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Reparations: “Where’s My 40 Acres & A Mule America?

18 Aug
Reparations: “Where’s My 40 Acres & A Mule America?

“Well I think every black person should at least get $100,000.”

“What do you think that’s gonna do?”

“That won’t do nothing but make Cadillac the number-one dealership in the country!”

“Everywhere you look, there’s opportunity. You know what I mean?”

“Everybody here would love to get a handout.”

 “lf they handing it out, I won’t turn down nothing but my collar.”

“Not everybody think reparations is a good idea, It’s stupid.”

Conversation from Barbershop Part I

There is no dispute that Africans were sold and/or kidnapped,  brought to America via the Middle Passage and forced into slavery and because of this dark period in U.S. History, some black Americans believe that descendants of slaves deserve reparations of some kind for this forced, unpaid labor.  The debate has raged for years now and shows no signs of going away or slowing soon, so it should come as no surprise that this was the second highest question from black respondents to my survey.

When debating reparations, it is important to note that there are basically four sources from which proponents argue reparations should come – the federal government, big corporations built on slave labor, believe it or not – white people in general and any combination or all of these sources. As with other topics, even though I identify as a conservative ideologically, I like to speak with my liberal and moderate friends to get their perspectives to have some balance of insight. Yvette Carnell is a self-professed independent liberal blogger and editor at the African-American news site yourblackworld.net. She happens to support efforts for reparations and this is what she had to say when I asked her about the topic:

Reparations are really the only way to make amends for the enslavement and subsequent oppression of black Africans in this country. America recompensed the Japanese in this way, and Germany paid holocaust victims. But, for reasons I won’t dare speculate upon, conservatives recoil at the very idea of rendering compensation to the ancestors of black slaves who were forced to labor for free, against their will.

And before you start in on how most African-Americans alive today were never actual slaves, just descendants of slaves, let me point out the obvious fact; it is not the fault of African-Americans that America has been so slow to do the right, moral, and just thing. The U.S. Senate didn’t apologize for slavery until 2009. It took our lawmakers that long to admit that the torture and revocation of freedom inflicted upon Africans once they crossed American shores was, in fact, an atrocity. That long to own up to the truth of what was done to our ancestors at the hands of those who valued money over morality. And, apparently, it’s taking that long to truly do the math on the monetary impact of having progenitors who came from nothing, not because they were lazy, but because they were enslaved and robbed. There’s a value to that, and it’s time that our government paid up. How can the “land of the free” not see the hypocrisy in refusing to compensate people for robbing them of all choice in how to work, love, and live. Reparations in the country are long overdue.” 

I also got the opinion of a moderate Democrat who said:

“In a perfect world, the best form of reparations would be a historical role reversal in which black people become the oppressors and white people the enslaved. White people would finally completely understand the pain, anguish and why black people cannot “just get over it” and how horrific the institution of slavery was. Pious black people on the other hand, would receive a harsh reality check, because they’d be no more or less brutal and inhumane than their white counterparts in such a scenario. Given reversed historical circumstances, blacks would not have behaved a whit better and whites would not have survived with any less wounds. I’d love to see both groups squirm when the shoe is on the other foot. There’s no such thing as a wound which takes less time to heal than it took to inflict. Slavery in the U.S. lasted about 250 years (the first slaves arrived in 1619), followed by Jim Crow and segregation. Counting by lost man-years (the average slave lived about 13 years less than his white masters) the loss of life was easily profound.

I have never, ever denied the importance of Jews remembering the Holocaust, the Japanese remembering interment during WWII or the discrimination suffered by Irish Catholics, but some whites have never stopped implying that blacks are inferior, deserved their slavery, deserved to be separated during segregation or that we should “get over it already”. I’ll forget slavery when southerners stop reenacting Civil War battles, and Conservatives stop thinking the descendants of slaves are the same as immigrants. With that said, I still don’t think that blacks should receive reparations because we are too far removed from it. The most appropriate timing would have been as close to harm inflicted as possible, so it’s not very practical to attempt to indemnify descendants of slaves from hundreds of years ago, now.”

Now this moderate Democrat is uniquely qualified to give an opinion on the matter because he is none other than New York Times bestselling author Steven Barnes of diamondhour.com.  Steven is the author of Lion’s Blood and the sequel Zulu Heart, which are alternative history novels set in the late 1800’s in which Africa colonized the Americas, enslaving Europeans, so he has taken the time to meticulously explore this view in the realm of fiction. I highly recommend that every American read his books because Steven is correct: human beings are very tribal but behaviorally, we are not much different from one another at all. For the record, although I can certainly empathize with Yvette’s point of view, I do agree with Steven, in that it’s not very practical at this point to issue reparations. Now that does not exonerate this country from blame or wrongdoing, after all, former President Bush called slavery “one of the greatest crimes of the century” in 2003 and in 2008 former president Bill Clinton expressed regret for slavery. In 2008 the US House of Representatives apologized for slavery and, in 2009, the US Senate made a formal apology for it. I have to agree with the last sentence of the writer here  who ended the article with: “An apology is a small step toward redemption. It will not improve anyone’s lot in life. But symbols do matter.”

However, reparations proponents believe it should not stop there. The federal government and corporations that have reaped the benefits of free slave labor (and all white people for some) should pay up; citing reparations paid to Japanese-Americans during WWII and Holocaust victims from the German government. The fact of the matter is that the 7,000 Japanese-Americans were paid reparations at that time and were very easily identified, as were Jewish Holocaust victims. At this point, no actual perpetrator of the wrongdoing would actually be forced to make amends. They are long gone and so are their immediate victims. According to Wikipedia:

“Since in almost all cases there are no living ex-slaves or living ex-slave owners these movements have gained little traction. In nearly all cases the judicial system has ruled that the statute of limitations on these possible claims has long since expired.”

Let me also state that I vehemently disagree with those who think that “all white people” should pay reparations because simply put, “all white people” – in fact most white people are not descendants of slave-owners to start with. The most recent and accurate estimates that I found state that only approximately 20% of  Americans share ancestry with a slave-owner and that estimate includes white, black and Native Americans who owned slaves (yes there were free blacks and native Americans who owned slaves also). I have not seenany movements to seek reparations from descendants of free blacks or Native Americans who owned slaves.

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1 Comment

Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Politics, Society, Uncategorized

 

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One response to “Reparations: “Where’s My 40 Acres & A Mule America?

  1. G

    August 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    It is amazing to me that slavery was wide spread around the globe for over 4,000 years, but a little over 100 years after the words were written “All men are created equal”, slavery had largely been abolished. As Paul Ryan said, “America is an idea”. It is that “idea” that led to slavery mostly ending throughout the world. America is a miracle.

     

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