Reparations: The Next Liberal Thing?
The level of overreaction in this country seems to have reached a fever pitch since the killing of nine black people in Charleston, SC by a highly disturbed young man. First the calls for banning the Confederate flag began, followed by calls for the removal of statuary of anyone having anything to do with the Confederacy. Louis Farrakhan has called for banning the American flag, and Malik Shabazz, the head of the New Black Panthers, has called for the killing of "slave masters." The logical progression would seem to be that there will again be legislation introduced in Congress for reparations to be paid to black people for the enslavement of their ancestors.
Let's look at reparations logically, not emotionally.
The discussion in America has always centered on the descendants of American slaves feeling that they are owed reparations for their ancestors being held in slavery. There is no doubt that slavery was and is a horrible thing. No person or persons should ever be allowed to own another. But slavery has existed in the human race for millennia. In 1760 BC, the Code of Hammurabi, in the first recorded instance of slavery, referred to slavery as an established institution. No doubt there was slavery prior to this recorded history, and, unfortunately, it exists to this day in some parts of the world.
I see some distinct problems with paying reparations to descendants of former slaves. I'm sure there are others.
1. There is no person alive in America today who was either a slave or a slave owner during the period of American slavery. I have heard the narrative that blacks are still suffering from their ancestors being held in slavery. If an ancestor of mine served in WWI and came back with PTSD (then called battle fatigue), what relevance would it hold for me? I didn't suffer what caused the PTSD, and even if my ancestor told stories to others in my family that were then passed along, they would not directly affect me. Additionally, how do I know that at some time in the distant past, ancestors of mine weren't held as slaves?
2. Who decides who gets the reparations? Does every black person in the United States receive reparations? That's nonsensical, as many of the blacks in America today came here long after slavery was abolished.
3. What proof would be required to ensure that only true descendants of slaves receive reparations? Slave births were often not recorded, and many records have been destroyed since slavery was abolished. So how would blacks prove they were indeed descendants of slaves?
4. Who should pay the reparations? Surely not the government of the United States, as I can find nothing stating that the government itself ever owned slaves. Slaves were owned by individuals. Reparations should also not be paid by anyone whose descendants came to this country after slavery was abolished.
5. The first recorded slave owner in the United States was a black man. Should we find his descendants and the descendants of all the other individual slave owners and make them pay reparations for the slaves they owned? Should they pay on a sliding scale depending on how many slaves they owned and how those slaves were treated?
6. How would the amount of reparations be determined? Surely it would, again, have to be a sliding scale, so people whose ancestors were slaves for decades would receive more money than those who, although born into slavery, were infants or very young children at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation.
7. How would the determination of what constitutes "black" be made? Would it be based on "how black" someone is? Would a black person with white ancestors as well as black ancestors be entitled to the full amount? There were definitely instances where slave owners raped female slaves, many times resulting in a person who was not fully black. However, there are also instances of mixed marriages between persons of differing races. Would someone who feels black, even though he or she was born to a white family, be entitled to reparations? How would that differentiation be made?
8. The first slaves were brought to the United States from Africa by the Dutch in 1619, 157 years before the Declaration of Independence was written. Since the Dutch seem to have started the whole slavery thing, shouldn't they be forced to pay reparations as well?
9. Africans themselves sold people from tribes they conquered in battle into slavery. In fairness, shouldn't we find those people and make them pay their "fair share"?
The time in our country when slavery was legal should never be forgotten lest it happen again. However, paying people who had any relation to a slave resolves nothing. Yes, I'm going to say it: get over it. It's in the past, and it's time to move on.
Claire Hawks is a gray-haired granny and retired from both her nursing and IT careers.