All proposed reparations plans are based on simplistic history

Reparations to descendants of slaves is a complex issue and one burdened with pros and cons. Indeed, since slavery ended in 1865, many more cons than pros exist on the reparations ledger. Moreover, a Pew Research Center report finds that three-quarters or more of white adults oppose reparations, as do a majority of Latinos and Asian Americans. Nine Black leaders also oppose reparation payments. Nevertheless, approximately a dozen cities and several states have initiated reparation programs renewing hopes for a national policy of reparations for slavery.

The most irrational reparations plan (so far) is California’s. The California reparations panel just approved a payment of up to $1.2 million per black resident—without requiring proof showing slave ancestors. This is irrationality to the point of madness. California joined the union as a free state in 1850. California’s blacks were not slaves, and Asians, Jews, and Hispanics also experienced fierce discrimination.

California’s not the only “free” state supporting reparations. Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Rabb proposed statewide reparations involving multiple compensation tiers, with the greatest awards going to residents who can prove they descended from generations of black Pennsylvanians. The plan seemingly does not distinguish between actual slave descendants and descendants of free blacks or black slaveowners.

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That last point—another con for reparations—reminds us that not all blacks were slaves. Basically, when the subject of reparations arises, it views the issue solely (and falsely) through a racial prism; i.e., blacks were slaves, and only whites were slave owners.

In fact, blacks practiced slave ownership, trading, and bounty hunting for escaped slaves. Thousands of blacks owned slaves, with some becoming very wealthy. Five Native American tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) also owned black slaves. These facts are verified and addressed by several black historians and scholars, e.g., John Hope Franklin, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Larry Koger, Glenn Loury, and Carter G. Woodson.

Today and consistently over the years, history books and curricula have omitted these facts. Such omissions, consequently, caused and continue to encourage racial misunderstandings and enmities. I did not learn these facts until late in life.

I say that as one who focused throughout her life on such history and the continued inequities black Americans suffered. I am a descendant of an abolitionist, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner and biographer, William H. Herndon. For him, it began when he was in college, and the Dred Scott decision outraged him. I grew up proud that one of my ancestors was on the right side of justice. He also wrote articles arguing for black-and-white equality, a brave stand in the 1800s.

Sadly, despite readily available information, we hear and read only the incorrect, binary narrative of white oppressors and black victims. Just reading and hearing current news, one recognizes that oppressors come from all races, just as their victims do. That was true yesteryear and remains true today.

During booming immigration times in the late 19th Century and throughout the 20th Century, many immigrants from African or Caribbean nations arrived who were never slaves in America. They and their descendants, who identify as African Americans, are very successful.

No one insists that descendants of black slaveowners, traders, or bounty hunters be excluded from reparation payments. Likewise, no one seeks to exclude from reparations all those blacks who came to America after slavery ended (and, likewise, their descendants).

Christopher J. Ferguson succinctly stated a great principle:

People and cultures are complex. If students were permitted to understand that human failings are universal but can be overcome, it might help to alleviate the depression and anxiety of those unjustly burdened by the sins of their ancestors.

All people, regardless of race, can be burdened by the sins of their ancestors.

Omitting verifiable facts from American history silently, but powerfully abets, contributes to, and supports calls for reparations. For that reason, and given the breadth of reparation proposals, they become nothing more than entitlements based on skin color alone. Often, those required to pay will never have participated in or benefitted from the slave trade. Meanwhile, regardless of financial status or ancestry, even a multi-millionaire black athlete or a businessman might receive the entitlement simply based on race.

Being honest about history doesn’t erase the moral wrong of slavery. However, it acknowledges that good and evil are multi-racial, children do not deserve to be taught otherwise, and innocent people don’t deserve to pay a debt for which they are not responsible. Such knowledge is a positive and healthy reminder for all. Pursuing truth and justice is always a worthy goal, especially regarding history. Reparations aren’t based on truth and hardly serve justice.

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