Normally I start off my posts by asking a question about the topic and how it is defined. This is not going to be a normal post. Warning! This is a topic that has deep-rooted feelings, which are tied to a history of wrongdoing over several centuries. I am going to address it from a centrist point of view (hence, the name of the site). This means I am going to try and look at it from both sides of the argument. Some of you may agree and some may vehemently disagree and label me with every slanderous name you can think of. That’s fine. Just remember that these words are not coming from a place of racism, hate or bigotry of any kind.
What are reparations? They are the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.
Who is deserving of reparations? Stick with that definition: it is people who have been wronged.
Which people should be included in reparations? Stick with the same definition: someone who has been wronged.
Why am I talking about this? The topic has been brought back into the forefront of conversations amongst the 2020 Presidential hopefuls. The reparations they are taking a position on are for or against reparations for descendants of Africans who had been enslaved as part of the Atlantic slave trade.
When did slavery end in America? The 13th Amendment, effective December 1865, abolished slavery in the U.S. If you are going to be considered as a descendant of African slaves that would need to be the period of time that you should have to trace back your lineage to if you are to qualify for reparations.
How much should reparations be? This subject has been debated in Congress since the time slavery was abolished. Here is an excerpt of that topic from The Constitutional Rights Foundation.
Reparations for the slavery is not a new idea. Before the Civil War ended, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued an order in South Carolina. He wanted 40 acres and the loan of an Army mule set aside for each former slave family. This order was never carried out. After the war, Radical Republicans in Congress passed laws requiring confiscation of former-Confederate property to provide the ex-slaves with “40 acres and a mule.” In 1866, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the legislation.
Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th president of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. … A Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, Johnson came to office as the Civil War concluded.
Now that we understand the history of reparations and how attempts to implement them have been debated and blocked since 1865 where do we go from here? Obviously, it would have been easier to make amends right from the start. The longer you wait to tackle any situation the less likely it will happen.
What are the reparation options? The issuance of 40 acres and loan of an Army mule was vetoed by the Democratic President of the time. Perhaps that concept should be revisited, possibly modernized. If you were to give someone 40 acres and loan of an Army mule you would have to decide who would qualify first so you can quantify the amount of land and mules you would need. Also, whose land would be given as part of the reparations? Federal land, descendants of slave owners land? That would be poetic, but is it fair? To answer that question let’s take a macro look at the history of reparations.
According to Britannica.com reparations are payment in money or materials by a nation defeated in war. After World War I, reparations to the Allied Powers were required of Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. The original amount of $33 billion was later reduced by the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan and was canceled after 1933. In the 1920s German resentment over reparations was used by ultranationalists to foment political unrest.
Japanese-Americans are another example of people deserving of reparations. According to NPR in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The law won congressional approval only after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community.
You can continue searching the history of reparations and find many examples of governments behaving badly and trying to make amends. In the case of the Civil Liberties Act, survivors received compensation and an apology. The key word here is survivors. People that were still alive who were wronged. Another way to look at it is someone who was wrongfully convicted of a crime and served many years in prison. Once their conviction is overturned they sue the city and usually receive a settlement and apology to try and make amends for the damage done by the court system. The money will never buy back the time they lost or make things right. Hopefully, any compensation received will ease some of their pain and suffering.
The most rational way for me to look at reparations for descendants of Africans subjected to the Atlantic slave trade is to accept the fact a wrong was done to thousands of people until 1865. Seeing as how that was more than 160 years ago there are no remaining survivors of people who were enslaved nor are there any guilty parties still alive. That leaves us with an apology. On July 29, 2008, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced legislation to formally apologize for slavery and the Jim Crow laws. The resolution had bi-partisan support from 120 co-sponsors.
I cannot and you cannot be held responsible for something ancestors a century and a half ago have done. As much as that period of time has left a stain on the history of this nation the only thing we can do is to learn from our past and strive to create a more perfect union. Giving people land, farm animals or money will not change that history nor will it do justice to the hardships those people endured.
The English poet Alexander Pope wrote in “An Essay on Criticism,” To err is human, to forgive divine. All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive. Maybe the best reparation we can receive is the blessings of peace that comes from forgiveness.