REPARATIONS: Support, Opposition, Meaning and Feasibility. : ThyBlackMan

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


REPARATIONS: Support, Opposition, Meaning and Feasibility.

May 15, 2019 by  
Filed under Business, Money, News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) With the 2020 presidential campaigns underway a prominent topic is being evaluated by candidates —at least Democratic candidates. It is the issue of reparations. Even though reparations for slavery has been touched on for decades, it has never been materialized. Reparations have been given out before but the issue of slavery makes the process more complex. The main question is how this should be done. In order to formalize an effective plan reparations have to be understood as not just money but as a way to correct wrongdoings. Keeping this in mind it is easier to understand why reparation programs, in addition to compensation, needs to be implemented for African Americans in the United States.

When we initially think of reparations we simply think of money being paid out to victims of a wrongdoing, but the word has a more complex background. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, reparations are “the action of making amends for a wrong one has done, by providing payment or other assistance to those who have been wronged”. Two things to be pointed out is that the purpose of reparations is to make amends and that it can be in other forms outside of payments. Reparation comes from the word repair stemming from the Latin word reparare, meaning to make ready again. To give reparations does not simply mean to give money as a form of an apology. It is an effort to correct wrongdoings by putting the victim back in the position they were prior to the crime. Since reparations serve as a form of acknowledgement of wrongdoings they can be “apologies, memorials, and commemorations” or in a tangible form as money or land (“Reparations & Transitional Justice | ICTJ”). Institutionally, there can be reparation programs to improve health care, education, employment, and other services for victims. Examples of these reparations can be seen throughout history.

Despite reparations being a hot topic in today’s politics they have been distributed before. The most well-known occurrence was during the World Wars. Germany was forced to pay $500 billion in war reparations to other countries. The reparations were so high that the suffering of the German economy led to World War II (Suddath). Their loss led to additional reparations to Holocaust survivors and their descendants, who are still receiving reparations today. France has given out reparations for their involvement in transporting Jews to concentration camps and many of these descendants live in the U.S. today (Shaver). The United States has also given out reparations for its own crimes during WWII. Due to its opposition to Japan the U.S. put thousands of Japanese people, many of them citizens, in internment camps. More than forty years later, under President Ronald Reagan the government gave a formal apology and $20,000 of tax free money to survivors (Qureshi). The U.S. has also given reparations to African Americans. After the Tuskegee experiments, where Black men were used to study syphilis, victims and immediate family received money and lifelong medical care. The state of Florida gave monetary reparations to Black survivors of the race riots in 1923. Even though slavery began before all of these issues, lasted longer, and affected more people, the U.S. has yet to even develop a plan to distribute reparations.

The discussion of reparations began before the end of the Civil War. It is commonly known as 40 acres and a mule. Land in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida was divided up and given to newly freed slaves. It would not be long before President Andrew Johnson vetoed the law and returned the land back to whites. There was no longer promotion of black ownership and free Blacks were forced to give up their land and sign labor contracts to continuously work for whites (“’40 Acres’ Promise to Blacks Was Broken”). Nevertheless, reparations continued to be an issue. Many bills have been sent to Congress and have fallen short of votes. Since 1989 Rep. John Conyers has pushed a bill to acknowledge and study the effects of slavery and provide recommendations for reparations. It would take for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to take up the bill for it to be passed in 2019 (Lillis and Wong). With a shift in the presidency and the desire for African American votes, reparations for slavery have been a topic for candidates in the 2020 presidential elections.

Despite the passing of a bill to study reparations there is still a lack of agreement on whether reparations should actually be provided or not. Some Democratic candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris and Marianne Williamson have supported the distribution of reparations. Williamson has advocated to put $500 billion into fixing discriminatory policies, Booker has advocated for providing baby bonds, and Harris promoted a new tax plan to help the poor. This is in opposition to Sen. Bernie Sanders who has not fully backed reparations (Kurtzleben). It should be noted that the reparations have only been a big topic for Democratic candidates and not all sitting Democrats support the idea of reparations. This means that either the discussion of reparations is to gain the African American vote, which has mostly been for Democrats, or that the possibility of passing a bill for reparations will depend not on the president but on candidates who are voted into Congress. The U.S. has already taken the first step in apologizing for slavery, Jim Crow, and the racism that African Americans had to face (“H.Res. 194 (110th): Apologizing for the Enslavement and Racial Segregation of African-Americans”). Eleven years later the bill to study reparations for slavery has been passed. Now is the time to develop plans on what reparations will look like, who will receive them, and who will provide them. I advocate for a mix of monetary reparations and reparation programs for African Americans provided by the government and big business who have benefitted from the system of slavery.

Most people initially think about monetary compensation as the sole form of reparations. However, most candidates do not advocate for this. Instead they suggest programs to help the poor and this will generally encompass African Americans. These programs are not adequate to satisfy as reparations. Japanese Americans received reparations for Japanese internment camps and Jews are still receiving reparations for the Holocaust. It is not far-fetched to believe that African Americans should be the sole receivers of at least one aspect of the reparations. They were solely identified as slaves so they should solely receive reparations for the slavery they endured. One reason people are against reparations is because slaves are no longer alive and neither are slave owners. Still the United States has been able to sustain itself and countless big business because of the free labor of slaves. Blacks should be able to share in this profit. People also believe it will be a burden on the economy to provide money to all Blacks. According to the U.S. Census, African Americans make up 13.4% of the population (“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: UNITED STATES”). Germany was forced to pay 500 billion to multiple countries and actually ended up suffering economically. The U.S. can pay 13.4% of its population since the profit of slavery on the modest side was 5.9 million (Main). Even though money should be distributed, it will not be enough. This is due to the fact many African Americans are not financially literate. Individuals with low financial literacy have poor behavior regarding money such as saving less, investing less, and spending more (Singh). As stated previously the purpose of reparations is to put the victim into the position they were before the crime. Money cannot solely satisfy as reparations because there is a high probability that it will not be utilized appropriately.

The bigger reparations should be in reparation programs. A major change should be made in education reform. During slavery Blacks were banned from educating themselves. After slavery, they faced the difficulty of building schools with little resources. Today access to these resources have scarcely improved. Black students have less access to advanced or college-level courses and if they are available the students are underrepresented. They also have less qualified teachers and no school counselor. Studies compiled by the United Negro College Fund states, “Schools with 90 percent or more students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more white students”. To address this more funding should be provided to schools that need it the most. New York state alone owes 4.2 billion to schools, 74% of those schools are predominantly Black (“‘Separate & Unequal’ Education in the New York State Budget: The Kerner Commission 50 Years Later”). There also needs to be a change in how students are educated about Black history and the contributions African Americans have made to the U.S. In March of 2019 Fox News commentator Katie Pavlich stated that the U.S. should be given credit for being the first country to end slavery in 150 years. She later clarified her statement saying the U.S. was one of the first countries to end slavery (Flynn). Without basic knowledge of American history and African American’s involvement it will be difficult for the country to address the issues of race that it currently faces.

Another reparation program would be free access to health care. The cruelty of slavery can clearly be seen through the physical turmoil slaves had to face. The mental stress is not touched on enough. Research has shown that there is a relationship between genetics and mental illness. A person is at a higher risk of having a certain mental disorder if a close relative also has it. Mental disorders can usually come from a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as trauma, emotional harm, and exposure to substance abuse (“Inheriting Mental Disorders”). These are all things African Americans have been exposed to since slavery. They have had to deal with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of slave owners. They have lived in environments where families were separated or even murdered. During holidays slave owners would give slaves the day off and encourage them to get drunk. In Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography he describes this as a way to keep slaves from desiring freedom (71). Rethink Mental Illness states that the way to reduce the risk of mental illness is to have a healthy diet, get regular exercise, talk to someone about your problems, reduce stress, and limit drug use. After the Tuskegee experiment victims were given free medical care because of their sufferings. African Americans should be given free access to counseling in order to deal with generational trauma and racist experiences stemming from slavery.

Another aspect of reparations that should be implemented is restitution. Restitution is when property is returned to its original owner. It may seem that African Americans have never owned anything, especially land, but this is not true. The Gullahs and the Geechees are direct descendants of West African slaves who settled in South Carolina and Georgia. For many years, they have been isolated from society but have still been able to sustain themselves and their culture (Lewin 100). Unfortunately, today their land is being threatened by development. In the Gullah/Geechee culture land is shared and passed down through generations with oral agreements. In fact, many people who left the land and raised families outside of South Carolina and Georgia do not even know that they may be land owners. This allows developers to challenge the ownership of the land (Cary). As a form of reparation, the people should be able to keep their land even if they do not have deeds to it. Since they were isolated from society for so long the culture of oral deeds justifies their ownership. Any land that was taken from them previously can either be restored or they should receive the profits gained through development on their land.

Reparations for slavery has always been a controversial topic that has caused division. It can be argued that giving reparations to African Americans is too big of a task to undertake. The victims are no longer alive to receive them and it will be difficult to source the reparations. One thing that cannot be argued is that the United States owes its success to the forced labor of Blacks and for that they should receive some form of reparation. The best course would include both monetary reparations and reparation programs. This will provide equity to the people who have been at a disadvantage since they entered the country. Reparations may even be a step into the direction of the U.S. owing Africa for stripping it of its people and resources and initiating numerous wars. It is yet to be seen if this will even begin to take form in the U.S. beginning in the 2020 presidential elections.

Works Cited

1.     “’40 Acres’ Promise to Blacks Was Broken.” The New York Times, The New York Times,

25 Oct. 1994.

2.     Cary, Nathaniel. “In Coastal SC, Gullah Culture’s African Roots Persevere amid

Community Change.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 18 Feb. 2019.

3.     “Does mental illness run in families?” Rethink Mental Illness.

4.     Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. New

York, NY, Barnes & Noble Books, 2003.

5.     Flynn, Meagan. “The U.S. Should Get More Credit for Ending Slavery ‘within 150 Years,’

Fox Panelist Says.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Mar. 2019.

6.     “H.Res. 194 (110th): Apologizing for the Enslavement and Racial Segregation of

African-Americans.” GovTrack.us.

7.     “K-12 Disparity Facts and Statistics.” UNCF.

8.     Kurtzleben, Danielle. “2020 Democrats Wrestle With A Big Question: What Are

Reparations?” NPR, NPR, 1 Mar. 2019.

9.     Lewin, Arthur. Africa is Not a Country: It’s a Continent!. Milltown, NJ, Clarendon

Publishing Company, 2011.

10.     Lillis, Mike, and Scott Wong. “Reparations Bill Wins New Momentum in

Congress.” TheHill, 4 Apr. 2019.

11.     Main, Douglas. “Slavery Reparations Could Cost Up to $14 Trillion, According to New

Calculation.” Newsweek, 14 Apr. 2016.

12.     Qureshi, Bilal. “From Wrong To Right: A U.S. Apology For Japanese Internment.” NPR,

NPR, 9 Aug. 2013.

13.     “Reparations & Transitional Justice | ICTJ.” International Center for Transitional

Justice, 17 Apr. 2017.

14.     “‘Separate & Unequal’ Education in the New York State Budget: The Kerner Commission

50 Years Later.” AQENY, 6 Mar. 2018.

15.     Singh, Kusum. “Financial Literacy of African American College Students: Evidence from

One Historically Black Institution.”, LeMoyne-Owen College, 2017 Annual Conference on Financial Education March 30, 2017.

16.     Suddath, Claire. “Why Did World War I Just End?”. Time, Time Inc., 4 Oct. 2010.

17.     Shaver, Katherine. “U.S. Begins Paying out Reparations from France to Holocaust

Survivors and Their Heirs.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Sept. 2016.

18.     “U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: UNITED STATES.” Census Bureau QuickFacts.

Staff Writer; Danielle Douglas


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