Emancipation brought freedom, but not parity. The civil rights movement knocked down Jim Crow, but vestiges remained. Affirmative action created opportunities, but racism persists.
So why shouldn't the great-great grandchildren of those who worked for free and were deprived of education and were kept in bondage not be compensated? ~Kevin Merida~
This [reparations] argument makes sense because of a fundamentally racist point of view.... Put simply, blacks will always be the victims regardless of how much time has gone by, according to this scenario, regardless of how far away from the event one gets, regardless of what's been done to repair the damage. And whites as whites will forever be guilty, even if they individually never committed the slightest crime against anyone. It's guilt by association and in this case the association is skin color. Any way you cut it, that's racism. ~Gregory Koukl~
The Information Review
Reparations are a very complex, very controversial topic. I examined much information regarding slavery, slavery reparations, and race relations in America. I was amazed at how many points of view there were, even between people who were striving to achieve the same goals. Everyone had an opinion, and in many cases, the person's opinion was the only correct one- the only one that had looked at the facts and drawn the correct conclusions. However, when I examined the information as unbiased as was possible, I noticed that many people argued without facts and made judgments without consideration. They attempted to forcefully prove their point, and in doing so, ignored any information contrary to their point of view, despite its validity. Each book and website I looked at approached the debate decidedly from one side or the other, and none gave both sides of the debate equal attention and consideration. This website attempts to present both sides of the reparations debate through the arguments of those more informed than I, with equal recognition given to both sides. After dissecting this evidence, these arguments and these opinions, I began to develop an understanding of the core points of the arguments for and against reparations.
Arguments for Reparations
Many African-Americans feel an underlying sense of racism and oppression in today's society. The 13th Amendment, which bans slavery in the United States, became part of the Constitution in 1865. The Civil Rights battle began to rage 100 years later, in the 1960's. Since then, blacks have made dramatic progress in American society. But not enough.
Many prominent black leaders and orators are forcefully pro-reparations. They demand everything from $24 trillion for a black reparations fund (Jack White) to "total debt relief, the removal of sanctions and increased foreign aid to Black countries" (Robert Westley). Many of them are looking for something or someone to blame, bouncing from the government to corporations to groups of people and even to individuals in the hopes that someone will be able to get them the reparations they feel they need and deserve. The major concern proponents of reparations have regarding slavery and it's aftermath is that they feel the debts never paid to their ancestors have compounded and are preventing them from current success. Johnita Scott Obadele notes that "[black people's] need for capital is obvious to even our most entrenched anti-capitalists. Just as the five million newly freed people needed land, a means of developing the land and money, so also are the needs of their thirty five million descendants."
Another of the arguments concerning reparations involves living African-Americans' mental state. The Black Manifesto attempts to show the relationship between slavery and the African-American community today when it states, "the injury survives in the overrepresentation of poverty, and all the pathologies it spawns, within the African American community. Not least of such pathologies is self-hate, lack of confidence, and lack of self-understanding. Thus, many African Americans must be educated to understand the justification and legitimacy of their own claim to reparations." If these mental states are prevalent in all black communities, where is the evidence of slavery? How could these mental states be remedied by reparations? Some of the arguments I read are biased against whites who are called "the oppressors" of the black "victims". Some of these arguments don't draw a logical conclusion between slavery and the current state of African Americans. But all of the arguments have one crucial thing in common: they all support African-Americans.
Arguments for African-Americans
All of the arguments for reparations contain an underlying need to improve the lives of average African-American citizens. Christopher Edley Jr., a Harvard law professor and an adviser to former President Clinton on race relations explains his interpretation of reparations: "My bottom line is the form of reparations that makes sense is an impassioned recommitment to closing the opportunity gap. That's the reparations we are due. Not 40 acres and a mule, but world-class schools for our kids." He calls for an end to the racism, poverty, and lack of opportunity that plague the black community now, not the physical and psychological remnants of a slavery that's long been abolished.
The truth is that Africans in America have a horrendous past. Slavery was, and is, one of the world's greatest injustices. Nothing can ever recover the lives needlessly lost or return a people to their pride or their homeland; nothing will ever fully make up for slavery. Cedric Muhammed, though he draws dramatic conclusions from the reparations debate, admits that "nothing can be done by any government on this earth to restore the health, heart, mind and souls of Blacks that were damaged and destroyed as the direct result of slavery. The best that can be sought from external powers is justice, under the law, and a measure of equity." Nothing can be done to repair the consequences of slavery. Therefore, demands for slavery reparations seem to disguise a much greater need-- the need of African-Americans to be recognized as being equal and worthy.
African-Americans need and deserve equal opportunities. The question should be, then, how can we help these people now? Not how could we have helped their ancestors? Because 40 acres and a mule will not redress slavery's wrongs. Nor will $24 trillion given to a people with no effective or legitimate way to use such a massive amount of money. Cedric Muhammed proposes "an apology from the United States government, income, payroll and capital gains-tax exemption for Blacks, for a period of time, monetary payments in the form of cash and gold" in addition to other demands. These proposals are more a fight for the promotion of the black race than an attempt to redress any wrongs done hundreds of years ago. Which is a noble cause in itself. But equal rights and equal opportunities for African-Americans cannot be effectively initiated by promoting the Black race and blaming the Caucasian race for atrocities committed over a century before any of us was born. This segregates the races, pitting one against the other unnecessarily at a time when we should be trying to eliminate the "us vs. them" mentality of racism. Which poses the question: why is skin color a relevant factor for reparations?
Not all white people are responsible for slavery. Not all black people were slaves.
Slave owners, slave traders, and all institutions, businesses and governments that supported slavery were morally wrong to do so. However, slavery has been legally abolished in the United States of America for more than a century. The descendants of slaves are now all free men and women. They may not be living a life of luxury and indulgence. They may find it difficult to improve their situation. But the fact remains that they are free to do so. Leaders of both races need to focus on how to improve the situation of poor blacks in America- not through reparations, but by education, opportunities, and hard work. The spirit of a people is not going to be restored through a government handout. Neither are reparations going to ameliorate the problems of black Americans.
Nothing can be done to repair the wrongs of slavery. No matter how much time goes by, slavery will always be a ghost in America's past, spooking anyone who looks back. Now America needs to look forward to a tomorrow where slavery doesn't exist, where blacks and whites are equal, and where racism isn't a factor. We need to make that happen. I believe reparations to be inconsistent with that goal. I don't see them as healing old wounds, but as opening new ones in a new generation of Americans. Perhaps the most America can do for it's people is to apologize for slavery, promise it will not ever happen again, and then concentrate on working towards a better tomorrow. This will not satisfy everyone. But nothing will.
On the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the US Constitution, Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court, said that the Constitution was "defective from the start." He pointed out that the framers had left out a majority of Americans when they wrote the phrase, "We the People." While some members of the Constitutional Convention voiced "eloquent objections" to slavery, Marshall said they "consented to a document which laid a foundation for the tragic events which were to follow."
The word "slave" does not appear in the Constitution. The framers consciously avoided the word, recognizing that it would sully the document. Nevertheless, slavery received important protections in the Constitution. The notorious three-fifths clause—which counted three-fifths of a state’s slave population in apportioning representation—gave the South extra representation in the House of Representatives and extra votes in the Electoral College. Thomas Jefferson would have lost the election of 1800 if not for the Three-fifths Compromise. The Constitution also prohibited Congress from outlawing the Atlantic slave trade for twenty years. A fugitive slave clause required the return of runaway slaves to their owners. The Constitution gave the federal government the power to put down domestic rebellions, including slave insurrections.
The framers of the Constitution believed that concessions on slavery were the price for the support of southern delegates for a strong central government. They were convinced that if the Constitution restricted the slave trade, South Carolina and Georgia would refuse to join the Union. But by sidestepping the slavery issue, the framers left the seeds for future conflict. After the convention approved the great compromise, Madison wrote: "It seems now to be pretty well understood that the real difference of interests lies not between the large and small but between the northern and southern states. The institution of slavery and its consequences form the line of discrimination."
Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, about 25 owned slaves. Many of the framers harbored moral qualms about slavery. Some, including Benjamin Franklin (a former slaveholder) and Alexander Hamilton (who was born in a slave colony in the British West Indies) became members of anti-slavery societies.
On August 21, 1787, a bitter debate broke out over a South Carolina proposal to prohibit the federal government from regulating the Atlantic slave trade. Luther Martin of Maryland, a slaveholder, said that the slave trade should be subject to federal regulation since the entire nation would be responsible for suppressing slave revolts. He also considered the slave trade contrary to America’s republican ideals. "It is inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution," he said, "and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the constitution."
John Rutledge of South Carolina responded forcefully. "Religion and humanity have nothing to do with this question," he insisted. Unless regulation of the slave trade was left to the states, the southern-most states "shall not be parties to the union." A Virginia delegate, George Mason, who owned hundreds of slaves, spoke out against slavery in ringing terms. "Slavery," he said, "discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves." Slavery also corrupted slaveholders and threatened the country with divine punishment, he believed: "Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country."
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut accused slaveholders from Maryland and Virginia of hypocrisy. They could afford to oppose the slave trade, he claimed, because "slaves multiply so fast in Virginia and Maryland that it is cheaper to raise than import them, whilst in the sickly rice swamps [of South Carolina and Georgia] foreign supplies are necessary." Ellsworth suggested that ending the slave trade would benefit slaveholders in the Chesapeake region, since the demand for slaves in other parts of the South would increase the price of slaves once the external supply was cut off.
The controversy over the Atlantic slave trade was ultimately settled by compromise. In exchange for a 20-year ban on any restrictions on the Atlantic slave trade, southern delegates agreed to remove a clause restricting the national government’s power to enact laws requiring goods to be shipped on American vessels (benefiting northeastern shipbuilders and sailors). The same day this agreement was reached, the convention also adopted the fugitive slave clause, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their owners.
Was the Constitution a proslavery document, as abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison claimed when he burned the document in 1854 and called it "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell"? This question still provokes controversy. If the Constitution temporarily strengthened slavery, it also created a central government powerful enough to eventually abolish the institution.