed to largely escape slavery by seeking freedom in the north, or settling farther out west? They suffered terribly, and their lives were often endangered because of their race… but because they weren’t slaves, are they entitled to any of this money?
We’d have to create a sliding scale of who deserves what, based on their family’s history… which I believe would be difficult to prove and ultimately would do nothing but further drive the racial wedge between us.
Many people make the mistake of comparing slave reparations to jewish reparations. Some argue that because some Jews received reparations, blacks should as well.
Slave reparations is not the same thing as reparations for concentration camp victims. There are still survivors of concentration camps alive today, and it isn’t too hard to go backwards and figure out who did and did not suffer as a result of Adolf Hitler and his regime. With slavery, it’s a little trickier than that. Slavery ended in 1865, so there isn’t anyone living today who used to be a slave… hell, there isn’t anyone living whose parents used to be slaves either…
In addition to compensating concentration camp victims, we are also prosecuting those remaining officials who helped perpetrate the crimes to begin with. Unfortunately we can’t do that where slavery is concerned. I’m certain that by now, there are plenty of white people whose ancestors once owned slaves who are wonderful non-racist people today. Certainly we cannot hold them accountable for the sins of their distant relatives. Similary, we can’t just start handing cash out to every single black person and expect it to make a real difference.
Instead, Obama’s ideas seem to be the most realistic.
Rather than earmark a certain number of dollars for damn near every citizen of this country, let’s put more effort into those areas that still suffer the ill-effects of a slave-driven nation. There are plenty of school districts that would benefit from a little extra cash so that their predominantly poor- and black- students can have the same opportunities that the more wealthy white districts have.
In addition, let’s put more time and money into diversity training so that we can teach all people, regardless of their heritage, how to be more open and accepting of those who are different than they are. We should continue giving incentives to potential employers to diversify their ranks, wholeheartedly encouraging the hiring of qualified minority workers.
Taking those steps would be much more beneficial than giving every damn person with a good tan a few extra bucks in their pockets.
The racial mixture in this country is beautiful, and it would cause more harm than good to try and step back and figure out who-suffered-what-at-whose hands.
Forgiveness, and a renewed effort towards equality is the only thing that makes sense.
After all, money does not buy happiness…
It won’t buy equality either.