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Slavery Reparations: A Woke Idea That Should be Put to Sleep

Brett Davis

Posted on June 25, 2019 04:08

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It won’t change anything and is likely to cause more racial tension.

The identity politics circus came to Washington, D.C. last week – as it is wont to do every so many years – in the form of the House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on a bill that would commission a study on reparations for the descendants of slaves. A panel dominated by left-wing academics, activists, journalists and politicians spoke in favor of reparations during the event, held on Juneteenth (June 19), a day commemorating the announcement of the end of slavery in the United States.

There is no doubt the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and the structural racism that followed is a stain on American history. It does not then follow, however, that compensating contemporary African-Americans for the historical wrong of slavery perpetuated against their ancestors is good public policy. In fact, it would bolster the condescending and dangerous notion of African-Americans as perennial victims. 

Reparations are but the latest backward-looking vehicle for anguishing over the historic shame of slavery. Were it possible to pay former slaves for their suffering under the “peculiar institution,” that would be a sensible and worthy undertaking. Since slavery was formally ended in the United States 154 years ago, there are no living slaves (or slave holders). In other words, reparations turn out to mean one group of people who never held slaves providing financial recompense to another group who were never slaves.

Identifying descendants of slaves in America would be impossible given such distinctions have become tenuous and diffuse over the course of more than two centuries – that is, you will pardon the pun, not so black and white. The historical record indicates there were blacks in America who owned black slaves, and a large percentage of Americans of all races had ancestors come to this country after the Civil War, which means a significant portion of the average African-American’s DNA is European. This also begs the question: Should successful and well-off African-Americans like Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James, Tyler Perry, etc. receive taxpayer funds as part of any reparations settlement?

The truth is reparations won’t solve anything – one imagines the racial grievance-industrial complex continuing unabated – and could possibly widen racial chasms we as a country are trying to shrink. One need only look to the example of lottery winners to understand that a one-time transfer of capital does very little to improve the long-term welfare of recipients. Reparations could very well turn out to be toxic to race relations in America. Once reparations are paid to African-Americans, what’s to stop descendants of other groups that at one time or another got the short end of the historical stick – American Indians, Chinese-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. – from demanding similar compensation?

It’s time for the nation to grow up and stop living in the past by constantly picking at the scab of slavery. As Ben Shapiro trenchantly noted, it’s impossible to fix past injustices with current injustices. The only way to fix past injustices is with individual freedom.

Brett Davis

Posted on June 25, 2019 04:08

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Source: NPR

Democratic presidential contenders have discussed reparations for slavery during this campaign season. David Greene talks...

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