by Dave Schuler on May 22, 2014

Presumably in an attempt at motivating black voters in anticipation of the midterm elections, I’ve seen several articles lately about reparations for slavery. I’m not completely unsympathetic with the idea but I think it’s an entirely political notion that founders in practice.

In order to justify it, you’d need to come up with a good explanation for why a Korean immigrant who arrived in this country in 1990 should pay reparations to a Ghanan immigrant who arrived in this country in 1990. I can see an argument for descendants of slave owners or companies that benefited directly from slavery paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. But most white Americans aren’t the descendants of slave owners, most of today’s companies didn’t benefit from slavery, and many blacks aren’t descended from American slaves. The present incumbent for one.

The past is a bucket of ashes.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

... May 22, 2014 at 8:04 am

I just get a kick out of the idea that I owe Jay Z’s and Beyonce’s kids something. Because racism!

PD Shaw May 22, 2014 at 8:48 am

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

“We invoke the words of Jefferson and Lincoln because they say something about our legacy and our traditions.”

Abraham Lincoln:

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Abraham Lincoln, dead at age 56.

Cstanley May 22, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Te-Nehisi Coates’ piece is well worth reading, although I don’t agree with all of it and wish that he’d elaborate on potential reparation schemes. Reparations to individuals seems nonsensical to me, for the reason Dave describes. But perhaps some sort of reverse of the governmentally sanctioned red-lining, to put money back into predominately black neighborhoods, could be workable.

That said, I am way too cynical to believe that our politicians could accomplish anything of the sort.

bob sykes May 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I’d be happy to pay for transfer back to Africa.

michael reynolds May 22, 2014 at 7:49 pm


Can we send you back to whatever bog your ancestors crawled out of?

michael reynolds May 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm

I agree that reparations don’t make much sense, at least in terms of writing checks. We’d go broke if we started paying back everyone we’ve screwed in this country.

I think the more appropriate response would be to spend the money on educating people like our friend Drew who denies racism exists. Maybe some remedial history lessons would be called for.

steve May 22, 2014 at 8:13 pm

No practical way to do it. Bad idea. If you were going to do it, it needed to be done 150 years ago.

It does make you think though. 200 hundred plus years of slavery. One hundred years of Jim Crow. A few years of affirmative action, and the world falls apart.


Lee May 23, 2014 at 6:27 am

I am descended from Irish who came to the US, fleeing the results of the Great Famine, to a degree caused by, and greatly exacerbated by English policy in Ireland. When do I start getting a check from the British?

I also have an ancestor who fled the Pale of Settlement when the pogroms were targeting Jews. Is Russia going to be sending me a check soon? How about Italy, since the Romans, their predecessors, destroyed the Kingdom of Israel, and sent the Jews into Exile?

PD Shaw May 23, 2014 at 8:33 am

@steve, affirmative action began with the New Deal and still continues today. Private schools and government jobs all have significant set asides. Obama, a decedents of slave owners, benefited from affirmative action and so will his children. Or maybe its more correct to say his children will take slots that are set aside for African-Americans that they probably would have gotten anyway.

jan May 23, 2014 at 10:25 am

As if we don’t already have enough wrinkles in this country — our divergent and somewhat rocky culture, hardened constituencies driving politics, or weakened general economical growth — we are now being diverted by even more public injections of racism. Between the explosive handling of the Sterling mouth malfunction, 50 Senators taking time to whine about renaming the Redskins, and now returning to reparations pandering, it’s no wonder the bigger changes that need attention never seem to get it.

michael reynolds May 23, 2014 at 7:22 pm

50 Senators taking time to whine about renaming the Redskins, and now returning to reparations pandering, it’s no wonder the bigger changes that need attention never seem to get it.

That’s why you complained so loudly over the Republican House “repealing” Obamacare 50 times, right? Plenty of time for that, but gosh darn it, no time to sign a letter about a football team with a racist name. Lots of time for empty symbolic pandering to morons, no time for racial justice. Busy, busy, busy. I wonder if there’ll be time for another Issa show trial? Yeah, I’ll bet there is.

michael reynolds May 23, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Correction, 54 repeals of Obamacare. I wonder where they’ll find the time to let the new House members also vote 54 times for repeal?

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