Although popular among Democratic politicians, nearly 71% of Americans do not support reparations (Bacon, 2019). For many years, economists have expressed their dissatisfaction with this idea, yet the proposal remains popular among liberals. During a time when our country is struggling with a deficit, such a compensation could triple it (Myers, 2019). Having citizens pay the debts of their ancestors is against many core American values and would promote the destruction of economic equity; furthermore, the United States should not consider implementing such a large expenditure of money.
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Having its origin in Latin, the term 'reparation' found its way into the English language via Old French. There are various meanings of this word and can be traced to the words 'reparatio' and 'reparare'. However, Modern English gives 'reparation' the following definition: the act, or instance of making amends; compensation (Nehusi, 2000). When discussing this term throughout the paper, it acts as a tool of forgiveness and a form of reimbursement to black Americans for the slavery of their ancestors (Miller J., 2019).
Reparations first came into consideration in the 1860s. There have been several proposals in Congress, and more current, the current presidential candidates in the Democratic field have fascinated this position with extremely vague ideas. Recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed her desire to form a commission that would create proposals and contemplate ways to express a national apology (Hoar, 2019). These proposals would range from free college tuition for Black Americans to direct cash (McGee, 2019). Unironically, the party who created institutional racism is now advocating for its compensation. However, before they began to buy votes, their position was far different. The following is from Hoar, quoting the current democratic presidential frontrunner, Joe Biden:
I do not buy the concept, popular in the '60s, which said, "We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race." I don't buy that. I don't feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I'll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.
Real supporters for reparations argue that because America has reimbursed Native Americans and Japanese Americans, the country should also support reparations for Black Americans. This argument isn't entirely wrong. However, because it is 2019, Congress should no longer consider such a payment. Indeed, reparations were given to Japanese-Americans instantly after WWII, the same can be said with survivors of the Holocaust (Dawson & Popoff, 2004). However, these reparations were equitable because of the timing. It would have been proper to award blacks reparations shortly after the emancipation proclamation. If it wasn't for Andrew Johnson, former slaves would have been repaid. After Lincoln's assassination, Johnson reversed Lincoln's order to give what became known as "forty acres and a mule." The land that was given to slaves was returned to its former owners (Winter, 2007).
America cannot continue to dwindle on the executive action taken by Johnson. In our current legal system, it is widely accepted that no one should be held accountable for the debts of another. For example, if my great-great-grandmother was responsible for the death of a man, I would not be at fault. Hence why it is absolutely flawed and incoherent to force an American to pay the wrongs that were committed during a time he/she never even existed (McGee, 2019).
America must move on from the past and realize that doing what has been done before doesn't necessarily mean that it should set a precedent for future American actions.
It's Not Our Fault
There is not a single group responsible for slavery. The slave trade had countries from across the world participate in it. The trade began in the early 1500s when Africans were transported into Hispaniola by Spain. Supported by the government and churches, nationals across Europe took part in the trade to acquire wealth. It is estimated that only 14 million Africans survived the journey across the Atlantic just to enrich the Europeans (Allen & Chrisman, 2001). Yet when considering who to blame, the Democrats ignore our friends from across the pond. Furthermore, because many Americans came after the Civil War, no single group benefited exclusively from slavery. And instead of owning slaves, millions of white men gave their lives to free the slaves (McGee, 2019).
There were 3,775 African slaveholders in the United States by the 1800s (Allen & Chrisman, 2001). Even though most were benevolent and bought family members to preserve family ties, they used other Africans for profit. The most notable and wealthy slaveowner, John Stanly, owned three plantations and 163 slaves (Lightner & Ragan, 2005). Kamla Harris has an ancestor who was a slaveholder (Hoar, 2019). Will the government force African Americans to pay reparations to themselves? Also, it is widely known that Africans fought voluntarily for the south in the Civil War (McGee, 2019). These men would have been accountable for the continuation of slavery if the south won. Should the ancestors of these men be awarded? This information truly shows how hard it would be to determine who was responsible for slavery.
In 1983, economist James Marketti stated that he believes reparations would cost 3 trillion to 5 trillion. When including inflation, the cost would rise to $7.7 trillion to $12.9 trillion. This price tag, however, does not include the racism of the Jim Crow era (econ reparations). A figure proposed by "The Economics of Reparations" estimates that the inequality during that period would ensue in a 1.3 trillion to 4.2 trillion payment (Myers, 2019). When adding these two settlements together, they result in a cost of up to 17.1 trillion.
If the government pays reparations to African Americans, they surely would have to pay reparations to Native Americans. The indigenous people were never properly repaid and suffered brutal force during the discovery of the New World. America exploited slave's labor, just as it exploited Native American's land. According to The Bureau of Economic Analysis, it is estimated that the value of all US land was approximately 23 trillion in 2009. Accounting for inflation, this value would have risen to 35 trillion in 2019 (Arends, 2019 ) . Therefore, the cost of paying both black Americans and Native Americans could cost up to 52 trillion.
As unsettling as the cost may be, even more disturbing is the fact that it would nearly triple the national debt (Arends, 2019 ) . These price tags do not account for the inequalities suffered by women, German-Americans, Irish-Americans, and LGBT Americans. It is dangerous for politicians to overlook the effects of implementing such a program, especially during a time when the country has the deficit that it does.
An economic argument reparation advocates consider is that because of the enslavement of their ancestors, black Americans suffer economic hardships (Dawson & Popoff, 2004). Affirmative action demonstrates the invalidity of this argument. Targeted to fix black inequality in the 1960s, Presidents John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson implemented a law that assisted minorities in equal employment (Eisaguirre, 1999). As a result, affirmative action increased the number of black employees around the country. Over the first five years of its establishment, the black share of employees in an organization increased by an average of 0.8% (Miller C., 2019). The years leading up to the creation of affirmative action, general store clerks were typically white while janitors were black. Although it helped to fix inequalities in employment, most Americans still believe that, when considering applications, everyone should be treated equally. The main objective an employer should have is to provide equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of race (Eisaguirre, 1999).
Declaring victimization damages the relationship between white and black Americans (Dawson & Popoff, 2004). The main focus of the movement is not to speak of how a distant crime has led to economic disadvantages, but instead to promote the feelings of victimization. As a result, the group's stance on the effect of slavery is that their blame for missed opportunities should be directed to living white Americans, who have had no responsibility for the sins of slavery. By talking about the past, blacks are severing themselves, which is causing more harm than good. Instead of dwindling on the past, impoverished black Americans should be focused on getting an education and improving their economic status. The benefits America offers its citizens should be their main desire of obtaining, instead of using their energy to contemplate the injustices their ancestors have suffered (Brophy, 2012).
Reparations force those who were not responsible to pay the debts of the responsible, and reparations could potentially cause economic turmoil. To understand who would receive this payment is a far too complicated and complex task, hence why our government should not consider this payout. And as Joe Biden once said, "I'll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago."
Arends, B. (2019, June 27). The math on reparations: total cost of $51 trillion and a tripling of the national debt. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-math-on-reparations-total-cost-of-51-trillion-and-a-tripling-of-the-national-debt-2019-06-27
Bacon, P. (2019, February 26). What Americans Think About Reparations And Other Race-Related Questions. Retrieved from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-americans-think-about-reparations-and-other-rac e-related-questions/
Brophy, A. (2012, April 24). The Cultural War Over Reparations for Slavery. Retrieved from https://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/repara29c.htm
Miller, C. (2019). Affirmative Action and Its Persistent Effects: A New Perspective. California Management Review, 61(3), 19–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/0008125619849443
Dawson, M. C., & Popoff, R. (2004). Reparations: Justice and greed in Black and White. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 1(1), 47-91. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race/article/reparations-justice-and-greed-in-black-and-white/6DE105EDB929E36A6DAE35294044B7D9
Eisaguirre, L. (1999). Affirmative Action : A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=25536&site=eds-live
Hoar, W. P. (2019). Reparations Won't Mend the Past, but They Might Buy Some Future Votes. New American (08856540), 35(15), 41. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=137660318&site=eds-l ive
Jr, W. D., & Frank, D. (2003). The economics of reparations. American Economic Review , (2), 326. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.madison.libproxy.ivytech.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ed sgea&AN=edsgcl.120394636&site=eds-live
Lightner, D. L., & Ragan, A. M. (2005). Were African American Slaveholders Benevolent or Exploitative? A Quantitative Approach. Journal of Southern History, 71(3), 535–558. https://doi.org/10.2307/27648819
McGee, R. W. (2019). Twenty-Nine Reasons Why Paying Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea. Available at SSRN 3408860.
Miller, J. (2019, March 21). Should black Americans get slavery reparations? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47643630
Myers, K. (2019, June 27). Slavery reparations could carry a $17 trillion price tag. Retrieved from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/40-acres-and-a-mule-reparations-in-2019-190018747.ht ml
Nehusi, K. (2000). The Meaning of Reparation. Retrieved from http://ncobra.org/resources/pdf/KNEHUS1.pdf
Winter, S. (2007). What's so bad about slavery? Assessing the grounds for reparations. PATTERNS OF PREJUDICE, (3–4), 373. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.madison.libproxy.ivytech.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ed sbl&AN=RN210147649&site=eds-live
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