Reparations for descendants of slaves? The numbers don't add up.
House Resolution 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, got underway again in mid-February. It was originally introduced in Congress by John Conyers of Michigan in 1989, then again by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in 2019, followed by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who presented a companion bill last April. Of particular contention is the claim that white Americans are responsible for the "sin of slavery" and should be made to pay, in order to adequately address and resolve 400 years of racial injustice and inequality, while contending that 5% of all Americans currently residing in the United States are the descendants of white slave-owners in 1860.
Supporters argue that monetary reparations are necessary to correct economic disparity between black and white Americans, the disparity being the root cause of all systemic racism in the United States. Over the course of H.R. 40 discussions in Congress, advocates for reparations have dishonestly paired the enslavement of Africans in the United States, prior to the end of the Civil War in 1865, with the low number of black Americans who currently own homes, along with the disproportionate poverty level among black Americans. Some have even suggested a correlation with the higher than normal transmission rates of the COVID-19 virus when comparing black Americans who contracted the virus to their white counterparts.
It is the widely held pro-reparations belief that a onetime monetary payment somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000, paid to 45 million black Americans, or an estimated $19-trillion "wealth transfer," will vanquish poverty among black Americans; erase past racial injustice; and, in their opinion, end systemic racism in perpetuity. Numerous proposals are vague on how $19 trillion would be raised for reparation payments. One idea imposes direct taxation on the wealthiest Americans, while other proposals rely upon instituting a onetime corporate tax on companies that profited from slavery in addition to identifying (and then taxing) the 21st-century descendants of slave-owning families based on Census records from 1860.
Opponents argue that reparations paid to the descendants of black slaves is conflict-ridden and that 21st-century Americans aren't responsible, nor should they be held financially obligated for slavery, which ended in 1865. Larry Elder, black attorney and radio host, was invited to join the H.R. 40 committee discussions and argued against reparations, stating that reparations will not fix the disparate outcomes regarding policing and poverty in the black community. Mr. Elder testified that improved educational opportunities are what is necessary instead of a onetime payment. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell recently reiterated his opinion that monetary reparations paid to the descendants of black slaves is divisive and it's impossible to determine whom to pay, countering the claim that 45 million black people in the United States are, in fact, direct descendants of almost 4 million African slaves in 1860, while 5% of all white Americans in 2021 are direct descendants of the nearly 394,000 slave-owners.
Mathematically speaking, the 5% calculation still used today is based on Census numbers from 160 years ago. According to published 1860 Census records, there were 33.4 million Americans, counted in 33 states to include 10 territories, with 8 million of the total U.S. population residing in 11 Southern states. Subtracting the 394,000 Southern state slave-owners (slightly rounded up) from a total of 8 million white Southerners leaves a balance of 7,606,000 people in the combined 11 Southern states who never owned slaves. Proportionally calculated (394,000 slave owners multiplied by 100 and then divided by the 7,606,000 people), this totals a little more than 5%.
Fast-forward to 2021. Using the same proportional calculation, supposedly there are 16,500,000 direct American descendants of Southern slave-owners (alive today) out of a total of 330 million Americans. The actual number is significantly lower — less than 1% — and aligns with the non-immigrant population Census count percentage increase of people born in the United States since 1860. Plainly speaking, it's statistically impossible for each and every one of the 394,000 slave-owners in 1860 to have propagated himself by 41%, increasing the number from 394,000 to over 16 million in 2021, over the course of 160 years.
Despite all of the astronomical numbers presented by the H.R. 40 Commission and its supporters, the reparations proposals presented in 1989 remain contentious and conflict-ridden some 32 years later.
[Update: This post was under a serious dyslexic attack because both author and editors missed the inadvertent switching of "ancestors" for "descendants." We all know what the words mean. Sometimes, things just get upside-down.]
Image via Max Pixel.