Should Descendants of Slaves Receive Reparations?


Aug 5, 2020
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I find this an extremely interesting topic that I'm happy to participate in debating. I'll be debating the negative position in regards to whether or not the descendants of slaves in the United States should receive reparations. I will not say whether or not I agree that they should or shouldn't, but I'll do my best at defending the position I chose to defend.

In this debate, I'll argue three primary points: That not one person alive today bears the responsibility that those slave owners of the past bear, that reparations would never be enough to some and the idea of putting a price on such a thing could be insulting, and that paying reparations is simply too expensive for a nation that's in such debt and that it would be nearly impossible to accurately determine who would be eligible to received payment.

Dead Slave Owners are Responsible, Not Us

I've got a friend whose father immigrated to the United States from Italy about 70 years ago. He is an extremely hard worker as are his children. The entire family, although born in the U.S. (except for the father) originated in Italy. If you think about it, they're true Italians. The father came from Italy and all the children are second generation immigrants. Let me ask you something: Is this family responsible for paying reparations to the ancestors of slaves? How about the Cuban refugees? Or recent Muslim immigrants to the U.S.? How about the Canadian family that moved to Maine in 2016? How about the entire Millennial generation? Should all of these people be responsible for paying reparations for something they had nothing to do with? If not, then who is responsible? Did everyone at the time of slavery participate in that slavery? What if a poor family that had nothing to do with slave ownership lived adjacent to a slave owning plantation back in the 1700s? Would the descendants of that poor family be responsible for paying reparations? And since any reparations would come from the U.S. government and all current and future citizens pay into that government, wouldn't the descendants of slaves be paying themselves?

The entire idea of reparations revolves around the notion of collective guilt. And when considering collective guilt, there needs to be a certain amount of logic attributed to it. If collective guilt is valid in one circumstance, then it really should be valid in all others. As you can guess, if this were the case, order would quickly devolve into chaos. Here's a statement for you: Every single current citizen of the United States today, when considered as a whole, is collectively responsible for the slavery of the past. That's either a true or false statement, depending on your personality type or how you look at it. If you read that statement and say, "Yeah right! Says who?" you can stop reading right now. You don't subscribe to the idea of collective guilt. But if you say, "That makes perfect sense!" then you most likely also think that that every Muslim around the world, when considered as a whole, is collectively responsible for bringing down the Twin Towers and that every single gun owner in the United States, when considered as a whole, is collectively responsible for inner city gun crime. Just like every Catholic is responsible for the sexual abuse committed by priests and every coffee drinker is responsible for the deforestation of South America. You get the picture. It's a rabbit hole not many are willing to go down because they'll quickly find themselves guilty for things they had never considered.

Paying Reparations Would Make All Descendants of Slavery Victims, Whether They Like it or Not

Here's a question: Would $100 to each descendant of slavery be enough to settle the score? No? How about $1,000? No? $1,000,000? No? Would one billion dollars each ease the pain that the horrors of slavery inflicted? Is there a way to put a price on such things? I'm sure that if $1,000 were being passed out to each, some people would gladly take it. Others would hold out and no amount of money could undo the damage, according to them. And what about those who are too proud to take the money? What about those who thank their lucky stars every day that they live in a country such as the United States? Those who feel any amount of pain their ancestors went through was a gift to them today for living a better life than they could have imagined.

There are those who claim that by offering reparations, the country would be divided like never before and would remain divided well into the future. They claim that there would never be agreement as to what amount is good and just and those who think they haven't received enough would never drop the issue. Can the issue ever really be dropped by those who never want to drop it? Any amount of damages given to any descendant of a slave would be viewed as insufficient. By virtue of that statement, every descendant would quickly and effortlessly transform into a victim, whether they like it or not. And considering the fact that anyone who is compensated today has never been an actual slave, they've just been doubly victimized. And really, the whole notion of "us" offering "you" reparations smells funny. Who are we? Your current oppressors? Are we really that powerful? Do we need to pay you off? I thought we were equal. That's how I always viewed us, anyway.

It's Too Difficult & We're Broke

I'm not really sure who's making the offer to pay anyone anything. The last time I checked, the United States' budget deficit is larger than the entire actual budget. Also, the national debt is just short of $30 trillion dollars. Who is it exactly whose planning on doling out all this cash? The idea of reparations is so abstract that I can't even wrap my head around it. Some folks have though and they've come up with a number. That number is today's equivalent of the "40 acres and a mule" figure that was used back in 1865 by General William T. Sherman. It's $80,000 per descendant. Multiply that number by all estimated descendants and you end up with $2.6 trillion. That's about half the entire U.S. budget for 2019. And just as a reminder, the budget has grown in 2020, while the deficit has grown absurdly. My point is, we don't have any money. This is like asking someone who's got a dozen maxed out credit cards and an enormous mortgage to pay your college tuition. It's not doable. By the way, this $2.6 trillion is a very conservative estimate. Others have calculated numbers upwards of $16 trillion, which is almost as much as our entire national debt. In 2019 that is. It's much higher now.

Another question is, who do the taxpayers of the United States pay reparations to? Do all of the descendants who are doing rather well receive payments? Oprah Winfrey? Shaquille O'Neal? Michael Jordan? Billionaire Bob Johnson? Also, does the color of someone's skin automatically make someone eligible to receive a payment? How about if someone is an African immigrant to the U.S.? What about the son of a Kenyan and a white woman who resides locally? That would be our former president, by the way. We've got millions of descendants of African Americans who are in no way tied to the slavery of the past. How do we accurately parse through all of these lineages? It's actually an impossible task.

My final point will be this: If we do decide to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves in the United States, why would we stop there? Why not go further and pay reparations to Native Americans? And then ask Europe to pay reparations to Greeks who may be descendants of slaves in Ancient Rome. You get the picture.


Aug 3, 2020
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I'll take the affirmative position for this one. There are actually good arguments for both sides of this debate and I'm not sure which side I fall on, but I don't think making my arguments will be very difficult. I've thought about this topic often in my life and it's a good one to discuss.

In this post, I'll make three argument in favor of reparations for the descendants of slaves in the U.S. First, I'll argue that the mere fact that slavery existed in the United States has led to vast differences in wealth, even for those alive today. Second, I'll make the claim that by stemming from slaves in this country, a great disparity in health has occurred. Both slaves were much more unhealthy than non-slaves and even today, American blacks have less in the way of health care opportunity. Finally, I'll state that the U.S. government has offered reparations to other groups in the past and they should do it again.

People Made a Lot of Money Off of Slaves - That Money Needs to Get Paid Back

Imagine for a moment that your parents worked entire lifetimes to create a certain amount of wealth. They bought and paid for a house, cars, a boat, some property, and a healthy savings account. Now imagine that upon their deaths, the government came in and took everything they had worked their entire lives for. After the government stole that wealth, there was nothing to hand down to you. There's one example for you. The labor your parents had expended during their entire lives was translated into assets and savings. By law (and by natural right), those things are allowed to be passed to heirs. If something or someone gets in the way of that, an injustice is occurring.

Here's another example. During World War II, many Jews that were facing persecution in Germany deposited savings in Swiss bank accounts. Many of these Jews were killed during the Holocaust. What should be done with these deposited funds? Just hand them over to the banks to keep? How about the Swiss government? Or, how about the descendants of those Jews who were killed? It only seems right that the families of these individuals would have a right to the savings. The original owners of that money had worked for it or obtained it in some other way. By keeping the funds, your essentially stealing someone's labor. That's called slavery.

As a final example, I'll give you this: Pretend that you work each week to earn a paycheck. At the end of the week, you get paid. One week, right after your boss pays you, he reaches out and takes the money right back. The next week, your boss pays you, but this time, a representative of the U.S. government is waiting to steal your paycheck. This type of thing happens every single week and you never end up with any earnings. Again, that's called slavery. Working for no compensation is called slavery. If this happened to you, you'd have a right to that money, no matter how long it took to get it. And if you died one day, your heirs would have a right to it. It's that simple.

Those are just a few examples of how injustice occurs. People steal from one another and it isn't right. When this occurs, the injustice needs to be made right and that's that. People can try to talk their way out of it and claim that any repayment is too difficult, but that's just a distraction. At the very least, try.

Back in 1836, half of the entire United States economic activity was derived from cotton or cotton related products. At that time, there were around one million slaves in the country who were owned by others. The value put on these slaves was $3 billion dollars. That's dollars back then, not now.

Slaves weren't paid for their work and only managed to accumulate a fraction of their worth. At the time, although making up 13% of the U.S. population, African Americans held only 2.6% of overall wealth. After slavery was abolished in this country, reparations were attempted. General William T. Sherman gave each free slave 40 acres and a mule so the newly freed individuals could build lives for themselves. That sounds good, but after Republican President Abraham Lincoln's death, the new president, Democrat Andrew Johnson, rescinded the order, giving that land to whites. My point is, if reparations were made at the time, but taken back, do the right thing today and give them again. There's a wealth gap in this country and it stems from the days of slavery.

Many African Americans Today Can't Get Proper Health Care and That's the Fault of Slavery

There's a disparity of health today and it dates all the way back to the days of slavery. What began back then has continued generation by generation and continues to this very day. Did you know that Europeans brought disease to Africa that killed Africans? Did you know that many Africans didn't make it during the trip from Africa to the U.S.? Many people caught terrible diseases and either died or became debilitated. Even after they made it to the west, many Africans died or caught disease. And even after they were freed, many of them didn't have access to proper healthcare for the times.

The problem persists today. African Americans are consistently under represented in the health care system. They also suffer from more ailments due to poor working conditions because of the lack of opportunity. They're underinsured or have no health insurance at all and many don't even have doctors they can call their own. And because of all this, many African Americans suffer from many preventable conditions, such as high blood pressure, asthma, stroke, diabetes, etc...

Basically, my point is that because of the injustice back in the time of slavery, blacks in this country suffer today. The plight has transcended generations and persists today. It needs to be made right.

This Wouldn't Be the First Time the United States Paid Reparations

I'm sure a lot of people don't know this, but our government has already paid reparations to various groups. For instance, it paid the victims of Japanese internment camps $20,000 each. Even the victims of the Tuskagee Study were given reparations. Those 399 black men were awarded $10 million overall and a lifetime of health care, courtesy of the U.S. government. Even back in 1862, slave owners were compensated to give up and free their slaves. It seems like everyone was getting money for something.

People who were sterilized against their will in North Carolina were given money. The same thing happened in Virginia. In Florida, victims of the 1923 riots were awarded compensation. The same is true for those affected by police brutality in Chicago. The list goes on and on. The Germans paid the victims of the Nazis, South Africa paid the victims of apartheid. Universities around the U.S. have also offered reparations to the descendants of slaves. There really are too many examples to list here. The overall point is, reparations isn't a new idea. It's been in action for decades and sometimes, it's just the right thing to do. The only challenge is deciding who is responsible for those reparations.
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Should Descendants of Slaves Receive Reparations? was posted on 09-13-2020 by Newman in the Debate Forum forum.

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