Why Reparations Are Necessary

For African-Americans, yesterday’s slavery is the cause of today’s lack of equality

America recently marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which ended slavery. Now it’s time to finally acknowledge—and concede—reparations, which would begin to end slavery’s vestiges.

[SIGNUP]African-Americans are consistently at the bottom of the economic, educational and employment scales, and there are one of two explanations for that. Either they are genetically predisposed to be in last place, or yesterday’s slavery is the cause of today’s shortcomings. The first explanation is unfounded racist bullshit, so let’s look at the second. Slavery existed in America and its preceding colonies from 1619 to 1865, beginning with the bondage of 20 “negars” in Jamestown, Virginia and lasting until the adoption of the 13th Amendment. That’s 246 years. But when the period of legalized slavery is combined with the de jure and de facto oppression of the post-slavery Black Codes, the exploitative sharecropping, the brutal peonage, and the widespread Jim Crow, it’s actually 345 years because it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that a movement toward substantive change really began.

By the way, did you know that the U.S. Justice Department was prosecuting plantation owners on forced labor charges, involuntary servitude charges, assault charges, and even murder charges as recently as 1954 in Alabama (the Dial family)? In Georgia in 1921, farm owner John Williams was a defendant, and his co-defendant/overseer Clyde Manning testified against him. Whoa, that means 345 years of slavery and slavery-like conditions and just 47 years of relative freedom. OK, now the picture becomes much clearer. Now that bottom-of-the-scale thing begins to make sense. Now it can be understood that while one group got a running head start of three-and-a-half centuries (and many of their voluntarily-immigrating, better-life-seeking, Statue-of-Liberty-pursuing descendants got a jump of several generations or more), another group was kidnapped, shackled, shipped, auctioned, imprisoned, tortured, raped, lynched and legally forced into illiteracy, poverty and second-class citizenship.

Slavery wasn’t just a deep stain on America’s fabric of liberty and justice. It was a fundamental defect. And just like with any indelible stain, only repairing can fix it. Although a valiant attempt at such repairing took place from 1865-1877 during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, it obviously wasn’t enough. But before its failures are addressed, its profound victories must be mentioned.

The 13th Amendment in 1865 ended slavery. And the 14th Amendment in 1868 provided citizenship rights to blacks. In addition, the 15th Amendment in 1870 granted them voting rights. All of this was profoundly important—but only as a great car with no fuel. The gasoline didn’t arrive until 1964. In fact, the car was actually repossessed in 1877 when southern politicians began to create a slavery-type country through their “Redemption” policies. Moreover, the new Confederacy, this time in the guise of the Ku Klux Klan, began to spread its violently racist poison far and wide throughout much of the 1870s. And with the sinister Compromise of 1877—a.k.a. “The Corrupt Bargain,” which gave the disputed 1876 presidential election victory to Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel J. Tilden in exchange for ending federal military protection for recently freed blacks in three southern states—Reconstruction died. Or, better stated, it was politically murdered.

So now what? Reparations is what. First of all, let’s precisely define reparations. It’s the making up for a wrong. It’s restoration to good condition. It’s a repairing. Second, unlike some pro-reparations advocates who make a meritorious argument for financial compensation as part of the package, I don’t. Not only do I view it as blood money and insufficient blood money at that—no matter how much, I prefer something permanent as opposed to temporary, and long-term as opposed to a one-shot deal.

You might think that not one white person alive today ever enslaved any black person and that not one black person alive today was ever enslaved. Touché. However, it doesn’t matter because of the legal theory known as “unjust enrichment.” And if in rebuttal you assert the legal notion of “standing,” then I respond with Statutes of Descent and Distribution. And I add the naming of plaintiffs who, through officially documented genealogical research, can sufficiently prove their familial connection to enslaved black folks. But then you counter with the Statutes of Limitations, and I respond with the concept known as “ongoing wrong” or “continuing violations,” as well as the principle of “tolling.” You state sovereign immunity, and I reply 42 USC 1983.

So now what? Here’s a start: free education, enhanced affirmative action in employment and health care. In other words, put us where we would have been if we had not been held back for those 345 years.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that reparations is a handout that blacks don’t deserve or even need. After all, we have an African-American president and some African-American governors, mayors, DAs, police chiefs, and CEOs. What more do you people want, you ask. Well, we people want exactly what you people want. We want equal opportunity. We don’t want to continue to be penalized like our elders and ancestors were. And if you think that genuine equal opportunity already exists, let me ask you this: If you had to be tried as a defendant in a criminal case or wanted to apply for a job or sought to move into a good suburban neighborhood or attempted to join a country club, would you (assuming totally identical backgrounds) choose to be tried, choose to apply, seek to move, or attempt to join as a white person or a black person? It’s a rhetorical question. And, c’mon now, be honest. You know the answer. You might not want to admit it publicly. But you know. And you know it has something to do with racism. And that’s gotta be repaired. Any suggestions?