America’s first Black billionaire is calling for $14 trillion in reparations to compensate for slavery, Jim Crow, and ‘200 years of systemic racism. Reparations are a thorny issue and have been vigorously debated since the end of the Civil War. I am sure you have all heard the expression 40 acres and a mule. As the Civil War was winding down 156 years ago, Union leaders gathered a group of black ministers in Savannah, Ga. The goal was to help the thousands of newly freed slaves in that area. From that meeting came Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order 15. It set aside 400,000 acres of land along the Southeast coast so that “each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground. There were some mules thrown in later. Yet somehow 156 later people are still talking about that singular event but instead of 400,000 acres, it has morphed into 14 trillion dollars.
Let me begin by immediately coming out as firmly opposed to reparations. It is a ludicrous idea and will never come to pass. In a 2016 poll, 58 percent of African-Americans said they believed that the United States should pay financial reparations to African-Americans who are descendants of slaves. Only 15 per cent of whites agreed. But, I believe that if the U.S. government ever decides to pay reparations to any ethnic group they need to start with Native Americans. By the close of the Indian Wars in the late 19th century, fewer than 238,000 Indigenous people remained, a sharp decline from the estimated 5 million to 15 million living in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492. The forebears of indigenous Americans were invaded, whole tribes wiped out in a genocidal slaughter; they’d have a good case for being handed the keys to the whole country. Shouldn’t East Asians also be compensated for the Chinese Exclusion Act? Certainly, the descendants of indentured servants would also have a strong case to make. And why stop there? Numerous Latin American countries have a strong case for reparations due to US aggression which directly and indirectly resulted in hundreds of thousands of lost lives over centuries of disastrous foreign policy and meddling.
I can’t see how this grudge match could ever end if reparations were paid for atrocities committed so long ago. I am sure Mongolians are watching this especially closely given they slaughtered around 40 million people or around 11% of the world population at the time. The US has paid race-based reparations of $20,000 apiece before but payments went only to former Japanese-American internees who were still alive. That is a key difference to paying reparations for atrocities committed many, many generations in the past.
Recent African immigrants aren’t descended from American slaves. On the contrary, many countries from which they hail, like Nigeria, were complicit in the slave trade. If anything, as descendants of slavery’s profiteers, these newer arrivals are culprits by association. We’d compensate African Americans, then, but disqualify African African Americans. Some black lives would matter more than others. We must also not forget that recent African immigrants are doing extremely well in the US which doesn’t jive with Critical Race Theory. “Black African male immigrants are highly educated, according to Nawyn. They have a far higher percentage of college education — 52 percent — compared to 30 percent of white men born in the United States, and 13 percent of black men born in the United States, according to the study. Thirty-seven percent of black African female immigrants have a college education, the study said, compared to 27 percent of white women born in the United States and 17 percent of black, U.S.-born women.”
How much in reparations is enough? Anything short of an enormous sum would risk seeming an insult. And monetary value is subjective; one person’s life-changing windfall is another’s slap in the face. The arithmetic seems arbitrary. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates would distribute $34 billion annually for decades to come. Entrepreneur Bob Johnson argues for $357,000 per head, for a total wealth transfer of $14 trillion — three times the 2020 federal budget.
US race relations which had seemingly been improving for decades seem to have taken a downward slant. Is there still racial injustice and inequality in the US? Absolutely. Shouldn’t we all work together on those issues we can do something about not to mention other pressing problems like climate change, education, poverty, income inequality, Covid, and a million other areas instead of wasting time on a pipe dream that will never ever occur?
This reminds me of the great “Defund the police” debacle. Instead of choosing a sensible slogan like “Reform the Police” which most Americans supported they shouted “DEFUND” from the rooftops and lost support because that idea is beyond preposterous. Thanks to a loud but relatively small woke minority on Twitter, the Republicans will have a very good chance of retaking both the House and Senate in 2022. Democratic candidates should fire any staffer who advises them to talk about immigration, reparations, Critical Race Theory, or use words like socialism or “Latinx which Latinos despise. All of those topics are losing issues and the Republicans know it. This is why they constantly harp on these topics nonstop on Fox every single night.
Reparations would create far more problems than they would solve. There ought to be a legislative equivalent of the Hippocratic oath to first, do no harm. History is full of horrors. We can’t make those horrors un-happen. Rather than try clumsily to redress what cannot be righted, let’s at least not make everything worse. It is inherently unfair to force anyone to pay for a wrong that an individual did not actually commit. It is ethically bankrupt. Any argument in favor of paying reparations does not change this basic truth. Aren’t we supposed to learn from history instead of constantly reliving it?
Reasons Against Reparations
30. THERE IS NO SINGLE GROUP CLEARLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CRIME OF SLAVERY Black Africans and Arabs were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African-Americans. There were 3,000 black slave-owners in the ante-bellum United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too?
31. THERE IS NO ONE GROUP THAT BENEFITED EXCLUSIVELY FROM ITS FRUITS The claim for reparations is premised on the false assumption that only whites have benefited from slavery. If slave labor created wealth for Americans, then obviously it has created wealth for black Americans as well, including the descendants of slaves. The GNP of black America is so large that it makes the African-American community the 10th most prosperous “nation” in the world. American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes in the range of twenty to fifty times that of blacks living in any of the African nations from which they were kidnapped.
32. ONLY A TINY MINORITY OF WHITE AMERICANS EVER OWNED SLAVES, AND OTHERS GAVE THEIR LIVES TO FREE THEM Only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves. This is true even for those who lived in the ante-bellum South where only one white in five was a slaveholder. Why should their descendants owe a debt? What about the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves? They gave their lives. What possible moral principle would ask them to pay (through their descendants) again?
33. AMERICA TODAY IS A MULTI-ETHNIC NATION AND MOST AMERICANS HAVE NO CONNECTION (DIRECT OR INDIRECT) TO SLAVERY The two great waves of American immigration occurred after 1880 and then after 1960. What rationale would require Vietnamese boat people, Russian refuseniks, Iranian refugees, and Armenian victims of the Turkish persecution, Jews, Mexicans, Greeks, or Polish, Hungarian, Cambodian and Korean victims of Communism, to pay reparations to American blacks? 2
34. THE HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS USED TO JUSTIFY THE REPARATIONS CLAIM DO NOT APPLY, AND THE CLAIM ITSELF IS BASED ON RACE NOT INJURY The historical precedents generally invoked to justify the reparations claim are payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Japanese-Americans and African-American victims of racial experiments in Tuskegee, or racial outrages in Rosewood and Oklahoma City. But in each case, the recipients of reparations were the direct victims of the injustice or their immediate families. This would be the only case of reparations to people who were not immediately affected and whose sole qualification to receive reparations would be racial. As has already been pointed out, during the slavery era, many blacks were free men or slave-owners themselves, yet the reparations claimants make no distinction between the roles blacks actually played in the injustice itself. Randall Robinson’s book on reparations, The Debt, which is the manifesto of the reparations movement is pointedly sub-titled “What America Owes To Blacks.” If this is not racism, what is?
35. THE REPARATIONS ARGUMENT IS BASED ON THE UNFOUNDED CLAIM THAT ALL AFRICAN-AMERICAN DESCENDANTS OF SLAVES SUFFER FROM THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF SLAVERY AND DISCRIMINATION No evidence-based attempt has been made to prove that living individuals have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended over 150 years ago. But there is plenty of evidence the hardships that occurred were hardships that individuals could and did overcome. The black middle-class in America is a prosperous community that is now larger in absolute terms than the black underclass. Does its existence not suggest that economic adversity is the result of failures of individual character rather than the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination and a slave system that ceased to exist well over a century ago? West Indian blacks in America are also descended from slaves but their average incomes are equivalent to the average incomes of whites (and nearly 25% higher than the average incomes of American born blacks). How is it that slavery adversely affected one large group of descendants but not the other? How can government be expected to decide an issue that is so subjective—and yet so critical—to the case?
36. THE REPARATIONS CLAIM IS ONE MORE ATTEMPT TO TURN AFRICAN-AMERICANS INTO VICTIMS. IT SENDS A DAMAGING MESSAGE TO THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY. The renewed sense of grievance—which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create—is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities and to others. To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans may have done to their ancestors fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victim-hood. How are the millions of refugees from tyranny and genocide who are now living in America going to receive these claims, moreover, except as demands for special treatment, an extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can’t seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others—many less privileged than themselves? 3
37. REPARATIONS TO AFRICAN AMERICANS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID Since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and the advent of the Great Society in 1965, trillions of dollars in transfer payments have been made to African-Americans in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences (in contracts, job placements and educational admissions)—all under the rationale of redressing historic racial grievances. It is said that reparations are necessary to achieve a healing between African-Americans and other Americans. If trillion dollar restitutions and a wholesale rewriting of American law (in order to accommodate racial preferences) for African-Americans is not enough to achieve a “healing,” what will?
38. WHAT ABOUT THE DEBT BLACKS OWE TO AMERICA? Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade was born, and in all societies. But in the thousand years of its existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians—Englishmen and Americans—created one. If not for the anti-slavery attitudes and military power of white Englishmen and Americans, the slave trade would not have been brought to an end. If not for the sacrifices of white soldiers and a white American president who gave his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in America would still be slaves. If not for the dedication of Americans of all ethnicities and colors to a society based on the principle that all men are created equal, blacks in America would not enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world, and indeed one of the highest standards of living of any people in the world. They would not enjoy the greatest freedoms and the most thoroughly protected individual rights anywhere. Where is the gratitude of black America and its leaders for those gifts?
39. THE REPARATIONS CLAIM IS A SEPARATIST IDEA THAT SETS AFRICAN-AMERICANS AGAINST THE NATION THAT GAVE THEM FREEDOM Blacks were here before the Mayflower. Who is more American than the descendants of African slaves? For the African-American community to isolate itself even further from America is to embark on a course whose implications are troubling. Yet the African-American community has had a long-running flirtation with separatists, nationalists and the political left, who want African-Americans to be no part of America’s social contract. African Americans should reject this temptation. For all America’s faults, African-Americans have an enormous stake in their country and its heritage. It is this heritage that is really under attack by the reparations movement. The reparations claim is one more assault on America, conducted by racial separatists and the political left. It is an attack not only on white Americans, but on all Americans—especially African-Americans. America’s African-American citizens are the richest and most privileged black people alive—a bounty that is a direct result of the heritage that is under assault. The American idea needs the support of its African-American citizens. But African-Americans also need the support of the American idea. For it is this idea that led to the principles and institutions that have set African-Americans—and all of us—free.
The Case For Reparations
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
Why we need reparations for Black Americans
“Central to the idea of the American Dream lies an assumption that we all have an equal opportunity to generate the kind of wealth that brings meaning to the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” boldly penned in the Declaration of Independence. The American Dream portends that with hard work, a person can own a home, start a business, and grow a nest egg for generations to draw upon. This belief, however, has been defied repeatedly by the United States government’s own decrees that denied wealth-building opportunities to Black Americans.
Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family. White college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates. Making the American Dream an equitable reality demands the same U.S. government that denied wealth to Blacks restore that deferred wealth through reparations to their descendants in the form of individual cash payments in the amount that will close the Black-white racial wealth divide. Additionally, reparations should come in the form of wealth-building opportunities that address racial disparities in education, housing, and business ownership.”
Why reparations to African-Americans are necessary – how to start now
Finally, there is the question of financial reparations and whether descendants of enslaved people should receive them. How, if at all, can all the descendants of enslaved African Americans be identified? Even if they can be identified, should they receive individual financial reparations?
Perhaps yes, to compensate for the huge gap in (mostly inherited) wealth between white and Black Americans. Perhaps African-Americans should be given a financial “boost” to help them on the road to moderate, middle-class security. But many white and other Americans might view this as unfair to other people who don’t enjoy such prosperity.
Alternately, perhaps the federal and state governments should pay group reparations to African Americans. Whites might be more willing to accept collective reparations of this kind.