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April 24, 2010 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Many Americans' understanding of the idea of reparations for African slavery in the U.S. stems from Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's field order that slaves made refugees by his march through the South be given parcels of Charleston's former sea island plantations and one of a surplus of Army mules.

In an NYT op-ed, Harvard's Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. expands on the controversial argument that African slaves brought to the Americas were themselves captured, transported and sold by other elite Africans.
(Links from AMA to the West Africa Review are all borked, so here is the West Africa Review. Use vol. and issue numbers in AMA link to navigate West Africa Review site.)

Interestingly, Gates seems to be proposing that African nations that captured, transported and sold Africans to European slavers should be asked to pay some portion of these reparations. He proposes that reparations be taken under consideration by the Obama administration, given that the President, an African-American born of an African and an American, is uniquely qualified to assess the realities and responsibilities of such a debt.

Sen. Obama in 2007 on the notion of a presidential "apology" or other action for slavery

Candidate Obama's view in 2008 that "the best reparations...are good schools in the inner city and jobs for the unemployed."

Gates' argument includes supports from Boston University historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood.

The role of Africans in slavery has long been the subject of debate in the African American and West African artistic, critical and scholarly communities.

One key support from Gates piece: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (Previously)

Other references noted by Gates, including apology from former Benin (Dahomey in colonial days) president Mathieu Kérekou for that country's role in slavery

Previously on reparations and Gates

Previously on reparations from Japan to "comfort women"

Previously on Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and reparations

Searching "reparations + slavery" in MetaFilter brings up several relevant older FPPs but with dead primary links.

Also:

Reparations from Germany for WWI via Treaty of Versailles

DM1 billion from Germany to State of Israel for WWII (as of 2005) and USD1 billion+ from US to American Japanese for WWII internment

Attempts by Bikini Islanders to gain reparations from US from atomic testing damages

From the American Bar Association: The Legal Basis of the Claim for Reparations
posted by toodleydoodley (58 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd rather see 'reparation money' go straight toward education, renovating the most run-down neighborhoods and job creation.
posted by Malice at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


From the op-ed:
There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.
Pssst, none of those people are alive anymore.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


Interesting post, thank you.

Regarding my Comfort Women FPP, which you linked to: just want to mention that in the four years since I posted that, the Japanese government still has not claimed responsibility for them, which has prevented the victims for suing for reparations. The fund is still in place, but most comfort women have refused to draw from it. To do so would (in their eyes and among other reasons,) absolve the government of its responsibility.

Also, you may be interested in this FPP: The Legacy of Lynching, which discusses what University of Maryland School of Law Associate Professor Sherrilyn Ifill frames as an "African American Holocaust": The lynching of Black Americans between 1890 and 1960.
posted by zarq at 12:51 PM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Imho, the best reparations would be funding schools through state wide taxes like income or sales instead of property taxes, much as Obama recommended.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:04 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Considering that over the past year or so the federal government has poured many hundreds of billions of dollars down the toilet to "stimulate the economy", I would like to suggest that the economy could just as easily been stimulated, and slavery been paid for, by dividing those hundreds of billions of dollars among the descendants of America's slaves. Some kind of genetic criteria could have been determined. And I'm pretty sure that the descendants of America's slaves would have spent most of that money right here in the USA, and stimulated the economy pretty well.

If I were Henry Louis Gates or someone with a national forum, I'd get pretty militant about this. Your federal government recently GAVE HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS AWAY with barely any discussion to some people and organizations you can't even name right now -- just because they asked for it!

Well, hell, you sons of slaves, start asking for it!
posted by Faze at 1:23 PM on April 24, 2010


Some kind of genetic criteria could have been determined.
Surely determining eligibility for entitlement programs by genetic criteria raises constitutional equal protection issues?
posted by planet at 1:28 PM on April 24, 2010


Seconding Malice's comment, I don't see the point in direct payments to individuals -- which would be counterproductive anyway as they'd lead to a huge right-wing backlash -- when the money would be better spent on well-designed policies that would disproportionately help blacks: welfare, education, health care, or whatever area you'd like to see more resources devoted to. Most of the social ills in the US disproportionately burden blacks, so any kind of improvement in those areas will tend to be particularly beneficial to blacks.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2010


Am I mistaken in assuming that, given the time periods of the past acts of reparations you listed, that they were apportioned to the victims of whatever acts were being atoned for? That would make them quite different from Dr. Gates' proposition, which cannot be paid to any victims because they are all long dead.
posted by indubitable at 1:33 PM on April 24, 2010


Oh Cumpy, you magnificent bastard.
posted by Busithoth at 1:38 PM on April 24, 2010


New Zealand is dealing with similar issues through the Treaty of Waitangi processes to Maori Iwi (native tribes). It's been difficult but nearing the end now, it's well worth it.

Two things stand out: you need to address the issues head on, openly and honestly AND the Iwi which have been reparated have become powerful guardians of taonga (like treasure) for everybody. How many others organizations can you name that have 100 year strategies?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:45 PM on April 24, 2010


Most modern discussions of reparations are not about any sort of direct monetary payments to individuals. This is a losing proposition on many levels. Instead, the idea of reparations is discussed in context with the enslavement, and systematic marginalization of African American lives and communities. That is, what can be done to ameliorate and ultimately stem the toll that has been taken on African Americans with regard to education, living environment (environmental justice has become a really hot topic), economic, and social issues. It is a thorny question, not least because it is up against 400 years of white privilege. But also, logistically it is a very difficult issue to tackle.


To those that argue (as above) that the people affected and those responsible are no longer living, well that's a bit of a facile argument. The result of enslavement, Jim Crow, lynching, economic disenfranchisement and various other ills is still alive and well today. The pathologies seen in many low-income black neighborhoods (in fact the issue of class becoming synonymous with race as applied to African Americans) as well as the prevailing issue of white privilege can trace many of their roots to this legacy.
posted by anansi at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


To those that argue (as above) that the people affected and those responsible are no longer living, well that's a bit of a facile argument

That's not what I said, just noting that in attempting to apportion blame for slavery within the context of reparations, it doesn't matter, in terms of finding some gesture to ameliorate those crimes, because those people are dead.

As to finding a way to stem the effects of 400 years of systematic abuse of blacks in America, I don't think reparations could ever fix that, were they even feasible. Basically I'm confused what reparations has to do with anything Gates was writing about because it's not going to happen, nore should it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:00 PM on April 24, 2010


If the US government were to pay reparations to individuals or groups, or sets up programs to act as reparation, for slavery in the US, the money from those programs would come from US taxpayers. If Ghana and Benin, to name two countries mentioned in Gates' op-ed, decided that their historical part in the slave trade requires them to pay monetary reparations, I wonder where that money would come from and what it would mean to their citizens: what choices they would be making about their government programs, taxes, financial obligations to world bodies, etc. and what they would sacrifice to make reparations.

I wouldn't even begin to know how to talk about what's fair in that situation.
posted by immlass at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2010


Most modern discussions of reparations are not about any sort of direct monetary payments to individuals. This is a losing proposition on many levels. Instead, the idea of reparations is discussed in context with the enslavement, and systematic marginalization of African American lives and communities. That is, what can be done to ameliorate and ultimately stem the toll that has been taken on African Americans with regard to education, living environment (environmental justice has become a really hot topic), economic, and social issues.

OK, I'm clear on what you think reparations would not be. They would not be directly giving people money. So, what would they be?

Also, I'm surprised you'd say that not only do you think direct payments wouldn't be a good idea, but you say no one discusses this anymore when they talk about reparations. What is it that you think people mean by "reparations" if not directly paying money to black people? If the answer is that other policies would help blacks and in that sense would be reparations, I would agree -- but in that sense, there have already been reparations (which is not to say they've been sufficient). When people speak of reparations as something that hasn't happened yet, I assume they mean monetary payments. If they mean something else, I think the burden is on them to clarify what they do mean. (I admittedly haven't read every single link in the FPP, so I'm not claiming to speak with authority here -- I just honestly don't really know what you mean.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:07 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's not what I said, just noting that in attempting to apportion blame for slavery within the context of reparations, it doesn't matter, in terms of finding some gesture to ameliorate those crimes, because those people are dead.


Noted. Wasn't actually trying to twist your words--it just happened that way. What I was trying to grapple with was the idea that reparations only apply to the direct actors. And I didn't mean to trot you out as a straw-man. I used your statement as an example because that is a chestnut that's brought up all the time in regard to reparations.

I'm also not saying that I think that reparations are feasible. I really don't know. I do think that is healthy for us as a nation to consider them. For to long we have had our head in the sand concerning racial issues. To discuss the consequences of America's past is very necessary for a healthy multicultural society. The discussion of reparations is IMO a part of this dialogue.
posted by anansi at 2:12 PM on April 24, 2010


I wouldn't even begin to know how to talk about what's fair in that situation.

Anything that gets me a hovercraft and a jet packand a laser rifle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:13 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is it that you think people mean by "reparations" if not directly paying money to black people? If the answer is that other policies would help blacks and in that sense would be reparations, I would agree -- but in that sense, there have already been reparations (which is not to say they've been sufficient).

Well, part of the problem is that there is no clear consensus of what reparations would be. Policies maybe, but as you've noted that's been tried and was not very successful. Part of this issue is that any legislation comes up against an entrenched privilege that is difficult to surmount. It engenders ill will and backlash. I don't actually have an answer. Its not even what I spend any time studying. I am only familiar as I am on the periphery of African American Studies.

There are scholars who have written quite a bit on this (none of them are Skip Gates, who is a literary scholar who masquerades as an historian). I don't have any of the cites at hand--but when the wife gets back home I'll ask her for some names (as she is an actual, proper scholar of African American history - unlike me who just knows a few random things).
posted by anansi at 2:19 PM on April 24, 2010


Here's what I mean: The US Government cuts a check to every American of African descent, along with a little note that says, "Please spend this on whatever you want. Nobody forced those who prospered on the backs of your ancestors to spend their spoils on better schools and neighborhoods, and we won't ask you to do so either. Have fun. Spend. Save. Do whatever the hell you want with it and God bless you, because we're pretty damned sorry about the whole thing."

You can assume there will be some degree of unfairness involved, and that some people will be enraged. But you know what? The wars in Iraq and Iran involved more than a small degree of unfairness, and lots of Americans were outraged about them, but your government went ahead and did them anyway. Why is it that when the government wants to blow money on something esoteric (like a billion dollar satellite to measure cosmic rays) or just plain evil (go to war overseas) they freakin' go ahead and do it. But when the subject of slave reparations comes up, suddenly it becomes a late night dorm discussion?
posted by Faze at 2:21 PM on April 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Seconding Malice's comment, I don't see the point in direct payments to individuals -- which would be counterproductive anyway as they'd lead to a huge right-wing backlash

Thirding. However, that backlash might be shortlived if this scenario were to play out.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:22 PM on April 24, 2010


Here's what I mean: The US Government cuts a check to every American of African descent, along with a little note that says, "Please spend this on whatever you want. Nobody forced those who prospered on the backs of your ancestors to spend their spoils on better schools and neighborhoods, and we won't ask you to do so either. Have fun. Spend. Save. Do whatever the hell you want with it and God bless you, because we're pretty damned sorry about the whole thing."

This would not be useful or even helpful. Instant money does not solve problems that have taken centuries to ferment and form. Just like winning the lottery does not often improve a poor person's life. The tax cut check's that Bush liked to doll out did very little to help those who got them (unless you count buying a new TV as helpful).
posted by anansi at 2:24 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is it that when the government wants to blow money on something esoteric (like a billion dollar satellite to measure cosmic rays) or just plain evil (go to war overseas) they freakin' go ahead and do it. But when the subject of slave reparations comes up, suddenly it becomes a late night dorm discussion

Nice version: Because America is all about being fair and reparations would not be fair.

Not so nice version: No way should anyone get something for free if I ain't getting it!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:31 PM on April 24, 2010


I don't see the connection between reparations from the USA and reparations form African nations. There are a bunch of reasonable debates about whether reparations should happen and, if so, how, but the US Government is clearly a continuation of the government that decided that slavery was OK and can reasonably be said to have a moral or ethical stake in the matter. The African nations, on the other hand, were created mostly by Europeans (directly or indirectly) and, while they might contain the descendants of people who engaged in the slave trade, don't have that same historical and political continuity.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:40 PM on April 24, 2010


Reparations would be a wet dream for the Republicans and teabaggers.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 2:41 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excellent post!
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:46 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is it that when the government wants to blow money on something esoteric (like a billion dollar satellite to measure cosmic rays)

Sorry for the derail, but christ, I hate this kind of example. NASA's budget is less than 1% of the overall annual Fed budget. In fact, the entirety of NASA's annual budget translated into imaginary reparations payments would give each american of african descent the princely sum of 567 bucks. Look to the overall defense budget for examples of ridiculous, profligate, and obscene spending.
posted by elizardbits at 2:50 PM on April 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


JEFF
How 'bout the Japanese?

JOSH
I knew you were going to bring up the Japanese.

JEFF
We gave 1.2 billion to Japanese-Americans who were in internment camps.

JOSH
They were actually in internment camps. Bring me a living slave and then you've got a case.

JEFF
I think I've got a case without the living slave, but I'm just a civil rights expert,
so what do I know?

JOSH
Jeff, the committee is going to be looking for a certain degree of practicality. We don't
have $1.7 trillion. To raise $1.7 trillion, we would have to sell Texas and the U.S. Navy.

JEFF
I understand the predicament and I'm willing to give you a break. We'll take our money
in tax deductions and scholarship funds, how 'bout that?

JOSH
How about you take it in affirmative action and empowerment zones and civil rights acts?

JEFF
Three things which we wouldn't have needed in the first place.

JOSH
You know, Jeff... I'd love to give you the money, I really would. But I'm a little short of cash right now. It seems the S.S. officer forgot to give my grandfather his wallet back when he let him out of Birkenau.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:55 PM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


My grandparents fled Russia to escape persecution and programs--can I get something?
The simple fact: slavery, horrible as it was, was legally permissible at the time according to our constitution and all our legal documents. Should women be given some sort of compensation because all women at a certain time were not able to vote and were thus deprived of what is now a right?

Do I give tax money to supplement Prof Gates' fine Harvard salary? Why not the elite schools compensating Jews and Blacks and women for keeping them from attending their schools or in some instances imposing quotas? Or gays for being booted out of the military and losing careers?
And gays being deprived of the right to marry? Or women deprived of the now-given right to leagal abortions? and so on and on.
posted by Postroad at 3:09 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pssst, none of those people are alive anymore.

I'd buy this defense if republicans were not so agitated about the death tax. If your estate should live forever through your descendent's and inheritors then so should your responsibilities and liabilities.
posted by srboisvert at 3:46 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


This would not be useful or even helpful. Instant money does not solve problems that have taken centuries to ferment and form.

I love way people on this thread all say "We shouldn't do this because the teabaggers will go ballistic," but in fact, from what I see here, it's the liberals who are the biggest opponents slave reparations "because they would not be helpful or useful." We're still on the plantation of the paternalists, who don't seem to know how to help African-Americans out of their abysmal disparities, but who do know what's best for African-Americans when it comes to free money: They shouldn't have it. Free money is bad for your character. It's perfectly all right for us to pour billions into the coffers of corrupt warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if a little African-American girl wants a few bucks to go to college, or buy ugly expensive sneakers, or whatever the hell she wants, suddenly liberals form a mighty bloc, holding out their great white hands, shouting "No slave reparations for YOU. Having money won't solve your problems." In any case, the point of slave reparations isn't to solve problems, it's to take money out of the hands of the government that wickedly countenanced race-based slavery, and put it into the pockets of the rightful heirs of those who were robbed of their lives and labor. Besides, if you asked any random African-American what their biggest problem was at any given moment, they would probably answer "I don't have enough money." So don't go saying that money wouldn't solve any problems. Try transferring the wealth that is currently being spilled into the sand in the middle east, or the wealth that was poured into pockets of bankers last year, into the bank accounts of African-Americans, and then, ask them, "Did that solve your problems?" Would that be a reckless experiment? The government spends billions of reckless experiments every day. The whole bailout is a huge reckless experiment. The space program is a reckless experiment (sorry elizardbits), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a reckless experiment, farm subsidies are a reckless experiment, buying off the unions and taking over GM was a reckless experiment. How come when it comes to African-Americans and slave reparation, the government suddenly becomes a paragon of fiscal prudence? And liberals suddenly turn into "value of hard work" puritans? Don't try and deflect the blame on conservatives or teabaggers. Liberals are as much to blame.
posted by Faze at 3:56 PM on April 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


The USA is so weird about race. You've worked really hard to eliminate the bad effects of racism, but in doing so you've come up a racial construct ("African-Americans") that is no less arbitrary than the classifications invented in the 1800s.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:57 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If our bankrupt government starts cutting checks for slavery reparations, I promise you with absolute fucking horror, our little culture war will become a shooting one quickly.

And you can snicker about the Union teaching those dirty Rebs another thing or two but it will be everywhere. Fourth generation, assymmetrical crap where a lot of the people in uniform will have their sympathies with the "bad guys."

My day's ruined now.
posted by codswallop at 4:03 PM on April 24, 2010


to me, one of the things that's different about the argument for reparations for the descendants of american african slaves is that american chattel slavery was generational/heritable and color/race/ethnicity based, which was different from the way slavery had always been practiced before. basically, in order to keep from allowing slaves to redeem themselves or their children, a reason had to be concocted to make them inherently enslavable - they had to be made non-human.

although slaves were freed by the emancipation proclamation and various laws have been passed and court decisions handed down to grant the rights of citizenship to american blacks, there hasn't been a transformational event to conclusively re-humanize american blacks. I think Gates' point is that, for reparations to happen, we would have to question the fundamental qualities and history of the united states. we would have to mentally and philosophically unravel 500 years of u.s. history to re-evaluate the contribution of africans and african-americans to our social, economic and physical infrastructure.

reparations could be a generation-long public works project, endowed with billions of dollars and employing millions of american blacks and lots of americans of other ethnicities, to research and document the monetary and cultural contribution of african americans to the united states. the result could be an annuity fund, payable in such values as education grants, housing grants, business development grants, etc, to a database of people determined to be the descendants of our other, unacknowledged forefathers.

it could be a great american project.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:03 PM on April 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Faze: "29This would not be useful or even helpful. Instant money does not solve problems that have taken centuries to ferment and form.

I love way people on this thread all say "We shouldn't do this because the teabaggers will go ballistic," but in fact, from what I see here, it's the liberals who are the biggest opponents slave reparations "because they would not be helpful or useful." /trollbait and other bullshit/
"

Yeah the problem is me. I did it. I am continuously keeping myself and all other black people down. Its a good thing that you were here to set me straight.

Did you actually read any of my posts? Or did you just not understand them. Don't staw-man my arguments in order to grind your own ax.
posted by anansi at 4:13 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: "30The USA is so weird about race. You've worked really hard to eliminate the bad effects of racism, but in doing so you've come up a racial construct ("African-Americans") that is no less arbitrary than the classifications invented in the 1800s."

Why do so many white people find the term African American so objectionable. If i wanna call myself black, African American, person of African descent, whatever . . . what is it to you?
posted by anansi at 4:14 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


but in fact, from what I see here, it's the liberals who are the biggest opponents slave reparations

I would advise against using a Metafilter thread as a statistical sample of US public opinion.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:16 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


toodleydoodley: "32to me, one of the things that's different about the argument for reparations for the descendants of american african slaves is that american chattel slavery was generational/heritable and color/race/ethnicity based, which was different from the way slavery had always been practiced before. basically, in order to keep from allowing slaves to redeem themselves or their children, a reason had to be concocted to make them inherently enslavable - they had to be made non-human.

although slaves were freed by the emancipation proclamation and various laws have been passed and court decisions handed down to grant the rights of citizenship to american blacks, there hasn't been a transformational event to conclusively re-humanize american blacks. I think Gates' point is that, for reparations to happen, we would have to question the fundamental qualities and history of the united states. we would have to mentally and philosophically unravel 500 years of u.s. history to re-evaluate the contribution of africans and african-americans to our social, economic and physical infrastructure.

reparations could be a generation-long public works project, endowed with billions of dollars and employing millions of american blacks and lots of americans of other ethnicities, to research and document the monetary and cultural contribution of african americans to the united states. the result could be an annuity fund, payable in such values as education grants, housing grants, business development grants, etc, to a database of people determined to be the descendants of our other, unacknowledged forefathers.

it could be a great american project.
"

In principle I agree. I just don't think that it will ever happen in my lifetime. But what do I know, I didn't think that Obama would be president (and we see how well that went down).
posted by anansi at 4:16 PM on April 24, 2010


JOSH
You know, Jeff... I'd love to give you the money, I really would. But I'm a little short of cash right now. It seems the S.S. officer forgot to give my grandfather his wallet back when he let him out of Birkenau.
But they did give reparations.

Anyway, if you were going to do this, I think it would make more sense to just look up birth records and give money to the decedents of slaves directly. I don't think it would actually be that difficult, it isn't like there weren't any records kept.

Also, reparations from poor African countries just seems greedy. I mean, the average black person in the U.S. already has far more money then the average African. And Kenya wasn't a slave trading nation either, as far as I know.
posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, reparations from poor African countries just seems greedy.

what about a very small, token amount, just as an acknowledgment? as far as I'm concerned, the slave trafficking in Africa was just a continuation of slavery as it was always practiced, throughout history - basically people were the spoils of war, but could redeem themselves. but as Gates points out, tribal rulers did travel to the Americas and see for themselves what the actual conditions were, even at least once redeeming someone who had been sold by mistake.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:11 PM on April 24, 2010


Whites will give as much as money to underperforming minorities as A) their guilt/sympathy/sense of fairness dictates, B) elite liberal white political clout forces them to, and C) minority political clout forces them to.

The problem is that 'A' is deteriorating over time for fairly clear reasons*, while 'B' and 'C' are increasing, and will most likely continue to increase ('B' largely because of 'C').

Real reparations -- that is morally meaningful reparations -- would only take the form of mostly 'A', and that form of reparations will never happen. Never. So true "reparations" is a dead idea, that will only be successfully implemented by political force at the expense of more antagonistic racial relations in the U.S.

* Among them are A) the decreasing clarity between who is "white" and who is "black" as the number of mixed race people increases, B) the decreasing sense of obligation as the percentage of the electorate (both white and non-white) who can trace their ancestry back to that portion of the nation's history diminishes, C) the rapidly increasing number of Hispanics and other under-performing minorities who also make political demands for affirmative action and compensatory policies, and D) the decreasing belief that black economic under-performance is due to racism and other unfair external forces that might be corrected by resource allocation, as opposed to cultural traits that can only be modified by black volition.
posted by dgaicun at 5:40 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love way people on this thread all say "We shouldn't do this because the teabaggers will go ballistic," but in fact, from what I see here, it's the liberals who are the biggest opponents slave reparations "because they would not be helpful or useful." We're still on the plantation of the paternalists, who don't seem to know how to help African-Americans out of their abysmal disparities, but who do know what's best for African-Americans when it comes to free money: They shouldn't have it.
This is such a weird thing to say. Maybe people really think so-called "reparations" would not be helpful or useful, and are opposed to them on those grounds. Calling this "paternalism" stretches the term to meaninglessness. It can't be paternalism not to give people free money for no reason, or all governments (and all people) are always and inescapably paternalist.

You've made a big show of highlighting past government expenditures that you think were pointless. That's irrelevant. The fact that we've spent poorly in the past is not a reason to spend poorly in the future.
posted by planet at 5:51 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


When Faze is the sanest poster in the thread it's time for everybody else to step back and have a bit of a reality check.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


But they did give reparations.

Because in 1953 in West Germany, the U.S. was making all the rules, and it wanted to get a toehold in the Middle East with Israel. "Hey, Konrad. How about you give David Ben-Gurion over here some money, and we won't look the other way when the Soviets roll toward the Rhine."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:10 PM on April 24, 2010


"When Faze is the sanest poster in the thread it's time for everybody else to step back and have a bit of a reality check."

Let us know when that thread occurs.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:02 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Reparations were recently paid in Canada to people who had formerly been students at Indian Residential Schools, where many were sexually abused and all were subject to an official policy of assimilation. The payments were $10,000 for the first year and $3000 for each year thereafter. Many of these payments went to people living in isolated reserve communities who lacked steady jobs, and as a result had never learned money management skills. Many of them suffered substance abuse problems. When the cheques started going out, there were no shortage of companies advertising that they would accept the cheques as down-payments on new cars. Too much of the money went to booze.

Now, it would be totally inappropriate to decide that X group of people can't manage their own money, so we're not going to pay them the restitution they deserve. (That sort of paternalism is the whole problem with our relationship with aboriginals, but that's another topic.) The point is that huge, lump-sum payments are a really ineffective way of buying improvements in a group's social conditions. It's not about who you're giving the money to - I imagine that lottery winners are relatively randomly distributed, and I've not heard that winning the lottery tends to lead to sound long-term financial planning and a better future for the winner's children. I've heard a lot about how it tends to ruin people's lives. If lifting a group of people out of poverty what you're aiming for, then find a different mechanism. These sorts of payments can only really be justified on the basis of restitution for a wrong done to a person.

And, guess what, there are no living slaves anymore. Why should their descendants be entitled to damages for a wrong that was never done to them? Is it because they continue to be disadvantaged? Well, pretty well every group in the world has, in its past, been persecuted impoverished; their descendants have not necessarily remained impoverished, because there is no sufficient causal link between persecution 150 years ago and poverty today. If there is continuing disadvantage, it's a result of innumerable other factors - in the case of slavery, everything from Jim Crow laws to workplace discrimination to absent parents to teachers' unions that don't want classroom accountability.

Paying reparations for slavery is a neat way of washing away collective guilt with money without getting at the root of the problem. It's also an open door to every group with a past grievance to come knocking, looking for money. If someone is owed money today based on nothing more than his racial ancestry, then where, exactly, does this sort of responsibility stop?
posted by Dasein at 8:58 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in a state (Washington) that wasn't constituted until 34 years after the end of the Civil War and from what I know most of my people immigrated in the late 1800's. And I'm 1/16 Native.
If it weren't for the lawyers using a government apology as grounds for reparation I'd be all in favor of that. I'm pretty sure one part of me owes another part of me an apology. Even with the best lawyer in the land and a sympathetic judge any court would convict my hand and elbow as conspiring against my liver but beyond that I'm uncertain.
posted by vapidave at 9:22 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anansi asked: Why do so many white people find the term African American so objectionable.

You don't actually know whether I'm "white" or not. That's another cultural construct.

I don't object to the term; I just think it's strange that you have this category that clearly means different things in different contexts but is publicly treated as if it were a unified concept. In this discussion it's being as if it were nearly synonymous with "descendants of people brought as slaves from Africa to to North America", but a little thought will come up with lots of African Americans who are not descended from slaves; lots of people not considered to be African American but who are descended from African slaves; and even people descended from slaves which did not come from Africa!

I'm not saying that this is a useless cultural construct. You can make similar arguments about things like Jewish identification or whatever. I just think it's interesting that you've got such a poorly-defined category that is such an essential part of public and political discourse, especially when the point of this discourse is to eliminate racism.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:32 PM on April 24, 2010


especially when the point of this discourse is to eliminate racism.

Often the point of this discourse is exactly the opposite. Often the point is to retain, protect, defend, and extend a so-called "possessive investment in whiteness."
posted by liketitanic at 10:08 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


the idea that "African American" is poorly defined is pretty ridiculous. Especially from someone who doesn't even live in the U.S. Sure, like anything else there are going to be edge cases, but so what?

And anyway, reparations should go to the decedents of slaves, not more recent African immigrants.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, guess what, there are no living slaves anymore.

That is not true. There are.
...The camp had supplied tens of thousands of men over five decades to a succession of prison mines ultimately purchased by U.S. Steel in 1907. Hundreds of them had not survived. Nearly all were black men arrested and then “leased” by state and county governments to U.S. Steel or the companies it had acquired.3 Here and in scores of other similarly crude graveyards, the final chapter of American slavery had been buried. It was a form of bondage distinctly different from that of the antebellum South in that for most men, and the relatively few women drawn in, this slavery did not last a lifetime and did not automatically extend from one generation to the next. But it was nonetheless slavery—a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion.

Instead of thousands of true thieves and thugs drawn into the system over decades, the records demonstrate the capture and imprisonment of thousands of random indigent citizens, almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process. The total number of workers caught in this net had to have totaled more than a hundred thousand and perhaps more than twice that figure. Instead of evidence showing black crime waves, the original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks—changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity— or loud talk—with white women. Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime. Hundreds of forced labor camps came to exist, scattered throughout the South—operated by state and county governments, large corporations, small-time entrepreneurs, and provincial farmers. These bulging slave centers became a primary weapon of suppression of black aspirations....

By 1900, the South’s judicial system had been wholly reconfigured to make one of its primary purposes the coercion of African Americans to comply with the social customs and labor demands of whites. It was not coincidental that 1901 also marked the final full disenfranchisement of nearly all blacks throughout the South. Sentences were handed down by provincial judges, local mayors, and justices of the peace—often men in the employ of the white business owners who relied on the forced labor produced by the judgments. Dockets and trial records were inconsistently maintained. Attorneys were rarely involved on the side of blacks. Revenues from the neo-slavery poured the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars into the treasuries of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina — where more than 75 percent of the black population in the United States then lived....
from Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

Coming to PBS in the fall of 2011.

Which, as noted above, was posted about by orthogonality.

Slavery of black men and women in American does not exist in anything like the form in which it existed up until World War II, when forced prison labor of black men imprisoned under the Jim Crow era vagrancy laws ended, lest we give Adolf Hitler poinfs for a propaganda campaign about American hypocrisy.

We had fought a war to end slavery, only to see it reinstated, only eleven years after the South's surrender in the Civil War, in a new and improved form, a sort of industrial slavery where men were literally worked to death. A number of those slaves are no doubt alive.

Blackmon, interviewed by Bill Moyers, remarked that a tacit agreement was forged between whites in the north and south at the end of Reconstruction about what the role of blacks were to be, tacitly agreed and then looked away.

But then the slavery by another name and the history of the Reconstruction are things not taught when I was in high school. And I rather doubt either are much covered to this day. It isn't something that happened a long time ago but rather something that is in living memory for some of us. If there are living survivors of the Holocause, there are living survivors of the whole system of forced prison labor that Blackmon described. That book is well worth reading.

And I have to admit that I find myself not unsympathetic to Faze's remarks, the whole strawman--the some people here are saying part--argument aside, about how reparations should be paid.

To reread that thread in the Tulsa Riots and Reparation post, what a trainwreck. I am not happy to revisit it. I would like to think that, in the words of Bob Dylan, Oh, I was so much older then....

As for reparations, my thoughts on the subject are not fixed. I do think we are long overdue for a long talk about the elephant in the living room that is the history of black and white and slavery's legacy. I pray we all have the courage and strength to talk about these things wisely and honestly when we do.
posted by y2karl at 10:57 PM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow. I'm actually disappointed in Henry Gates.

The richest country on the planet, demanding reparations from Ghana?
posted by effugas at 11:43 PM on April 24, 2010


Pssst, none of those people are alive anymore.

Psst...the economic gain they made off of slavery is still that "old family money" thats talked about in certain areas.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:57 AM on April 25, 2010


the idea that "African American" is poorly defined is pretty ridiculous. Especially from someone who doesn't even live in the U.S. Sure, like anything else there are going to be edge cases, but so what?

OK, what's the definition?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:57 AM on April 25, 2010


This is a tremendous post. Well done malice.

I think "reparations" is an unhelpful rhetorical replacement for "affirmative action" which liberals have abandoned (along with much else) in their shameful, pathetic and cowardly retreat from conservative loudmouths.
posted by three blind mice at 3:13 AM on April 25, 2010


OK, what's the definition?

Americans of mostly African decent? Some people might add those who identify that way, since some people might consider themselves American, but be pretty light skinned and mostly white by decent.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nice try, we're all of African descent!!!!1!!

*Wank, wank, wank, wank, SPLOOOOGGE*

oh god, I'm so in love with myself and my clever, clever brain tissues.
posted by dgaicun at 9:19 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Paying reparations for slavery is a neat way of washing away collective guilt with money without getting at the root of the problem.

We should adopt this approach to tort reform:

"The court finds that the RIAA has been wrongfully been deprived of $10m due to copyright infringement, but we're worried that they might spend any settlement on cocaine and hookers, so I'm going to find for the plaintiff in the sum of $10m, to be used to build local schools and affordable public housing."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm still going with inextricable. Not just because it is but because any analysis would be divisive. Taking a look into the future we're all citizens here and though I hate to quote the soaring and cynical Peggy Noonan she was correct. I don't see my local Asian grocer as any less an American than I and you don't either. This is where we have the opportunity for idealism to prevail. Reparations are antithetical to that. They are unamerican as I understand america.
posted by vapidave at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2010


I don't see my local Asian grocer as any less an American than I and you don't either.

I would love to believe that this were a universal statement.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:38 AM on April 25, 2010


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