Slavery is a system based on exploitation and abuse, and it led to the racism and discrimination that still hinder blacks in America. Although slavery in the United States was a shameful violation of human rights and caused the incalculable suffering of millions, it was eradicated and after a long and painful civil rights movement, blacks achieved equal status to whites under law. Unfortunately, laws cannot influence social attitudes, and thus slavery is still close to the surface of black cultural identity. Recently the reparations movement gained increasing support in the United States as the debate gained global recognition. But reparations activists need to re-evaluate their platform and understand financial payback is not the most reasonable form of apology.
David Horowitz’s ad, titled “Ten reasons why reparations for slavery is a bad idea – and racist too,” Randall Robinson’s book “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks” and the United Nations conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are all signs of the growing popularity of this civil-rights issue.
Ultimately, American reparations advocates are responding to social problems such as poverty and unemployment, which they blame on slavery and other historical wrongs. But reparations activists must realize a one-time payment will not fix the current problem of inequality. Since discrimination cannot be signed away in a check, blacks will be given what amounts to a bribe, allowing and, in fact, fostering continued endurance of injustices. Angered at being forced to pay reparations, the foolish and easily led will be pulled into the inevitable conservative backlash and possibly even white supremacy groups. In the end, reparations will furnish organizations like the Ku Klux Klan with a flood of members and excuses.
Even if the private organizations or the federal government agreed at some point to pay financial reparations, no feasible method of compensation is foreseeable, especially if every black person in the country expects to receive a check during his or her lifetime. Realistically, determining how the suffering of slaves relates to a specific dollar amount presents a significant obstacle to financial compensation. Aside from the ridiculous solution of devising a scale integrating levels of suffering with degrees of separation from the victim, it would be impossible to tactfully devise a payment plan. In addition to the logistical issues, it is degrading and insulting to try to quantify the pain and suffering by telling someone that his grandfather didn’t experience as much hardship as another person’s.
Reparations advocates concerned with slavery’s oppressive and abusive methods should work to end the slavery that still thrives in African countries like Sudan and Mauritania. And instead of seeking financial compensation for individuals, advocates should lobby for an international anti-slavery fund. Moving on from past wrongs will help living slaves gain the independence they deserve.