The idea of paying reparations for slavery has been bounced around by the left for quite some time, and two of their most prominent 2020 contenders have now come out in support of the idea. Like so many policy proposals coming from the Democrats, this raises some serious questions over the cost, the parameters, and, indeed, the justification for making such payments. Who would qualify for reparations and how? From where would the money come? Why is such a system of collective retribution even being considered by a supposedly civilized society?
…a percentage of blacks living in America today immigrated long after slavery was abolished…
Perhaps more fundamentally: Why is anyone alive today deserving of compensation for servitude imposed upon their ancestors, so many generations ago and why should any living American be financially penalized for a system in which their distant ancestors may, or may not, have participated?
Wealth Redistribution Disguised as Justice
Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California – both Democrats – have signaled support for reparations for slavery, though both potential presidential candidates have been – perhaps deliberately – vague on how such a proposal would work.
Harris spoke to The New York Times of “taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities.” Warren told the paper: “We must confront the dark history of slavery and government-sanctioned discrimination in this country that has had many consequences, including undermining the ability of black families to build wealth in America for generations. We need systemic, structural changes to address that.”
Nobody seems to be suggesting a system of specific payments to individuals, which would be an entirely unworkable idea. So, it appears that the senators are pushing a redistribution of wealth and resources at the community level and justifying it by invoking the specter of slavery. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Julián Castro, is also in favor of reparations. Castro, another Democrat, has thrown his hat into the ring for 2020.
How could such a system of government-imposed wealth redistribution along racial lines be considered just? Consider the statistical complications of simply declaring that all white people, by virtue of their race, must bear the guilt of slavery and that all black people, by virtue of their race, are the victims of this horrible system.
Assigning Blame is Not a Black and White Issue
To begin with, interracial relationships go back to the time of slavery and, obviously, became more common after the ending of segregation. According to 2017 figures from the Pew Research Center, 10% of children in America are mixed race. How many adults are of mixed race, whether they are aware of the fact or not? So, how many white Americans have ancestors who were, themselves, slaves and how many black Americans have ancestors who were slave-owners?
Then, of course, there is the obvious fact that a percentage of blacks living in America today immigrated long after slavery was abolished and the last child of the last slave died. Perhaps they were actually born in the U.S., but their parents or grandparents immigrated to America. Those blacks were never victims of American slave-traders or slave-owners.
There are even more statistics that demonstrate the unfairness of a blanket assignment of racial culpability or victimhood: While the percentage of whites in America who actually owned or rented slaves is the subject of much disagreement, there is no dispute that, even in those states where the owning of slaves was most common, less than 50% of white families owned slaves. In many other states, that percentage was far lower.
Across all the slave states combined, only about of quarter of the white population owned slaves and, on a national scale, that figure falls to something under 10%, though, again, the figures are disputed, since some people on both the political left and the right cite different numbers to either inflate or diminish the prevalence of slavery. Additionally, historical research reveals that, in 1830, some 3,700 blacks – themselves, freed slaves – owned a combined total of almost 13,000 slaves.
Historical Sins Cannot be Erased by Dollars
The very idea, then, that there is any moral justification to direct funds and other resources from certain states and communities to certain other states and communities – based on some unprovable notion of who was and was not implicated in the slave trade – is simply indefensible. More importantly, one cannot alter the past. No amount of reparations will ever undo the human catastrophe that was the slave trade or erase the collective disregard that one group of humans had for another.
Like the Nazi holocaust, slavery should never be forgotten, but it is a wrong that can never be put right and any pretense that modern society can somehow retroactively erase the stain of it from history is entirely disingenuous.
The whole concept of reparations to one racial group is typical of the leftist mindset, which completely discounts individual rights and imposes collective rewards and punishments based upon which demographic group is favored. It is an idea that can only nurture more racial tension, mistrust, and even open animosity. There was a time when certain Democrats proudly used the term “post-racial.” Today, it appears that the Democratic Party is hell-bent on dividing Americans along racial lines to a degree not seen since the 1960s.