Friday, March 6, 2009


Now that America has proved itself willing to elect a (very worthy) African American to its highest public office, the fighters for social justice must look to what can be done with this political capital we possess. Although President Obama is in office, the prisons of this nation are still filled with African Americans and other racial minorities, African Americans are still very poor-off compared to white Americans, and African Americans generally live and socialize in racially segregated communities and cliques. That this is a harm, and the cause of it, are obvious, and they must end. Just as obvious is that the cause of the harm was a wrong that deserves to be righted. Some people may make racist arguments, and show statistics from testing, and claim that a lot of what African Americans are suffering is inherent to the race. But what should be obvious to everybody in this nation is that whether or not it is true that African Americans can achieve everything in equal measures as members of any other race can, African American at least certainly should not be livin gin the grossly disparate conditions I have described, and the cause of the fact that they do must not be any characteristic of their race, but instead the incredible historical hurdles that that one race-- but not the others-- have been hampered with for many generations in this country.

There should be reparations for slavery of something like $40,000 to every African American person who is over the age of 18 (as of the effective date of the enacting legislation), regardless of when and how they became a citizen, so long as they do not make over a certain amount or have a certain amount of assets that indicates affluence. The $40,000 could be paid out over the course of 8 monthly payments of $5,000 so it has a little bit of the protection of a spendthrift trust, and the payees should be able to apply to have the money directly deposited in a bank account so that stealing of these much-publicized checks out of mailboxes will be minimized.

How will we determine who is black for the purposes of making reparations? People will get in line in designated public places at a specific date and time to be judged by a few public employees on the basis of appearance. Congress, or some appropriate body charged by them to administer the project, should vote on sample photographs to be used by the panels of judges as guidelines to decide who is and is not black (this will provide a degree of uniformity to the initial decisions that will eliminate some embarrassing inconsistencies from location to location). If people want to challenge a decision that they are not black, then they will be able to make such an appeal to a committee that will judge them according to guidelines to-be developed (that will probably involve proof of what relatives looked like, documentation of ancestors having been slaves, DNA tests, etc.). Although "blackness" is not an absolutely objective concept, it will do a lot more good to get reparations out to the vast majority of black people and have some uncertainty about a few people than it will be to just forget about the whole thing just because there may not be one answer that is acceptable to every single person to the question of who is black.

There are about 40 million black people in America, so counting the costs of administration, these reparations should not cost too much over $100 billion, which is significantly less than what we are spending on the economic bailout (not to mention a lot of stuff we'll probably never need, like a lot of our high-tech weapons development has proved to be over the course of recent decades-- I'm sure I probably don't need to remind anyone here of the Pentagon's terrible rep for shelling out $$$ for development of weapons that never go into production, are developed very inefficiently (so that after many years, the latest plan or prototype version is basically totally unacceptable), or are quickly obsoleted by newer technology).

Barack is the President now, so he should get this rolling! It may be unpopular in some circles, but reparations is more the type of thing that will heal the wounds of racial prejudice in the long run than affirmative action alone. The great wrong of slavery should not go unredressed.

Speculation on the results of reparations:

One the positive side, more black people will be getting married because more black people will have sufficient money saved up to get a home and start a family. More black people will stay out of prison because they will have a lot more incentive and means to stay out of trouble. A lot more black guys will have girlfriends. All the women out there will know that any black guy they see who is over 18 has $40,000 in the bank. More black people will start small business or take gambles on other dreams (e.g., producing a demo tape). It will provide a lot of satisfaction to African Americans and psychological healing to the nation, although arguments could always be made that reparations should be a bigger sum than $40,000 a piece or in a different form (i.e., some kind of mixed bag of investments and benefits). Not to mention many black families will just be a little better provided for, have an easier time staying out of trouble economically, and be happier. For a lot of people, it will be more toys and better clothes for their kids, etc.

On the negative side, a few people will probably try to invest their money to start up illegal little drug-dealing businesses. This kind of thing probably won't be widespread, and shouldn't be used as an excuse not to adopt the legislation. Instead, we should rely on normal law enforcement to stop any new drug dealing activity and communities should make appropriate efforts to discourage recipients of reparations from taking this rash gamble with their new wad of loot.

Is $40,000 paid in monthly $5,000 payments to every black person who is over 18 as of a certain date enough? I certainly am not against reparations being bigger than this, but my suggestion shoots for a number that might be politically doable in the foreseeable future instead of towards satisfying some over-idealistic activist's pipe-dream. I also want to make clear that my plan isn’t that as of a certain date, we start giving $5,000 payments out to people just for being black as soon as they turn 18. Rather, my idea is that everybody who is not 18 as of the effective date of the legislation will be considered not to be entitled to reparations without further legislation. If congress finds at some point that the initial round of reparations wasn’t enough and the country is willing to provide more, there can be successive rounds of reparations (crafted perhaps in different amounts) awarded to newer generations.

In the absence of federal legislation, states that can afford it should craft programs to issue some sort of reparations to their residents with state money. Perhaps the legislation could stipulate that the reparations are only made in place of reparations by the federal government, which should more appropriately be taking the lead, and that in order to receive the reparations, any recipient has to agree to give back to the state an amount equal to what they received from it out of any federal money that is eventually awarded to them as reparations. I think there may be some good arguments against this policy, but it’s just an idea to help get reparations rolling in the states-- to accommodate everybody in case people start objecting that the states shouldn’t do it, because it would be unnecessarily duplicative of any eventual federal program (e.g., people might complain that if their state steps forward to pay reparations and others don’t, then that state’s taxpayers will have unfairly shouldered too much of the burden of reparations; having state reparations simply take the place of future federally-sponsored reparations helps to allay this concern).

One really racist argument you sometimes hear against reparations is that African Americans are better off because they ended up in America, despite the racism and bad situation that is the legacy of slavery. This argument is wrong for at least a couple of very good reasons. The most basic one is that the black people who were put into slavery were different people than the ones who are alive in America now. The ones who were put into slavery were not better off, because being a slave in America was by-an-large not better than being free in Africa. And the ones who are alive now are not better off than white Americans are now, simply because of the color of their skin: they unfairly suffer disadvantages that are the after-effects of a racist institution of slavery that was supposed to be abolished over 100 years ago.

If we are successful in getting reparations discussed more publicly in the months and years ahead, another way to answer this argument is to say that if there hadn't been slavery, America still would have needed labor and African aborigines certainly might have been brought over to work for pay. Without racism and slavery, African Americans who would have come to America certainly would have suffered a lot less. How Africans in Africa fared has nothing to do with that. The standard of whether blacks deserve reparations is how white people in America have been doing relative to them, not how any people living in horrible circumstances across the world today are living. We certainly don't ask if a white man or woman should just be happy to live in America when deciding whether they have a right to sue somebody who wronged them, and the reparations issue is the same. Whether some black man somewhere else is poorer than a black man in America has nothing to do with whether disadvantages that African Americans suffer here are wrong.

In other words, (1) slavery was a wrong when it existed (2) whether the descendants of Africans who remained in Africa are worse off than the descendants of Africans who were brought to America does not mean that it is not a wrong for modern African Americans to suffer from racial discrimination today, or from racial discrimination against their ancestors (3) since it was the evil institution of slavery that in great part led to the situation of African Americans of today suffering these ill-effects, and since Africans could have easily emigrated here without there having ever been any slavery, the nation owes modern African Americans compensation for the great harm done to them by having allowed slavery.

Some people may make a totally inappropriate comparison between the Holocaust and slavery to argue against reparations, because Jews are doing well nowadays. To answer this kind of objection, here is such an argument and the response I wrote to it a while ago:
a court in France ruled that the Jewish victims of the Holocast in France had been compensated enough
mimi B.Eng.(Mech) P.Eng.M. Eng | 02.17.09 - 9:17 am |

Really? What was the issue? Like, what were they trying to get from the court?

Anyway, I hope this wasn't posted as a counterpoint to what I wrote about reparations. The situation of Jews in Europe who were affected by the Holocaust was a lot different than that of African Americans effected by slavery both before and after the relevant events (slavery and the Holocaust) so I don't think you can compare the two. I don't think you can say that when Jews don't need any more reparations for the Holocaust, that says a lot about when blacks should no longer need reparations on account of slavery.