April 3, 2019
The Issue of Reparations for African-Americans
The ghost of slavery hangs as a dark shadow over the collective American memory. It is widely accepted as the worst stain on American history, and it is undeniable that the effects of slavery are still visible in America today, 154 years after its abolition. Many people have suggested that the American government owes a debt to the descendants of those whose captivity was ensured by the laws and culture of the land. Despite the nobility of the sentiment involved, there are too many problems with the notion of government reparations for the descendants of slaves in America for this to be justly implemented.
Both governmentally instituted practices such as slavery and segregation, and strictly socially instituted practices such as culturally-ingrained prejudice, were imposed upon African-Americans by Anglo-Americans from the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Advocates for reparations may argue that African-Americans were held down to such a degree by this monumental injustice that they are now unable to get a fair chance at success; even after all legal, and most social boundaries have been lifted. American enslavement and oppression of African-Americans is a historical fact, and some would see this alone as evidence enough for reparations to be paid. However, the grounds for paying reparations to an ethnic group are shaky at best.
Firstly, what is the monetary value of the lost opportunity and suffering of a displaced and enslaved people group? A world in which no African slaves were taken to the Americas would be a world in which African-Americans as an ethnic group would not exist. It is therefore impossible to measure how much was truly lost in that event, and what its monetary equivalent would really be. A proponent of reparations may argue that an exact monetary value is irrelevant, but one author and activist, Richard F. America, takes a more practical approach in his book The Wealth of Races. The author estimates that, based on the average wages of the time, if slaves had been paid from the founding of the nation until abolition, it would come out to about 5 trillion dollars in today’s money.
Even with 5 trillion dollars as a hypothetical price for reparations, the manner in which this wealth should be distributed must be considered. There are undoubtedly poor members of the black community whose ancestors arrived in the US after the abolition of slavery or after the passing of the civil rights act of 1964. It should be settled whether these individuals, however few they may be, should receive reparations as well. If they would not qualify, then who would? According to a 2015 study titled The Great Migration and African-American Genomic Diversity, most African Americans are about 78 percent West African and 20 percent European. If reparations were implemented, it should be conside...