The Fundamental Injustice of Reparations

Granted, many if not most of the people who advocate reparations by the United States government to descendants of slaves mean well.  However, implementation would actually be mean and unjust.  In fact, such reparations would be far more unjust to more innocent people than "just" to the descendants of slaves.

Most fundamentally, the beneficiaries would not be people aggrieved themselves, but rather distant descendants of aggrieved individuals.  However, the people who would be paying the reparations would  include an extremely high percentage of people directly aggrieved — descendants of people who did not live in the United States during the period of slavery, and even descendants of people who lived in the United States at that time but who did not own slaves, including descendants of slave-owners.  (Such descendants likewise may never have owned slaves; may have opposed slavery and may have gone out of their way to help slaves and former slaves to a life of freedom.)

By this time, more black Americans have come to this country freely, of their own volition, than as slaves.

Some former slaves, such as Anthony Johnson, became slave-owners.

All American slaves were originally enslaved by Africans in Africa, before being sold to Americans, so the descendants of these original sellers of slaves must be taken into account.  The original sin wasn't owning slaves in America, but Africans kidnapping fellow Africans, stealing all their possessions, and selling out their fellow Africans to Americans.  Presumably, some of their descendants have found their way to this country by now and must be accounted for.  (Owning slaves was secondary and near universal and is now considered a sin in most countries except for some Arab and African countries.  Critics of the United States should be educated to know that the United States was the first major country to officially free all of its slaves.  Critics of Jews and Israelis should be educated to know that in an era of near universal slavery, Jewish laws — not isolated customs — mandated treating slaves in such a humane way that it almost didn't pay for people to own slaves.)

By this time, many African-Americans have married many non-African Americans, and the percentage of such marriages is growing.  Many of their offspring are descendants of slaves, and some are descendants of slave-owners.

Many descendants of slaves do not have records proving their lineage as descendants of slaves, and many descendants of slave-owners likewise do not have — or want to have — records proving that they were or were not descendants of slave-owners.

As a result of some of the factors described above, and many more, many people of light complexion might be descendants of slaves, and many people of dark complexion may be descendants of slave-owners.

Reparations were indeed made to many former slaves themselves, which made sense, so this would have to be entered into any calculations.  Most famously, the Republican President Abraham Lincoln approved Special Field Orders No. 15, which included a federal government guarantee of 40 acres and a mule to aid formerly enslaved black farmers, although not as famously, this was reversed by Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson.  Some black communities maintained control of their land after the slaves were freed, and some obtained new land by homesteading, with ownership by former slaves and their descendants peaking at 15,000,000 acres in 1910, so all of this would have to go into a calculation, were reparations ever to be seriously contemplated.

The bureaucracy needed to figure out who is descended from slaves, and to what percent, and who is descended from slave-owners, and to what percent, would be enormous, as well as the creation of a system of appeals, with judges and advocates.

As a practical matter, the best way to spend resources to help descendants of slaves is to continue to create opportunities for all citizens to  advance up the ladder, as was done for President Barack Obama, who is not a descendant of slaves in America, and who was treated by many people the same way descendants of slaves were treated, but who then rose up the ranks to the very top of the ladder, without receiving a penny of reparations.

As to people who will not become president, for most people, instead of dumping money on them that may then be wasted even if spent on a liberal arts degree that doesn't lead directly to meaningful and well paying jobs, scholarship or work-study programs should be offered leading to entrepreneurial skills or practical jobs in the sciences or developing, maintaining, and repairing the complex computers and machines that will continue to replace the dead-end jobs of the past and the present.

It may also be noted that the reparations paid by Germany to victims of the Holocaust are quite different since (1) most of the Germans originally paying the reparations had been direct participants in the Holocaust or direct beneficiaries of the theft of all that was owned by the victims of the Holocaust; (2) the victims of the death camps of the Holocaust who survived were still alive when the reparations began and had personally suffered, as did their direct offspring, who grew up with parents psychologically and devastatingly scarred by the death camp experience, which was far worse than most American slave experiences of the past or "concentration camps" of the present; (3) the perpetrators of the Holocaust murdered millions, no matter how passive and pure the victims may have been (including about a million children), and plundered all of their possessions, whereas the American slave-owners did not, although many mistreated their slaves, and some slave-owners lynched escaped or escaping slaves; the African slave-sellers plundered all the possessions of their fellow Africans, whom they kidnapped and sold into slavery; by the time the slaves were sold to Americans, they had already been deprived of all their possessions — by fellow Africans.  Furthermore, even the worst American slave-owners did not murder their slaves; if anything, it was in the interest of slave-owners to keep their slaves alive and healthy.

The first African-American president of the United States could have easily called for reparations but didn't.  Readers of this article now know some more of the reasons why.

Ron Rich considers himself a liberal with common sense.

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