According to America’s alleged values and written moral obligations, the case for reparations is clear.
Descendants of African American slaves have never been compensated for one of the worst crimes against humanity. The lost wages suffered by slaves and the asset value of slaves to the slave holders are estimated to be well over one trillion US dollars in today’s money. Equally important is the value of the promise of land to freed slaves, commonly known as Forty acres and a mule.
Common law recognizes rules of conduct (that individuals must be held accountable for their actions). It was widely recognized that chattel slavery and permanent slavery was morally wrong and this is sufficient to establish guilt and judgments of wrong-doings in the US.
Why modern-day citizens should pay for wrongs made in the past.
The American dream of a “perfect union” cannot remain exclusive to Whites. An aspiring perfect union has to recognize that issues faced in black and brown communities stem directly from slavery and the lack of effort to systematically redistribute land, wealth, and political equality.
Are we willing to facilitate racial healing; rightfully attribute the contributions of Black Americans in our society; level the economic playing field by paying back what is owed; and make a commitment to not repeat nor perpetuate crimes against the American people rooted in structured racism?
The fact that Black Americans are more than five times as likely to be incarcerated as white Americans is wrong. The fact that Black Americans are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as white Americans is wrong. The fact that Black unemployment rates nationally are double that of overall unemployment rates is wrong. The fact that Black imprisonment rates for drug charges are almost six times higher nationally than White imprisonment rates for drug charges is wrong. The fact that Black Americans own approximately one-tenth of the wealth that White Americans own is wrong.
Are White people guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so. But have they benefited from them? Yes, they have.
Economists have looked at the total value of slavery to the economy before Abolition. On one hand, slavery was unpaid labor; on the other hand, slaves were like capital that had a value in the market place. Larry Neal, an economist at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana, looked at wages between 1620 and 1840 and compounded these at 3 percent into the 1980s. His estimates for lost wages during that period are $1.4 trillion in 2016 US dollars. It shows how much White farmers benefited from slavery.
America needs to take responsibility.
When we take about “equality for all” what we’ve seen is that equality is only meant for a certain group of people. When we talk about solutions to systemic racism — police reform, workplace diversity, affirmative action, better access to healthcare, and reparations we are seeking to create the perfect union that America claims to embody.
The US has paid reparations to American Indians and to those American Japanese that were interned during WW II on the West Coast. Germany paid reparations to both survivors and non-survivors of Jews by giving direct compensation to survivors and establishing a fund that helped establish the Jewish State of Israel. Reparations acknowledge a wrong-doing.
In the case of American slavery, there was a wrong doing, but more importantly slavery entailed a benefit to slave holders and the building of America and its success as a colony and country that rests on the backs of slaves. As such, it is not reparations that is called for, but restitution to account for the lack of paying for the labor of Africans that were brought by ships to the Americas, the ensuing value of chattel slavery, and the denial of access to land with its concurrent sharecropper system that needs to be addressed. The arguments that it was “so long ago” and that is was “legal” simply do not acknowledge the benefits Whites reaped from this particular system of exploitation.
From wealth-building on the backs of enslaved Africans; the stunted growth of Black people after slavery; the intentional efforts both personal and institutionalized to keep Black people from receiving a quality education and building wealth; lost wages and the literal theft of wages; genocide; the continued criminalization of Black people; and the continued narrative of the “dangerous Black man” and the “mad Black woman” by mainstream American media and in politics there seldom is a thought and contemplation that these acts are not only against the American ideal, but also violate generally accepted human rights for all.