Saturday, July 22, 2006

Slave Reparation

I'm honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Black Programming Consortium. This organization does important work bringing the story of the African-American community to a broad audience, primarily through films which are aired on PBS. I have learned much, and expect to learn much more.

One topic about which I have much to learn: the movement for paying reparation to the descendents of slaves in America. Here's some of my questions (I'll fill in answers as I learn them). The first set of questions are an attempt to understand why reparations are appropriate. These would seem to be the assertions:
Americans who are not the descendents of individuals held as slaves in America have benefited from the contributions made by the former slaves while they were in slavery. The time of such benefit would start at the moment the first slave landed in America and end when the reparation payment were made. For example, if slaves were used to clear a section of land later used to plant crops, every year that land has been in use, someone benefitted.

The fact that these people were, captured, deprived of their freedom, and made slaves is in of itself an injury, and should be compensated.

In the time after the emancipation of the slaves, discrimination continued, causing economic injury to the former slaves and their descendents. In general, the level of discrimination has diminished over time, but it is not yet been eliminated from our society.

What are others?

I don't think anyone would question that all of the above statements are true. But that's the easy part. The BIG problem is to assign a monetary value to these injuries. Some of the issues in this regard:
What is the fair value of a slave's labor? What were hired workers paid to do the same kind of work?
Many slaves were commanded to perform unspeakable acts in addition to their work duties. How is that compensated?

Slaves were treated like livestock in many cases. Men and women were forced to sire offspring, regardless of their relationship (men were loaned out like stud horses) and those children would be taken from them and sold like a calves.

The master could take the life of a slave without consequence.

I once read an essay by Thomas Sewell where he warned the African-American community that accepting reparations was not a good thing for the African American community. His logic was that with the payment of reparations, the rest of the American society might say "okay, that's settled." Then any perceived obligation to continue the effort to wipe out the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination would end. This could mean the termination of many programs which are targeted to bring the poor kids of the inner cities, which tend to be African-American, into the mainstream of opportunities in America. I think he has a point, but I don't treat it as the conclusive argument.

My education continues...

Articles I've found so far: