This is a knotty issue. The idea of reparation has existed since the Emancipation Proclamation. Every decade or so the issue is raised to a level of public awareness and becomes an issue in US governments, especially the Federal government. Reparation is an unusually complex idea that doesn’t fare well in politics. In part this is due to the mechanics of political discourse which seek compromise through procedural bargaining; reparations are not something that can be resolved with bargaining. The idea exists or it doesn’t. This post is, in part, a review of arguments during a Hearing before Congress on Juneteenth Day (June 19th).
Even more complex is the fact that three clearly distinct social functions are forced together: racism, economics and citizen parity. Can racism, today still a major social conflict, be reconciled with money, that is, will racism disappear among whites because the blacks received some money? Is slavery’s $75 billion contribution to the US GDP an investment that deserves reconciliation? Is it fair to poor whites that, because one is black, the blacks get a leg up on surviving in a plutocratic age?
In Congress Wednesday, most debates centered on whether today’s blacks can represent black slaves in the first place. Inevitably the three aforementioned social functions cloud the rationality of that debate. One witness’s testimony stated, “If I receive reparation, it means I am still a slave.” Ta-Nihisi Coates, a respected black journalist, made the case that American history is a continuous flow that encompasses all that has transpired in the nation. Senator Mitch made the common case that none of us alive are responsible for slavery and that introducing reparation would be disruptive. Coates jumped on that argument citing:
“But well into this century, the United States was still paying out pensions to the heirs of Civil War soldiers. We honor treaties that date back some 200 years, despite no one being alive who signed those treaties. Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.”
Coates also made the point that throughout history even to the present, blacks continue to suffer injustice often in brutal and savage ways – implying that, in a cultural way, slavery still exists.
. . . .
As mariner alluded to in the first paragraph, debating (a) was there an immoral act; (b) whether there is financial culpability; (c) whether accountability for slavery has a statute of limitations; (d) the impact of reparation on life in a contemporary plutocracy and many other lesser opinions, mariner senses that these arguments are disparate – pieces from a larger puzzle that don’t fit together in the space of reparation.
The puzzle that accommodates these pieces rearranges their relationships.
Today’s racial war began with a profiteering invasion of Africa for the sole purpose of establishing slavery in the US. There was never any intention by the pirates to reimburse their native countries. There was never any intention of equality for slaves. The Civil War ended ‘legal’ slavery and destroyed a southern economy that was based on slaves as chattel. Intense animosity remains to this day sustained by differences in color, culture, financial class and political identity. In other words, the conflict associated with African blacks is not over. The Civil War is over; actual ownership of another person as chattel is over; but a tribal war between races continues to this day. Is it possible to apply reparations when the war hasn’t ended?
While it may seem irrelevant to dialogue today, the original sin was against the nations of Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Should there be reparations to these African nations for profiteers spiriting away 75,000 citizens? Reparations can be negotiated for this because that chapter of history is complete. All that remains were it desired, is to settle on an amount.
Rather than try to create reparation that cannot be defined, perhaps the primary effort should be to end the war. Mariner is of the opinion that paying out some cash to end white responsibility is a cop out. End the war. End racism. There is no amount of reparation that would equal the end of the race war with blacks. The economic parity isn’t a payback, its equal pay for equal work; equal opportunity for education, medical care and other opportunities assumed by white people without notice.