Slavery Reparations: Money to Descendants of Slaves?

The issue of reparations for slavery has become a widely publicized topic in the past few years. This issue has been brought up mainly because of the reparations which were paid to the Jewish people after World War II, rights given to the Native Americans and the payments which were recently made to the Japanese-Americans for their wrongful imprisonment. In response to these events, several black leaders and reparation activists have purposed that descendants of slaves should also be rewarded monetary compensations for their ancestor’s hardships. They believe these hardships have set back the African American race in America, and reparations are long past due to correct these injustices. However, the questions that arise are primarily if the black race has actually been set back by slavery, and secondly how the descendants of these former slaves can be found and validated, and lastly where the funds for these large compensations will come from.

Webster’s defines reparations as “âÂ?¦the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injuryâÂ?¦” It is odd that this definition is somehow interpreted as monetary compensation by so many individuals (Webster). An example of those who interpret reparations this way are most advocates for slavery compensation. The New York Metro Area chapter of the N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) has made claims which state slavery has directly affected the current status of African Americans in the Harlem area. They claim the reason for the predominantly black neighborhood in this deprived area is due to the effects of slavery. Ajamu Sankofa one of N’COBRA’s attorney’s said, “The systematic structure of Black living conditions today began in slavery.” He went on to say, “Everybody knows that wealth is not created by having a job, it’s created by having land and housing and being able to pass these on from generation to generation. Black people had neither of these.” (Carillo 5). Mr. Sankofa made a valid point in claiming the structure of black living conditions today began in slavery; however what Mr. Sankofa fails to realize is blacks are now allowed to work and remove themselves from these conditions. Slavery may have put blacks at a lower level however; once slavery was abolished blacks had the freedom to leave these degrading levels. There were Jim Crow laws which tried to suppress them still, however even these concealed practices are now scarce. Mr. Sankofa’s statement on wealth not coming from a job was quite inaccurate. Wealth can be inherited; however it is quite plausible for an individual to gain it themselves. Countless minorities come over from various countries and are able to succeed in the United States. America has been given the nickname “land of opportunity” for a good reason. It is because it is possible to be successful in America without having a lot to start with. Minorities come from financial backgrounds far worse than African Americans endure currently in the United States, and are able to flourish. However, there is one thing which these minorities have which the African Americans who have remained in these areas lack. This little but very important ideal, is the concept of resolve or will. Saving money is possible even with the most meager of pays. A simple job which does not pay well can still give a viable beginning. Undoubtedly, there will be hardships to bear and luxuries to cut. Yet it can be done, and has been done by countless people who have migrated to America. However, to move up after saving, to higher and better paying jobs, there is a much more important necessity. Unlike what Mr. Sankofa believes, that is not land, and it is not housing. This important factor which is excluded all too often from reparation demands, and it is education. This is what African Americans have been deprived of if anything. If anything is due in reparations to the African American race, it is education.

Other reparation activists have brought up the question as to why reparations have been awarded to the Japanese-Americans of the internment camps, and the Jews of the Holocaust, and even the Native Americans. Raymond A. Winbush director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University is one of these activists (Cose 110). Winbush asks the same questions about the reparations awarded to the other minorities but not blacks. However, the fine but determinate line is drawn here. The other minorities suffered either direct or second generation hardships which were monetarily corrected through reparations. Often times these reparations were meager in the case of Japanese-Americans. Jews have been awarded compensation for the losses they endured during the Holocaust. Lastly, the Native-Americans have been given rights which allow them to regain some of the wealth they cannot normally obtain on their reservations. However, the common theme with these awarded reparations is that the individuals were either mistreated on a first hand basis, they were very easy to track, or they had records of their relationship to those who were victimized. Most individuals who advocate slavery reparations have no such evidence. This is one of the major reasons why reparations have been denied to African Americans. Not because it is not acknowledged that slavery was an atrocious crime to society, but because too much time has passed to find its specific descendants.

This fact is one that those who side with reparations choose to ignore. It an unarguable fact that slavery was an egregious institution which made blacks endure horrible conditions, however many African Americans have come into the United States after slavery was abolished. There have been interracial marriages which skew where the line should be drawn for reparations. There are countless other factors which make it extraordinarily hard for reparations to be awarded to the correct group of people.

However, even if this large problem of finding the appropriate group to award the compensation was ignored there is a much larger problem. The vast amounts of money these claims have requested are unrealistic for the government to afford. Several possible solutions which have been suggested would ironically impose hardships on other groups of people. Since the government could not accommodate this expense, they would have to instate a tax to collect revenue for it. This seems unfair to the people of America who are not benefiting from reparations however some activists consider this immoral. Ms. Secours said in an interview that it was ignorant for Americans to say “I’m not spending my taxes on reparations for blacks.” (Tavis) This may sound stubborn or inconsiderate at first; however there are justifiable reasons for these feelings. Apparently these reparation activists have ignored the fact that America is a “melting pot” of cultures. This means many of individuals which inhabit it now, are not even related of times of slavery. So many individuals migrated to the United States after the abolition of slavery, and to charge them for the acts committed by others is absurd. The only viable solution to reparations which has been suggested is one suggested by Alan Keyes, a Republican Senate hopeful. Keyes’ plan is instead of giving monetary compensation for slavery, blacks should receive tax exemptions for a period of time, which would be determined later (Slave’sâÂ?¦). This solution is one that would actually be realistic, however it is not clear if African Americans would be satisfied with this kind of compensation. However, this solution becomes only a possibility if the other two primary problems are determined first.

Slavery was unquestionably an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment during the birth of the United States (Slave’sâÂ?¦). However, the “reparations” which should be “paid” to African Americans should be the most earnest and sincerest of apologies, not a monetary compensation. No public or official statement has ever been made dealing with these travesties and that is what needs to be done first. Secondly, blacks need to receive better education. Not only should they receive this education, but there has to be a push to motivate them and get them to want to get out of their current status by their own will. Without their drive for self betterment the African American race will remain in their lower level of society which slavery had initially put them in. The reason why monetary reparations should not be awarded to them is because slavery no longer holds them in this position. It may not be possible for the government to provide fiscal reparations however, it is possible for the government to apologize to the African-American community as a whole, and take steps to better the living conditions of lower-class individuals. These are the true reparations which should be given to the African Americans. Money is a material possession which can fade in time; however knowledge is with an individual until he or she dies. Unlike what Mr. Sankofa says about passing on land from one generation to another, what must be passed on instead is knowledge. Because education is what allows people to succeed in this country and without it, any amount of money given to the African Americans will surely be in vain. Surely, there will be an outcry for more, because the situations will still be unequal. The only truly helpful reparations are an apology and a promise to educate both races equally in order to achieve an undifferentiated society.

Works Cited
Carrilo, Karen Juanita. “Activists Tie Gentrification to Black Reparations.” New York
Amsterdam News 20 June 2002: 5.
Cose, Ellis. Discharging a Debt. Earl G. Graves Publishing Company, 2004.
“Slave’s Descendants Should Get Tax Exemption: US Senate Hopeful.” CHICAGO. 17
Aug. 2004.
Tavis Smiley Show. Mod. Tony Cox. With Molly Secours and Ida Hakim. NPR. 16
July 2004.
Webster. “Reparation.” Merriam-Webster Online. 2004. 6 Dec. 2004.

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