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Reparation For Slave Trade History Essay


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According to Posner and Vermeule (2003), "Reparation" can have a number of different meanings all depending on the nature of the topic. They said that the concept of reparation does not present clear boundaries that separate itself from the legal remedies. But he has identified that reparation for slavery tend to share several key features as follow: "provide payment (in cash or in kind) to a large group of claimants on the basis of wrongs that were substantively permissible under the prevailing law when committed in which law bars a compulsory remedy for the past wrong in which the payment is justified on backward-looking grounds of corrective justice" (Posner and Vermeule, 2003). However, there are different meanings for "Reparation", it does not simply mean repaying someone for the wrong that they have done or the accident that they have cause but it also mean the following: "essentially some kind of restitution aimed at compensating, appeasing, and helping the victim to readjust and forget about retaliating in future, is about justice and atonement after an acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the aggressor." (Osabu-Kle, 2000). To an extent, it means that there are different ways of reparation that can be undertake and it's not necessary to provide "payment" to the slaves' descendants as long as it's able to appease their anger or demand. Furthermore, the relevance of the transatlantic slave trade history should be also highlighted because there were different actors that were involved such as the state, the merchants and slave-owners. If reparation is to be made to the descendants then what form of reparation should take place?

Transatlantic slave trade have started since 1450s, it's when the Portuguese shifted their interest of mining gold in Africa to a much easier obtainable product e.g. slave. "Commodification is used to describe the process by which something which does not have an economic value is assigned a value and hence how market values can replace other social values." (Ajani, 2012), the commodification of African people has brought a lot of negative impact on Africa and also leads to depopulation of some area in exchange of the prosperity and growth in Europe. "Triangular trade will be nevertheless be used here to represent the three-cornered exchange of slaves, raw materials and manufactures" (Findlay, 1990). There are three different stages throughout the trade, during the first stage it comprise transporting goods that manufactured in Europe to Africa e.g. clothes, tobacco, spirit, guns. These commodities will be used to exchange African slaves and in the second stage, the merchants will transport the slaves to Americas and sells them to different interest groups. In most of the circumstances, those slaves will be working in a mine or plantation that produces coffee, tobacco, cotton, sugar and rum. At the final stage, the merchants will ship back the goods that were produced from those slave-labour plantations to Europe in exchange of greater profit or more goods e.g. gun and clothes. After the final stage, the trade will continue as a cycle by shipping these good to Africa again. As the history has shown us, there were different interest groups taking advantage of the slaves in "triangular trade", "Slavery is an extreme form in inequality, in which certain people are owned as by others" (Sutton, 2009). The slave owners had the benefits of free labour for the production of the goods, the profit that was generated from the sales of goods had makes them wealthier and given them more power within the society. As a results, it has bought "White Americans have 22 times more wealth than blacks -- a gap that nearly doubled during the Great Recession. "(Luhby, 2012) it's has an negative impact to the society as it create wealth inequality. Different state had also benefited from the transatlantic slave trading as it helped to increase exporting to other countries and the slave labour had supported the development of the economy. As the economy was improving, it indirectly led to the increasing demand within the country and greater taxable profit could be collected from the private sector. For example: "It's likely that the main stimulus of the slave trade to the British economy lay in the channel of increasing demand…..it would not be unfair to claim that the slave - sugar trading complex strengthened the British economy and played a significant though not decisive part, in its evolution" (Morgan, 2007). However, there was no clear evidence the different state that were involve have any strong support or policy in favour of the transatlantic slave trade. The biggest beneficiaries out of the slave trade would be the merchants. It's their interest to capture more slaves and increase the volume of slaves being traded across the Atlantics. As the merchants were earning profit at every different stages of the journey, they have increased the volume of slave captured without having considered the impact that it has on the African peoples, "These 3.8 million slave obtained between 1700 and the 1860s represented 40percent of the total estimated Africans shipped in the Atlantic slave trade from East and West Africa over the entire course of its existence" (Klein, 2010). Near the end of eighteenth century slave trade was pushed to full swing until the abolition of slave trade in 1874s.

There are various reasons to why reparation should be made to the slaves' descendants. Slave trade had brought pain and destruction to the African people's society and greatly affected their way of life. Therefore, it is only fair if the society compensate the pain and work they have undergone in the past. E.g. "No contract is valid in which human persons, willingly or unwillingly, are dealt with as commodities, because such contracts of necessity defeat the end for which alone society enforces contracts at all" (Green, 2011).To an extent, it was the society that enforced the contract and treats African people as slave.Even though it's not possible to compensate all of their pain and feeling, the society should at least please them in one or another way.By looking at other similar events that have happened in the past, different forms of reparation were proposed and it can be used as an example for the reparation of transatlantic slavery. It went from individual compensation payment to compensation scheme that distribute land to the victim's descendant. During the World War II, the government of United States have forced more than tens of thousands Japanese and Japanese American to leave their homes and internment in the war relocation camp as each of them were suspected to be a potential spy. Many of the internees were being discriminated and lost their personal property because of the restriction on what item is allowed to be taken with them into the camps. After many year and numerous of redress movement, the US government had signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and made a national apology to the Japanese American that were interned. The government had also "make compensation payments of $20,000 to each surviving evacuee and internee" (Hatamiya, 1994). The government of United States should do the same by offering a national apology and pay each of the descendants an set amount of money quelling their resentment and bring justice to them. Besides using the Japanese American internment camps reparation as an example, we should also look at other historical events such as the war reparation agreement between Germany and Israel. The agreement was signed in 1952, there were two part of the agreement, the first part specified West Germany have to compensate Israel for the slavery work, prosecution of Jewish and the property that was taken away by the Nazi during the holocaust. Other Part of the agreement was to pay directly to the state of Israel for those families that did not survive, but the majority of the agreement comprises shipping all kind of goods that could help to rebuild Israel's infrastructure and economy. However, the agreement only "covered compensation for survivors of the Holocaust rather than for the victims who perished in the Holocaust" (Dumberry, 2007). From history we perceive that reparation is essential to the African people as they were never get any chances to justify the work they did in the plantation site, the pain that they have suffered and the freedom that was taken away from them. "Close to 250 years of the domestic practice of enslavement of African people and their descendants has not elicited a similar response from the U.S. government" (Darity and Frank, 2003), followed the two example above, these countries can come to an agreement with Africa that could allow the descendants to files any restitution claims. The countries that were benefited from the slave trade should join together and provide a more comprehensive reparation scheme to African people through legislating a law that compensate directly to African people for any indemnification claims. As illustrated above, those are the reasons that reparation should be made to slave, however some may argues that reparation is not necessary to be made at all.

Taking in account of different social, economic and political factors , there are various group of people argues that reparation shouldn't be made for the transatlantic slavery and their opinion should also be considered to whether reparation should be made or not as they will be part of the scheme.It's very common that the existing non-black Americans argue that they should not be responsible for the slave trade and the tax dollars that they paid to the government should not be used for any form of compensations as they were not involved and they did not receive any benefit from it, therefore they should not be responsible for the reparation of slave trade. On the political side, four years ago the US president Obama had also expressed his opinion on reparation,"Pressed for his position on apologizing to blacks or offering reparations, Obama said he was more interested in taking action to help people struggling to get by. Because many of them are minorities, he said, that would help the same people who would stand to benefit from reparations." (Wills, 2008) Obama believes that helping the minorities through offering them better infrastructure e.g. better health care and education system is better than directly offering them moneys and land. However, if the states decide to pay each of the descendant a substantial amount of money, this will cost trillions of dollars to the government and public: "Total at $97 trillion, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labour between 1619 and 1865, compounded at 6% interest through 1993." (Flaherty and Carlisle, 2004) However, African people were not the only group that was being slaved throughout that period of time, if the African were able to made their claim on slave trade and other group of race will surely follow and taking the same action. It will bring a devastating effect to different societies and the US government especially when they are trying to reduce their debt level through different type of reform.In addition to this, the whole responsibility of compensating the victim of slave trade should not be put on one country alone as the local African people was also involved in the slave trade, therefore Africa government should be also be responsible for the reparation as well.Beside arguing whether payment shall be made to compensate victims of the slave trade, others believes that "the notion of reparations point to attempts to make up for egregiously and unjustly violated selves and for squandered life chances, rather than to efforts to compel the return of goods" (Torpey, 2003). If this is the case then reparation has already been made since the end of the slave trade, Different government has granted slaves the right to stay and work along with the Citizenship and the right to vote in their country e.g. Slave trade act 1807(UK), Slave trade act 1824(UK), Slave trade act 1843(UK) and Slave trade act 1873(UK).Furthermore, different countries had put in a lot of effort to create equal opportunities and made changes through different affirmative action that occur in the past e.g. Martin Luther King: Montgomery Bus Boycott. Moreover, reparation for slave trade may actually lead to increase of conflict between multiple races if the reparation is to be carry out on the basis of the colour or race, but shouldn't the government focus on things that matter to the society now rather than looking back to past, "the problem is time. it is simply impossible to right an injustice committed in the distant past, and any attempt to do so can create as many difficulties as it alleviates [...] But the best we can hope for now is that we recommit ourselves to the simple goal of treating all men as equals, and affording every American equal opportunity to achieve what he or she can"(Chavez, 2000). hence it's better for the government to tackle the current issues such as resolving the wealth inequality which will helps the minorities to live on a better life.

Come to the conclusion that some form of reparation should be made to the slave, taken into account of different factors it's only fair if the society compensate for the transatlantic slavery and the work that they had done in the past. From the slavery history we perceive that not much action had been done to compensate the victim of slave slaves trade, even thou different countries has put in lot of effort to create better environment for the slaves descendants such as passing the slavery act to prevent further slavery to be happen, create equal opportunities and acknowledging issues that was raise in the affirmative action but it's still not enough to bring justice to the them. As identified above there were three key actors that should be hold responsibility for the slave trade and they should be the main contributor if reparation are made to the slave descendants. e.g. the slave owner that gained the advantages of having free labour, the slaves trader that accumulated their wealth through slave trade which still has an negative impact to today's society such as wealth inequality and the state that were benefited from the economic growth. Followed the two examples that were illustrated above, the US government could follow what the action that were taken after the incident of the Japanese American internment camp, where they made apologies to the victims, passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and payment to compensate for their lost and pain that were suffered in the course of events or follow what Germany did in the reparation for Israel and Jewish, besides making payment to the victim they had provide shipping of all kind of goods that were needed to rebuild the country's infrastructure and economy. However there shouldn't be any payment to the slave descendants as it will cause conflict between multiple race, some may argues that it's not fair to use the tax money to do so because it can be use to implement better capital projects that can enhance the country's infrastructure and it would not be fair for one country to bear all the cost of reparation, to an extent the African people itself was involve so African government should also be hold responsible for it as well. To an extent, reparation can be made in different form to compensate the work and pain that they suffered, but the best way to make reparation is to tackle the current issue that matters to the most of the minorities instead of making payment to the slave descendants.

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