40 acres and a mule
June 9, 2015 2:11 PM   Subscribe

 
The graphic was incredibly helpful in laying out the very long-term legacy of slavery, which we obviously still need to keep talking about.

If I could trust the state to recognize my personhood, I wouldn't demand the standard 40 acres and a mule, or a single payout. I'd want free therapy for managing the trauma of racism, free healthcare for any genetically inherited conditions that have been passed down from enslaved ancestors (like hypertension), and immediate federal reinvestment in the development and protection of Black communities.

Of course, it's just a fantastic pipe dream that I entertain when I'm drunk with my friends at a bar, talking about all the things we as a displaced people could have achieved if not for the violently and zealously defended structural racism. It's a long list.
posted by Ashen at 2:43 PM on June 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


Reparations (paid through inheritance taxes and financial transaction taxes) would absolutely be the quickest, easiest, most effective economic stimulus available to us. Like, if we were a decent country we'd pay reparations even if it wrecked us, but we don't have to make that choice: reparations, as a demand-side stimulus of the type that we badly need, will fix the economy.

Until seeing this infographic, I had no idea that the Union paid reparations to former slave-owners for their loss of property. Christ.

Rev. Wright was right: god damn America. Until we wash ourselves clean from the nation's original sin of industrial-scale slavery — with money, not words — we will forever be cursed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:38 PM on June 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


Just one MORE thing, a really big thing. It takes multiple, dedicated generations of work to heal from abuse, I don't even see the abuse has ended, making this road up to even, a torturous, murderous travesty.
posted by Oyéah at 3:40 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think what many conservative whites don't really like to consider is how African Americans have been kept out of the economic system literally since emancipation. This infographic does a good job of highlighting this point - that legislation has been used since day-one to literally bar them as a group from gaining an effective foothold that would otherwise enable them to build wealth on par with the white dominating class. Obviously the systemic and overt oppression continues to this day but the sheer scale of the history behind it gives lie to the ignorant folks out there who believe in a "level playing field."

And of course the comments section devolves into dealing with comments by the "not racists" bringing up *gasp* African Slavery by Africans in Africa or Arab Slavery etc. As if any of that excuses the United States exploitation of people of color without any repayment.

I think this cartoon does the best job ever of explaining the attitude in the US regarding race.
posted by jnnla at 3:50 PM on June 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


> And of course the comments section devolves into dealing with comments by the "not racists" bringing up *gasp* African Slavery by Africans in Africa or Arab Slavery etc.

Yeah, it's the "Everyone else is doing it!" argument and it doesn't hold water any better in this context than it does when a kid makes it.

This fpp linked to Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece on reparations, and it's well worth the read.
posted by rtha at 3:53 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I like this one re: Black Lives Matter
posted by lalochezia at 3:55 PM on June 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Reparations aren't enough, but I would welcome some sort of financial compensation for victims of slavery - as a start. This country has pretended for too long not to notice its giant, festering wound of white supremacy.

Thanks for making this post, aniola. Think I'll go share this on facebook and have a reasonable, fact-based discussion with some of my fellow white people now.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 3:59 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reparations would be a good start. Cultural competency schooling would be another step, as well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:59 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reparations (paid through inheritance taxes and financial transaction taxes) would absolutely be the quickest, easiest, most effective economic stimulus available to us.

That makes sense as a method for collecting the reparations. since it's a pretty simple way of assuring the those who benefit most from the injustice are the ones who pay to rectify it. I'd be interested in some proposals for how the money would be dispersed as well.

One of the (many) disappointing things about the failure of Rep. Conyers' reparations proposal to gain traction is that he wisely included a provision for a commission that would study not only whether compensation is warranted but also in what form and who should eligible. I wish we could agree on the first part so we could have a serious discussion of the latter question.
posted by layceepee at 4:08 PM on June 9, 2015


Until seeing this infographic, I had no idea that the Union paid reparations to former slave-owners for their loss of property. Christ.

Me neither. As a native of the Southern US, I absolutely do not remember that ever being brought up when we delicately talked and read and "studied" the Civil War in school. That is my new "WHAT THE SHIT" moment.

(Ha! I was talking about this aloud to my Canadian husband and he's like, "That's not a big shocker there, that they never mentioned that.")
posted by Kitteh at 4:11 PM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Apparently the reparations-for-perpetrators-of-crimes-against-humanity were only paid to slavemasters in the District of Columbia itself. Even so, it's like finding out that the US government compensated German companies for losing their Jewish slave laborers at the end of the war.

please tell me that this didn't actually happen. cause uh I wouldn't put it past us.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:18 PM on June 9, 2015


please tell me that this didn't actually happen.

Well, Ford was never tried....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:25 PM on June 9, 2015


those who benefit most from the injustice are the ones who pay to rectify it.

Economics isn't a zero sum game. If black people's talents were fully engaged, we'd all be better off. It's stupidly oversimplistic to posit that because black people are worse off the rest of us are better off.
posted by jpe at 4:44 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


jpe: although I am a huge fan of loopy tangents, I cannot for the life of me figure out how your statement relates at all to the conversation at hand. This might be a fault with my reading comprehension rather than with your statement, though...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:47 PM on June 9, 2015


Apparently the reparations-for-perpetrators-of-crimes-against-humanity were only paid to slavemasters in the District of Columbia itself. Even so, it's like finding out that the US government compensated German companies for losing their Jewish slave laborers at the end of the war.

Not really. The Confederates, like the Germans, were our enemies in those wars, so they would certainly not be compensated for losses. If we must have an analogy, paying reparations in the District of Columbia is kind of like claiming we fought World War II because the Nazis were killing the Jews, while refusing to let those Jews easily take refuge in the United States... Wait, that's just what we did. And of course, we entered WWII out of national interests, not the the Jews' sake; just as we fought the Civil War to preserve the Union, not to end slavery.
posted by Rangi at 4:54 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's stupidly oversimplistic to posit that because black people are worse off the rest of us are better off.

I don't get it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:55 PM on June 9, 2015


I think jpe meant that past and present injustice has harmed blacks, but not really helped whites. (I.e. a random white person today is no better off that you would expect, but a random black person is definitely worse off, as a result of things like slavery and segregation.) Like saying that white privilege means not having to fear police officers: it's not that whites' comfort around the police is a special undeserved privilege—it's a human right—but that blacks' fear of them is an unfair hindrance.
posted by Rangi at 4:58 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a ridiculous assertion to make. White people are a lot "better off" than if there had been proper reparations to Blacks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:00 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I guess the way I see it, the capital-holding classes (which are largely white) are a lot better off thanks to legal/financial systems that ensure that Black people remain available for continued hyperexploitation, while the non-capital-holding classes (both Black people who would receive reparations and white people who wouldn't) would be better off if reparations were made.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:09 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess the way I see it, the capital-holding classes (which are largely white) are a lot better off thanks to legal/financial systems that ensure that Black people remain available for continued hyperexploitation,

Unless you count the loss of human capital and innovation to society as a whole, which I do. We've pissed away the potential contributions of so many inventors, discoverers, scientists and reformers by pushing down an entire segment of the population. I mean, I think that way about all the folks who have no access to education or achievement. We have giant problems to solve on this planet and yet we've effectively lowered our chances by killing off/closing off uncounted numbers of human brains from working on them. Who knows where our society would be if we hadn't, how far we would have advanced?
posted by emjaybee at 5:19 PM on June 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


jpe meant that an economy in which black people had been able to exercise their talents and fulfil their ambitions would be bigger, stronger, and richer for all people, including those already well off. Deliberately making a section of the population poorer than it should be is worse for everybody, even if it is definitively worse for that specific group.
posted by Thing at 5:21 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I take seriously the idea that, for better or for worse (typically for worse) people tend to assess their social position in, well, positional terms, rather than absolute ones. I think the powers that be in this world would honestly take ruling in a hell-country over serving the common good in a heavenly utopia.

I mean, it's a shitty thing if that's the case — it means that politics will always be fundamentally agonistic — but I am rapidly running out of ways to deny it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:25 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think jpe meant that past and present injustice has harmed blacks, but not really helped whites. (I.e. a random white person today is no better off that you would expect, but a random black person is definitely worse off, as a result of things like slavery and segregation.)

Well, the reason I thought You Can't Tip a Buick's identification of taxes on inheritance and financial transactions as the source of money for reparations was smart is because it's not random white people who would be footing the bill for slavery, but the classes who benefited disproportionately from the expropriation of slave labor in order to amass capital.

White supremacy allowed a small portion of the white population--hey, maybe we could call them "the 1%"--to become wealthy, and to pass their wealth on to their children, and to enrich themselves not principally by earned income but by capital gains. So targeting inheritance and financial transactions is a way to focus most directly on the assets that were stolen from African-Americans by slavery, Jim Crow, and more recent economic manifestations of racism.
posted by layceepee at 7:23 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have always been a fan of what one old black Trotskyist said to me: "I always thought that the idea of reparations was a poor consolation prize for expropriating the bourgeoisie."
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:07 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


White supremacy allowed a small portion of the white population--hey, maybe we could call them "the 1%"--to become wealthy

Well, no, white supremacy allowed a large proportion of the white population to benefit while discriminating against the black population, for a very long time after the last slave was freed. Redlining, mortgage discrimination, education discrimination...the route to the middle classes of the stereotypical WWII veteran who went to college on the GI Bill and got a house in the suburbs? That wasn't a path that was open to black Americans. FDR could only get the New Deal through Congress (with the substantial "Solid South" Democratic bloc) with the tacit understanding that most of it would only apply to white people. This is not ancient history, and it has quite a lot to do with the reasons why black Americans constitute a sort of economic underclass; it's by design and intent, and every white American has benefited from it, not just the ones whose ancestors owned slaves.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 7:02 AM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, no, white supremacy allowed a large proportion of the white population to benefit while discriminating against the black population, for a very long time after the last slave was freed.

I didn't intend to suggest it was an "either-or" proposition. I agree that white Americans generally benefited from racist economic policies, but I think a particular class of Americans benefited disproportionately. Using housing discrimination as an example, consider the history detailed in his Atlantic article The Case for Reparations. African-Americans shut out from much of the housing market sometimes turned to an alternative called contract sales.

In a contract sale, the seller kept the deed until the contract was paid in full—and, unlike with a normal mortgage, Ross would acquire no equity in the meantime. If he missed a single payment, he would immediately forfeit his $1,000 down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself.

The men who peddled contracts in North Lawndale would sell homes at inflated prices and then evict families who could not pay—taking their down payment and their monthly installments as profit. Then they’d bring in another black family, rinse, and repeat. “He loads them up with payments they can’t meet,” an office secretary told The Chicago Daily News of her boss, the speculator Lou Fushanis, in 1963. “Then he takes the property away from them. He’s sold some of the buildings three or four times.”


So yes, white people benefited generally from the ability to buy homes that were not available to their black peers. But a much smaller group of white people benefitted by selling the same asset multiple times, reaping the profit and passing the wealth along to their children.

If we have a choice to fund reparations by taking houses away from the families who bought them or taxing the inheritance of the children of real estate speculators, the latter seems like a better idea to me.
posted by layceepee at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2015


If we have a choice to fund reparations by taking houses away from the families who bought them

Red herring, much? No-one's suggested anything like that. However, the benefits of white supremacy accrued to most of the white people in the USA, not just to "the 1%". The only reasonable way to fund any kind of reparations (which would have to take the form of investment in education and housing and things rather than individual payments, no doubt) is by general taxation and not just a tax on the inheritance of a very few people.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 8:07 AM on June 10, 2015


I meant to credit Ta Nehisi Coates for his Atlantic article and left out his name while I was editing my post.

I agree that the benefits of white supremacy accrued to most of white people--do you agree or disagree that a particular segment benefited disproportionately?

Why is the only reasonable way to fund reparations through general taxation? I think current tax policy favors the same class of people who benefited disproportionately from the injustice that reparations is designed to address. Given that there is a far greater discrepancy in wealth than there is in income between blacks and whites (as detailed in the info graphic in the original post), you could argue that general taxation, which is heavily skewed toward taxes on income, would force African-Americans to pay an inequitable share of the cost of their own reparations. That doesn't strike me as reasonable.

Taxes on inheritance and financial transactions, which skew toward wealth rather than income, seem more appropriate than general taxation.
posted by layceepee at 8:17 AM on June 10, 2015


I agree that the benefits of white supremacy accrued to most of white people--do you agree or disagree that a particular segment benefited disproportionately?

I pretty strongly disagree that a particular segment benefited disproportionately. The median income of white households is $24K more than that of black households. A white person with a criminal record is about as likely to get a job as a black person without one. Black men convicted of crimes receive, on average, sentences 20% longer than white men convicted of the same offence. The effects of systemic American racism are deep, widespread, and persistent, and in ways that affect pretty much every white person, whether they're consciously aware of it or not.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 8:33 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


> I think current tax policy favors the same class of people who benefited disproportionately from the injustice that reparations is designed to address.

My immigrant great-uncles and aunts benefited from Chicago redlining just because they were white, and though as far as I know none of that side of the family has ever rolled around in wealth like Scrooge McDuck, they (and me, way down the line) benefited just from having access to non-usurious loans to buy property - small property, mind you, but property - and the stability and equity that comes with it and trickles down through the generations. Why the hell shouldn't I pay some extra tax? Just because I'm not Warren Buffett doesn't mean I didn't the benefit of my relatives not being discriminated against, not to mention getting an active hand up and handout.
posted by rtha at 9:04 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The effects of systemic American racism are deep, widespread, and persistent, and in ways that affect pretty much every white person, whether they're consciously aware of it or not.

I am in complete agreement with this. But proving a substantial benefit from racism to whites generally doesn't say anything, one way or another, about whether a particular segment of white society benefitted disproportionately.

From the info graphic: Cotton built New York City into a commercial and financial center,For every dollar that cotton made, about 40 cents ended up in New York as the city supplied insurance, shipping and finance.

Do you think that 40 cents was spread equally among the people of New York, or do you think the people who people who owned insurance agencies, shipping lines and banks got more of it, per capital, than the people who clerked in insurance agencies, sailed on ships, and worked in banks?

Why the hell shouldn't I pay some extra tax? Just because I'm not Warren Buffett doesn't mean I didn't the benefit of my relatives not being discriminated against, not to mention getting an active hand up and handout.

OK, and I guess it's only fair that African-Americans, who suffered because their relatives were discriminated against, should pay some extra tax as well, right? Because that's what will happen if general tax revenues are used to pay for reparations.
posted by layceepee at 9:18 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Until seeing this infographic, I had no idea that the Union paid reparations to former slave-owners for their loss of property. Christ.

I don't believe they did - the District of Columbia was a special case and I believe this may have happened before the war - the deal struck there was the basis of the deal they were considering offering the South before it all went pear shaped.
posted by corb at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2015


Until seeing this infographic, I had no idea that the Union paid reparations to former slave-owners for their loss of property. Christ.

I don't believe they did - the District of Columbia was a special case and I believe this may have happened before the war


During the war, actually, in 1862, about nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation; it's referencing the Compensated Emancipation Act (text of the act).
posted by cjelli at 10:54 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am in complete agreement with this. But proving a substantial benefit from racism to whites generally... (much blather snipped)

For some reason everything you're saying sounds to me like a variation on the theme of "but my ancestors never owned slaves, why should I pay reparations for slavery?" Only instead of that it's "but rich people must have benefited more, so let them pay for it, not me!" Different words, but the same tune.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 10:54 AM on June 10, 2015


> Because that's what will happen if general tax revenues are used to pay for reparations.

Good thing that's not what I wrote, then!
posted by rtha at 11:12 AM on June 10, 2015


For some reason everything you're saying sounds to me like a variation on the theme of "but my ancestors never owned slaves, why should I pay reparations for slavery?"

I don't know what the reason is, because that does not represent my position. Implying that my position is merely disguised self-interest is similar to me claiming, "Well, I bet your family got rich trading in slaves, and you don't want to give up the blood money your great-grandfather passed down to you." I'd prefer to keep the exchange more civil.

Given the choice between not having reparations at all and having them paid for out of the general tax revenues, I would prefer the latter.

If there is an alternative possible, where reparations are funded through taxes focused on wealth, rather than income, I think that is a better choice.

I think massive wealth redistribution in America would be a good thing anyway, so the idea that we could accomplish it by making reparations to the current victims of slavery, Jim Crow and discrimination is like a twofer.

Meanwhile, you have't said anything about why you believe that using general taxation is the only reasonable way to fund reparations. Or why you don't believe that a particular class benefited disproportionately from slavery.

You said you didn't believe there was disproportionate benefit, but you didn't say why you believed that. t provided one specific example from the info graphic regarding wealth from cotton farmed by slaves that flowed into New York, and you ignored it. Here's another one: do you think slave owners as a class benefited economically more from slavery than the white population in general did? If they did, is it unreasonable to expect their descendants to pay reparations out of their inherited wealth?
posted by layceepee at 11:14 AM on June 10, 2015


do you think slave owners as a class benefited economically more from slavery than the white population in general did? If they did, is it unreasonable to expect their descendants to pay reparations out of their inherited wealth?

Many of my ancestors were, in fact, slave owners. I didn't get any inherited wealth from it. I would be very surprised if many descendants of slave owners did get any inherited wealth; 30% of Southerners owned slaves, in 1860; of those, 88% owned fewer than 20, and 50% owned 5 or fewer. Nathan Bedford Forrest with his 2000 slaves was an outlier.

And you seem to be deliberately ignoring, for some reason, the systemic discrimination that continued for over a century after emancipation (in some ways, still continues). It's not just about slavery. I think that whites, generally, have benefited from the discriminatory policies directed against blacks that lasted for a century after slavery. Which, you know, is kind of why I talk about those things, and about the current visible effects of systemic racism, rather than harping on about the evil of slavery like it's some abstract and distant thing in the far-gone past, as you seem to want to do.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 11:57 AM on June 10, 2015


I think the persistence of systemic discrimination beyond the end of formal slavery is a significant part of the damage that should be redressed by reparations. But like slavery, and like other forms of exploitation that are not race-based, I think that a particular economic class disproportionately benefits from continued discrimination against blacks.
posted by layceepee at 12:38 PM on June 10, 2015


The systemic and enduring discrimination that continued into the 20th century is the only thing that should be addressed by reparations, quite honestly. No-one living was a slave. Millions now living suffered the effects of discriminatory housing policies, discriminatory education policies, discriminatory policing, and so on. Slavery may be the primary cause in a long chain of cause and effect, but so many dominoes have fallen since then that your focus on slavery is a really strange and obtuse kind of point-missing.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:54 PM on June 10, 2015


What focus on slavery are you talking about? Your initial disagreement was with my statement White supremacy allowed a small portion of the white population--hey, maybe we could call them "the 1%"--to become wealthy. It was also white supremacy, not slavery, that I said benefited a particular class disproportionately.

You disagreed with that as well, but despite my invitation for you to provide some reasons for your disagreement, you haven't provided any. I gave examples supporting my belief that included the actions of real estate speculators in Chicago in the 1960s, only to have you claim I was deliberately ignoring, for some reason, the systemic discrimination that continued for over a century after emancipation (in some ways, still continues).

I argued that reparations were justified because of the assets that were stolen from African-Americans by slavery, Jim Crow, and more recent economic manifestations of racismand somehow you see that as an example of harping on about the evil of slavery like it's some abstract and distant thing in the far-gone past.

Do you have any support for your positions on two key areas where we disagree: your claim that general tax revenues are the only reasonable way to fund reparations, and that a particular class of Americans disproportionately benefited from the whole history of white supremacy in this country, beginning with slavery but continuing through Jim Crow and contemporary instances of institutional racism and discrimination?
posted by layceepee at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2015


I don't think you understand how this works; you're the one making the claim that white supremacy benefited some white Americans more than others. Since you're the one making that claim, it's up to you to support it with evidence. (Evidence that's something other than "what about this real estate speculator in Chicago?"; the plural of anecdote is not "data").

As far as the idea that general tax revenues are the only reasonable way to fund reparations, should there be any? I don't see anything else as being reasonable or possible. The systemic discrimination and deck-stacking took place through policies of federal, state and local governments; keeping black Americans as a de facto underclass was an act of state policy (still is in some respects, see any of several recent policing scandals). That being the case, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that it should be the government which bears the responsibility for such reparations as there may be (again, if there are any, which I don't really anticipate). And the most sensible means of doing that would be through tax revenue. Considering that it was tax revenues that went to send white ex-GIs to college and finance FHA loans to buy them houses --these are things that benefited the vaunted American "middle class"; indeed, they created it, to a very large extent -- I don't really see a sound argument against using tax revenues to correct some of the injustices those things created.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:03 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think you understand how this works; you're the one making the claim that white supremacy benefited some white Americans more than others. Since you're the one making that claim, it's up to you to support it with evidence.

So how does it work when you make the claim that white supremacy didn't benefit some white Americans more than others? You didn't take a neutral position, saying that it might or might not be true that some Americans benefitted disproportionately; you "pretty strongly disagreed" with that proposition, so you have as much responsibility to provide evidence for your claim as I have to provide evidence for mine.

You suggest that I've offered merely anecdote but not evidence, but you don't respond to a couple of concrete examples. The info graphic stated that 40 cents from every dollar in cotton revenue ended up in New York as revenue for the insurance, shipping and banking industries. If such a disproportionate share of the value from slave labor went to a single city and was concentrated in three economic sectors, how did white Americans as a whole benefit equally? And are you seriously making the claim that Southern families that did not own slaves benefited as much economically from slavery as Southern families that did?

As far as the idea that general tax revenues are the only reasonable way to fund reparations, should there be any? I don't see anything else as being reasonable or possible.

You start out with an argument that it should be general tax revenues that should fund reparations, which you offered in response to my support for the proposal from You Can't Tip a Buick that they should be funded by specific taxes on inheritance and financial transactions. Now you seem to be doubling down and making the claim that it's not even possible to fund reparations with specifically targeted taxes rather than general tax revenue. I think it's clear that it would be possible to use that funding mechanism.

The rest of your argument is just that reparations should be funded by some kind of tax revenue, and you don't offer any argument whatsoever that using general tax revenue rather than taxes skewed to target wealth rather than income is more reasonable.
posted by layceepee at 7:41 PM on June 10, 2015


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