Reparations, Who/What Needs Repair?

Mon, 04.01.2019

Reparations, Who/What Needs Repair?

This year's conversations towards the national elections in 2020 show several democratic candidates talking about reparations with some plans of action.  

This blog will use the term reparations as it is used in tort law, which is narrow and is completely inapplicable to the history of slavery in the USA. Ethically it requires a living person to pay and be paid for damage caused by the payor to the payee specifically. E.g., the slave owner pays the slave.  

If the term is used more generally to mean providing financial compensation to make up for past wrongs, we certainly support that concept in principle as there have been a lot of past wrongs that resulted in a financial advantage for some and financial disadvantage for others. 

However in the case of reparations for slavery the plethora of pragmatic problems ( who was harmed, who harmed, can or will the money be used for a drunken binge, the amounts of money required and the source of that money, etc. ) and the potential for further divide and conquer approaches of white powers privilege, etc. for me make it a poor political strategy for much-needed change. Like similar situations, e.g. police brutality, I favor systemic changes as a whole, that is if police treat everyone well and do. Or kill anyone brutality 

No money repaid will change white attitudes except for the worst, maybe open or borderline (subconscious) racist can say, “We paid you so shut up, “also the dollars get to be pretty big. I do not know if the number of slave descendants is even knowable in a very accurate way but if we assume current estimates of non-Hispanic blacks at 13% of the population, some of whom are recent African immigrants and some have no ancestors that were slaves in the USA in the relevant period (last 400 years) so say 10% or about 32 million. 

If we also look, at studies of wealth disparity by ethnicity, again assuming the numbers in the studies are reasonably close it is about $150,000 per household, household not being the same as population but there are about 128 million in the USA. So, if we assume our 10% number again for qualified slave descendants the number is around 2 trillion dollars. In many ways nothing if by comparison, we think of the 14 trillion in zero-interest loans to the big 5 banks. Military spending, number one by far in governmental expense is around 650 billion per year outright gift to big 5 banks was in today’s dollars around a trillion.

Of course, the 45th president and his base howl about single mothers getting something for nothing, probably the most common theme in their divide and conquer approach, the reality of those numbers was at its height about 15 billion a year, that is total welfare payments to poor people, albeit they believe it is higher, by any account it is a fraction of 2 trillion.   

Finally, I may be incorrect, but the word reparations are derived from the root word “to repair.” To that end who do we choose to repair the white perpetrator or the black victim of slavery in the USA? Additional concerns are that reparations likely would solve few entrenched systemic problems of color and poverty, would not reduce racism or wealth disparity, and over-the-top capitalism.