Peter. Ben. Harry. Daniel...
July 28, 2016 9:36 AM   Subscribe

 
“Actually, it's about ethics in architecture and slavery.” - MRAs on Twitter
posted by Fizz at 9:38 AM on July 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Given that it's already been extensively discussed, let's maybe leave the horrible things that horrible people have said out of this particular thread?
posted by schmod at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


Compound interest and an inflation adjustment?
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:52 AM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Don't forget to apply each successive generation of death taxes.

* NOT ANTITAXIST*
posted by blue_beetle at 9:53 AM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


schmod, you're right, my snark got the best of me, if my comment needs to be deleted, please do so.
posted by Fizz at 9:53 AM on July 28, 2016


Though the monetary considerations are important - what is most galling to me is that lack of simple acknowledgement and apology from the US (or State) government for the horrific institution of slavery that taints so much of early American history.

Really - is that fucking hard?

It was a crime of the highest order - and yet so many turn away from the fact that this evil continues to stains us all.
posted by helmutdog at 9:55 AM on July 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


Patrice O'Neal's idea for 400 tax free years for descendants of slaves always seemed equitable to me. I don't know if he included it, but I'd include sales and property tax in there. Even that isn't enough.
posted by jferngler at 9:56 AM on July 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


In Cambridge, student activists (I assume) put up a sign in front of Wadsworth House, the historic home of Harvard presidents, which said "THIS WAS A HOUSE OF SLAVERY." Actually shamed the university into putting up a plaque acknowledging the lives of the four slaves who lived and worked there. We need more of this. Funny how people concerned about changing memorial names or taking down physical honors (like statues) related to awful people like Cecil Rhodes or John Calhoun because it might somehow "erase history" are never equally exercised about making sure that the history of the people they oppressed is also recorded in the landscape.
posted by praemunire at 9:59 AM on July 28, 2016 [31 favorites]


It is not the same building??
Didn't it get burned down??
posted by Burn_IT at 10:02 AM on July 28, 2016


[Couple of comments deleted; as schmod says above, let's do this without bringing in whatever repulsive idiocy people elsewhere have offered on this point.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:04 AM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


You know what? Paying heirs legacy retribution $83 million for the white house feels alright. I am totally okay with it. As a matter of fact, it feels better than the money spent to bail out banks, better than the money to bail out the auto industry, or to pay for a war on the backs of children instead of taxing folks calling for the war.

Really, $83million seems far more reasonable than I could have expected.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:13 AM on July 28, 2016 [22 favorites]


The stone walls and a lot of the wood is the same. The White House has gone through many renovations, but that doesn't erase the work that the builders were forced to do.
posted by domo at 10:17 AM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


The history of the building is kind of fascinating, if you'd like to learn more.
posted by notyou at 10:22 AM on July 28, 2016


True it is that the White House was built by slaves. But then, later, many African Americans had jobs with the federal govt., that is, till Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, a southerner married to a southerner fired all black employees:

"When Wilson came to Washington he quickly instituted a purge of African-American federal workers in Washington and around the country. Where purges weren't possible, federal workplaces were re-segregated, often with surreal and hideous results. Even more than Wilson, Wilson's wife Ellen, a Georgia native, was a visceral racist who was shocked to see the limited level of integration then in place in the nation's capital. She was reportedly especially disgusted to see black men and white women working in the same workplaces and took a personal role in pushing forward resegregation in Washington, DC.

Numerous African-American federal workers were fired, in many cases by white Southern Democratic appointees."
posted by Postroad at 10:47 AM on July 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


"We did terrible things to black people many years ago" seems like a handy way to distract from "We're continuing to do terrible things to black people today." Doesn't mean those terrible things in the past are forgiven, but it's a lot harder to argue against reparations for people who suffered and are still alive today.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:57 AM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


It is not the same building??
Didn't it get burned down??


I thought the same thing at first, but apparently a lot of of the building is made of sandstone, which was considerably scorched in the fire, but remained standing. So while much of the building was destroyed, it's not like it was completely rebuilt from the ground up.

posted by Burn_IT at 10:02 AM on July 28 [+] [!]

Eponysterical?
posted by baf at 10:59 AM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thinking about this is a good start, but here's another question: what do we owe any surviving descendants of the Native American people who once lived on the land the White House was built on? What do you suppose the current value of the real estate of the entire town is?
posted by BlueJae at 11:03 AM on July 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


To add to that: According to the White House Historical Association, the main thing slaves were used for in the construction of the White House was quarrying stone. So the part that still remains of the original construction is exactly the part that most involved slave labor.
posted by baf at 11:03 AM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Though the snarky web series Ask a Slave features a history reenactor portraying one of the slaves owned by George and Martha Washington at Mount Vernon (as opposed to builders of the White House), it was nevertheless an illuminating and informative take on one of the founders' relationship with slavery.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:07 AM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


At the very least, maybe a monument to them right in the front yard.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:15 AM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Doesn't mean those terrible things in the past are forgiven, but it's a lot harder to argue against reparations for people who suffered and are still alive today.

And in many cases still suffering. When horrible and unjust shit is being minted afresh every single day, it's hard to worry much about stuff that happened in the long ago past.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2016


When horrible and unjust shit is being minted afresh every single day, it's hard to worry much about stuff that happened in the long ago past.

But it's the same thing.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on July 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


taxes
THAT'S SLAVERY
gun control
SLAVERY
obamacare
ENSLAVEMENT
OSHA regulation
SLAVERY
slavery
A BENIGN CULTURAL INSTITUTION
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on July 28, 2016 [24 favorites]


"We did terrible things to black people many years ago" seems like a handy way to distract from "We're continuing to do terrible things to black people today." Doesn't mean those terrible things in the past are forgiven, but it's a lot harder to argue against reparations for people who suffered and are still alive today.

The idea, one I agree with, is that some sort of concrete response to and affirmation of the historical humanity and sufferings of African-Americans is part and parcel of addressing the ongoing harm being done.

Put another way, if it doesn't matter that this happened in the past, if it's beside the point, then all we are doing is waiting for tomorrow's injustices to render today's moot.
posted by kewb at 11:39 AM on July 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


About a year ago, I went on a tour of the White House. I don't recall much information about the slaves that worked on it. For what it's worth, there was little information about the house being gutted during the Truman administration, either.

I went on a tour of the Capitol building that same week, and the guide went to great lengths to talk about the work of slaves on that building. I recall that there were stones at the bases of pillars in the basement under the rotunda where you can see work that slaves performed. (Our guide was really good about acknowledging some of the evils in the Capitol bldg. He also had a lot to say about slave owners and Confederates in the Statuary collection.)
posted by dfm500 at 11:42 AM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


"We did terrible things to black people many years ago" seems like a handy way to distract from "We're continuing to do terrible things to black people today."

I'd accept that if I saw anyone who thinks the latter saying the former these days. I mean, this specific post came out of a leading voice of the right flat-out saying that slaves weren't that badly treated.
posted by Etrigan at 11:44 AM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


METAFILTER: let's do this without bringing in whatever repulsive idiocy people elsewhere have offered on this point.]
posted by philip-random at 11:53 AM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


>Compound interest and an inflation adjustment?

OK for this you need your green eyeshade (not a tinfoil hat, that comes later in the presentation). Interest rates come in two flavors: nominal, which is what the bank posts, what you see on a contract, etc., and real, which is the nominal rate after adjusting for inflation. With nominal denoted by i, real by r and inflation by pi, and an initial asset of value A at time 0, we have the identity

A(t) = A(1+i)^t == A(1+r)^t(1+pi)^t

Solving for r and assuming away the r*pi part as exceedingly small we get r = i - pi. So if you had a real growth rate for assets of 5%, and inflation over the period of 2%, then you'd want to adjust the whole thing by about 7%.

Now for the tinfoil hat. What is the real, very long run, rate of interest? Using US historical data since 1876, Robert Schiller estimates it to be about 1%. Schiller also estimates that the real long run return on real estate (the relevant factor here) was about zero from 1890 to 1990. That the (centuries long) very long run real return on housing might be about zero was also found for the Netherlands (lots of interesting quotes from that link, published in 2006).

All that said, perhaps the best overall adjustment would be to use the nominal S&P index values -- Schiller shows these at 4.4 in 1876, and 1918.6 in 2016, for a total multiplicative factor of (1918.6/4/4) or 432. That's about 4.3% annual nominal return for 140 years (take logs and divide by 140).

From 1800 to 1876 there was actually net deflation, so at a first order of approximation we can just ignore that whole period (thus we'd have an annual nominal return over 216 years of about 2.8%). That gives us $60*432 or $25,927.

Now, is that a reasonable number? I dunno. Is it the one year payment of $60 we're after, or a different number, given that these people were enslaved for life? Maybe it's more like the $800 or so that a young man could be bought for in New Orleans, multiplied by our S&P index factor of 432 -- or $345,693. Maybe it's another number entirely, based on punitive damage cases, or compensatory payments to survivors of corporate malfeasance. But just multiplying things out by 5% or 10% and then adjusting for inflation seems a bit much like the Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit.
posted by PandaMomentum at 11:57 AM on July 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's fitting that this reads like an inverted Dayenu. Because it cannot ever be enough.
posted by threeants at 12:04 PM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


"We did terrible things to black people many years ago" seems like a handy way to distract from "We're continuing to do terrible things to black people today."

On the contrary, the fact that we abolished a cornerstone of our economy for the sake of justice and freedom demonstrates that a world where black people are no longer targeted for harassment, incarceration, and summary execution is not some crazy utopian dream. It proves that shrugging our shoulders at injustice with a "human nature what can you do" is cowardice and laziness rather than hard-headed realism.
posted by straight at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


When LGBT folks have invoked the Civil Rights era when talking about their struggle, they are not, at their best, claiming "My suffering is as bad as black people's suffering was." They are saying, "Look! We can change things for the better. We don't have to settle for injustice."
posted by straight at 12:41 PM on July 28, 2016


The natives, at least partially, were paid reparations. For whatever reason, black reparations is beyond the pale.

40 acres and a mule was the right thing to do.

Bring up reparations among your lefty friends. It's a great illustration of the 'well meaning liberal'.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 12:47 PM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


But what I said is a bit of a derail from the more relevant point roomthreeseventeen and others made above that the past is not a distraction from the injustice of today, but frequently the only way to understand and clearly see the injustice of today.
posted by straight at 12:50 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


The White House would not be the White House if it had not been burned. The first coat of whitewash was applied when the gutted building was being repaired in order to hide the smoke stains. The white wash made such a striking change to the appearance of the building that it became the most noticable characteristic of the President's office and authority. It must have been extremely striking.

My grandmother was Dorothy Cockburn, and family legend has it that she was a direct descendant of Admiral Sir George Cockburn, but like most family legends is likely an exaggeration or wishful thinking.


Calculations of reparations are based only on back wages /stolen wages for the construction labour of one building. I think that different and additional reparation would be due for any other construction work or torts relating to the White House labourers enslavement.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2016


Reparations is a weird thing. As an idea, its really great. Practically though?

Who get reparations? Only those that can prove an ancestor was a slave? How much of your ancestry has to be slaves (because you know there would be some white people who claim that their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma was)?

Who pays? Does it come from my taxes even though my family came over in the early 1900s? Only the decendents of slave owners or those in the United States when slavery was legal? Should England pay some because of the extra low prices paid for cotton because the labor costs were low?

When we are talking about something so long ago, it gets really hard to work out specifics of how reparations would work. An apology and acknowledgement would be a good start. Then lets use that lens to make the treatment of POC better. Let's actually atone for our past and fix our present.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:15 PM on July 28, 2016


A few minutes before I saw this post, I came across some notes I’d made awhile back: The last president to own slaves while in office was the 12th, Zachary Taylor (1849-1850). The last president to own slaves at all was the 18th, Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877). So says this site. Also, previously in the blue (although the main link now is dead.)
posted by LeLiLo at 1:36 PM on July 28, 2016


LizBoBiz: As Ta-Nehisi Coats discusses in his article The Case for Reparations there's a lot more than just slavery to take into account. There's the ongoing plunder of black Americans to enrich white Americans.

Consider all the taxes paid by black Americans that were used to fund services and buildings they were prohibited from using thanks to segregation. Every public pool that excluded black people is built by plunder.

Consider that the generous government programs which made the rise of the white middle class possible were systemically denied to black people, but funded in part by taxes taken from black people. The GI Bill's housing and education provisions, especially, stand out as an example of this sort of thing.

To a very large extent the existence of the white middle class today is the product of a systemic looting of black Americans that continued well after slavery ended, and is still going on today.

How many police departments which benefit white people are funded by goods stolen by the police under asset forfeiture?

Ferguson is far from he only city to have lower taxes for their white residents by means of an aggressive system of looting black people by targeted policing and ticketing.

What white America owes black America didn't begin and end with slavery.
posted by sotonohito at 1:39 PM on July 28, 2016 [13 favorites]



Reparations is a weird thing.

Just the whole idea that you can somehow put a monetary value on the atrocities inherent in slavery creeps me out in all manner of ways, the least of which being that slavery was initially instigated for, let's face it, business reasons -- it allowed the business model of the time to work. Or to extrapolate on a turn of phrase, "You can't use economics to get out of a mess that economics got you into."

What do we owe not just the slaves that built the White House but every slave everywhere and everywhen through history upon whose bones and blood and suffering we've ultimately built the so-called modern world? All I know is, it's magnitudes more than there are dollars in all the world's economies. Maybe start with humility.
posted by philip-random at 1:45 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


The real difficulty with reparations is finding the time machine.
posted by mary8nne at 2:27 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reparations is a weird thing. As an idea, its really great. Practically though?

Who get reparations?


The more interesting (and more satisfying) question to me is: who pays reparations. It might indeed be difficult to parse which currently living individuals were descended from African-Americans who were victimized by slavery, but I imagine it's easier to trace which current American fortunes, both personal and corporate, were built from it.

If the descendants of slave owners lost all the ill-gotten gains in the years since Emancipation, fine. But any existing assets that can be traced back to it should be subject to forfeiture. And if current descendants want to say it was their stewardship of the money that preserved it until contemporary times, tough luck. If it wasn't yours (or your great-great-great grandparents') stake to begin with, you don't have any moral claim to the profits from it. You aren't a direct descendant of a slave holder. Tough. If you came to be in possession of stolen goods through inheritance, even innocently, you don't have much to complain about if you have to give them up.

Anybody that has tangible assets passed down from slaveholders likely has plenty of intangible assets as well; education at elite schools, networks of well-connected individuals, all sorts of social capital. Fine, you can't keep all that. But all the money, you are going to give it up.

And I'm not even particularly concerned with who gets it. Those the need it the most, I would say, regardless of whether they have a direct connection to former slaves or not. What tickles me about reparations is the potential for wealth distribution it represents, pure and simple.
posted by layceepee at 6:19 PM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


"The White House would not be the White House if it had not been burned. The first coat of whitewash was applied when the gutted building was being repaired"

Not true. A Lime-based whitewash was applied in 1798.
Fascinating post and I find it remarkable that our 2nd FLOTUS pointed out the use of slaves on its construction.
posted by clavdivs at 10:12 AM on July 30, 2016


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