Reparations for slavery

 

Reparations for slavery

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Reparations for slavery is a movement in the United States, which suggests that the government apologize to slave descendants for their hardships, and bestow on them reparations, whether it be in the form of money, land, or other goods. There is also a newer movement to secure reparations, particularly from Western, ex-colonial powers, for Africa and African nations. In 2001, at a UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism, African nations demanded a clear apology for the slavery from the former slave-trading countries, but with no success.

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[edit] Historical context

The arguments surrounding reparations are based on the formal discussion about reparations and the actual land reparations received by African-Americans which were later taken away. In 1865, after the Confederate States of America were defeated in the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 that set aside tracts of land in the sea islands and around Charleston, South Carolina for the exclusive use of black people who had been enslaved. Around 40,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres (1,600 km²) in Georgia and South Carolina. However, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln was killed and the land was returned to its previous owners. In 1867, Thaddeus Stevens sponsored a bill for the redistribution of land to African Americans, but it was not passed.

Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 without the issue of reparations having been addressed. Thereafter, a deliberate movement of regression and oppression arose in southern states. Jim Crow laws passed in some South-Eastern states to reinforce the existing inequality that slavery had produced. In addition white extremist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan engaged in a massive campaign of intimidation throughout the Southeast in order to keep African-Americans in their prescribed social place. For decades this assumed inequality and injustice was ruled on in court decisions and debated in public discourse.

[edit] Proposals for reparations

[edit] Government payments

Some proposals have called for cash payments from the U.S. government. The question of who if any should receive such payments, who should pay them and in what amount, has been highly controversial, since the United States Census does not track descent from slaves or slave owners and relies on self-reported racial categories. Since all slaves have long since died and the statute of limitations has long expired no court has seriously supported black reparations.

Various estimates have been given. Harper’s Magazine has created an estimate that the total of reparations due is over 100 trillion dollars, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865. [1]

[edit] Private payments

Private corporations were also complicit in slavery. On March 8, 2000, Reuters News Service reported that Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, a recent law school graduate, initiated a one-woman campaign making a historic demand for restitution and apologies from modern companies that played a direct role in enslaving Africans. Aetna Inc. was her first target because of their practice of writing life insurance policies on the lives of enslaved Africans with slave owners as the beneficiaries. In response to Farmer-Paellmann’s demand, Aetna Inc. issued an unprecedented public apology, and the "corporate restitution movement" was born.

By 2002, nine (9) lawsuits were filed around the country coordinated by Farmer-Paellmann and the Restitution Study Group — a New York non-profit. The cases were consolidated under 28 U.S.C. § 1407 to multidistrict litigation in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The litigation included 20 plaintiffs demanding restitution from 20 companies from the banking, insurance, textile, railroad, and tobacco industries. The district court dismissed the lawsuits with prejudice, and the claimants appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. On December 13, 2006, that Court, in an opinion written by Judge Richard Posner, modified the district court’s judgment to be a dismissal without prejudice, affirmed the majority of the district court’s judgment, and reversed the portion of the district court’s judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ consumer protection claims, remanding the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion [1].

In October 2000, California passed a Slavery Era Disclosure Law requiring insurance companies doing business there to report on their role in slavery. The disclosure legislation, introduced by Senator Tom Hayden, is the prototype for similar laws passed in 12 states around the United States.

The NAACP has called for more of such legislation at local and corporate levels. It quotes Dennis C. Hayes, CEO of the NAACP, as saying, "Absolutely, we will be pursuing reparations from companies that have historical ties to slavery and engaging all parties to come to the table."[2] Brown University, whose namesake family was involved in the slave trade, has also established a committee to explore the issue of reparations. In February 2007, Brown University announced a set of responses[3] to its Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. [4]

In December of 2005, a boycott was called by a coalition of reparations groups under the sponsorship of the Restitution Study Group. The boycott targets the student loan products of banks complicit in slavery — particularly those in the Farmer-Paellmann litigation. Students are choosing from hundreds of other banks to finance their student loans.."[5]

[edit] Land

These proposals would deed public lands in the South to black people who can prove they are descended from slaves. Supporters claim that through development of this land they would gain a real stake in wider society, which would cause positive sociological effects throughout the African-American community.

[edit] Social services

Chicago city council woman (Alderman) Dorothy Tillman made the argument that reparations for slavery should not take the form of money paid directly to anyone. She said that increased funding for resturants, movie theaters, and restrooms in the black community could be used as a form of reparations.

There have been some other prominent reparations precedents in recent years. Brown University has undertaken a comprehensive study of its connections to slavery and anti-slavery. JP Morgan Chase and Wachovia have both apologized for their connections to slavery and the Southern Baptist Convention has apologized for the "sins" of racism, including slavery.

[edit] Arguments for reparations

[edit] Accumulated wealth

Supporters of reparations claim that, had emancipated slaves been allowed to possess and retain the profits of their labor, their descendants might now control a much larger share of American social and monetary wealth. Freed slaves not only did not receive a share of these profits, but also were stripped of the small amounts of compensation paid to them during Reconstruction. Meanwhile, some people and corporations which are now wealthy derived their starting capital from slavery.[citation needed] According to this view, reparations would be valuable primarily as a way of correcting this economic imbalance.

[edit] Precedents

Under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. government apologized for Japanese American internment during World War II and provided reparations of $20,000 to each survivor, to compensate for loss of property and liberty during that period. For many years, Native American tribes have received compensation for lands ceded to the United States by them in various treaties. Other countries have also opted to pay reparations for past grievances see Holocaust reparations. Opponents argue that these precedents do not apply to the issue of African-American slave reparations, however, because those receiving compensation in the precedent cases are direct victims of the governments’ misdeeds.

[edit] Arguments against reparations

[edit] Relocation of injustice

The principal argument against reparations is that their cost would not be imposed upon the perpetrators of slavery who were a very small percentage of society with 4.8% of southern whites (only 1.4% of all whites in the country) compared to 28% black slaveowners[6], nor confined to those who can be shown to be the specific indirect beneficiaries of slavery, but would simply be indiscriminately borne by taxpayers per se. People making this argument often add that the descendants of white abolitionists and soldiers in the Union Army might be taxed to fund reparations despite the sacrifices their ancestors already made to end slavery. (It is sometimes further noted that, while slavery prevailed, the principal indirect beneficiaries of American slavery were Europeans, who took possession of expropriated labor in the form of reduced pricing of American agricultural exports.)

[edit] Identification of victims and of levels of victimization

Identification of actual descendants of slaves would be an enormous undertaking, because such descent is not simply identical with present racial self-identification. And levels of actual victimization would be impossible to identify; had freed slaves been given their recoverable damages, they may have followed different patterns of marriage and of reproduction, and in some cases would not have made their offspring the sole or even principal heirs to their estates. (Opponents of reparations refer to the lost wealth of slaves as “dissipated”, not in a sense of simply having ceased to exist, but in a sense of being untraceably transmitted elsewhere.)

[edit] Comparative utility

It has been argued that reparations for slavery cannot be justified on the basis that slave descendants are subjectively worse off as a result of slavery, because it has been suggested that they are better off than they would have been in Africa if the slave trade had never happened.

In "Up From Slavery," former slave Booker T. Washington wrote,

I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction… Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. …This I say, not to justify slavery — on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive — but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose. When persons ask me in these days how, in the midst of what sometimes seem hopelessly discouraging conditions, I can have such faith in the future of my race in this country, I remind them of the wilderness through which and out of which, a good Providence has already led us. [2]

Neoconservative commentator David Horowitz writes,

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 taken. (From Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks – and Racist Too)

[edit] Legal argument against reparations

Many legal experts point to the fact that slavery was not illegal in the United States prior to the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified in 1865). Thus, there is no legal foundation for compensating the descendants of slaves for the crime against their ancestors when, in strictly legal terms, no crime was committed. Slavery is now considered by many to be highly immoral, but perfectly legal at the time. However, opponents of this legalistic argument contend that such was the case in Nazi Germany, whereby the activities of the Nazis were legal under German law.

Perhaps the most cogent argument against reparations (though this is not a legal argument) is the few African-Americans are of "pure" African blood since the offspring of the original slaves were occasionally the progeny of Caucasian masters. Since slavery, the original African heritage has been blended with the American experience, the same as it has been for generations of immigrants from other countries. For this reason, determining a "fair share" of reparations would be an impossible task.

The most effective legal argument against reparations for slavery from a legal (as opposed to a moral standpoint) is that the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits has long since passed. Thus, courts are prohibited from granting relief. This has been used effectively in several suits, including In re African American Slave Descendants, which dismissed a high-profile suit against a number of businesses with ties to slavery.

[edit] Reparations could cause increased racism

Anti-reparations advocates argue reparations payments based on race alone would be perceived by nearly everyone forced to make payments as a monstrous injustice, embittering many and inevitably setting back race relations. It would also add evidence to the position of many that Black America is simply looking for another handout or that they truly are an inferior segment of society. Apologetic feelings many whites hold because of slavery and past civil rights injustices would, to a significant extent, be replaced by anger.

The Libertarian Party, among other groups and individuals, has suggested that reparations would make racism worse:

A renewed demand by African-Americans for slavery reparations should be rejected because such payments would only increase racial hostility… (From press release)

A leading work against reparations is David Horowitz, Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Reparations for Slavery (2002). Other works that discuss problems with reparations, although they are sympathetic in some ways to it, include John Torpey, Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics (2006) and Alfred Brophy, Reparations Pro and Con (2006).

[edit] References

[edit] See also

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Reparations for slavery – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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