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Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research
Civil Rights: Should
Black Americans Receive Reparations Payments Because of Slavery?
Conservatives say: If a law is unjust, repeal it. Don't force uninvolved third parties to pay cash to those injured by it.
Slavery reparations supporters generally make this fundamental argument: That slavery harmed slaves and thus, indirectly, their descendants; therefore, any organization, corporation, institution or government that promoted or profited from slavery owes reparations to descendants of slaves.
Among the arguments made against reparations:
1) One injustice (slavery) cannot be corrected by another injustice (taking money from an innocent party). No one alive today owned slaves legally in the United States. Millions of non-black Americans don't even have ancestors who lived in the U.S. at the time of slavery.
2) It would be impossible to administer fairly. Most Americans don't know their lineage well enough to assert, let alone prove, harm from slavery (or the converse, that their ancestors are responsible for or benefited from slavery). This means -- and most reparations advocates seem to concede -- that reparations would be paid to black Americans by other Americans simply on the basis of race. This would result in reparations payments not only by the distant descendants of actual slaveowners, but of post-Civil War immigrants, such as Vietnamese "boat people" refugees and now-elderly survivors of Nazi concentration camps.
3) Reparations payments based on race alone would be perceived by nearly everyone forced to make payments as a monstrous injustice, embittering many and inevitably setting back race relations. Apologetic feelings many whites hold because of slavery and past civil rights injustices would to a significant extent be replaced by anger. Yet, would one of the goals of the reparations movement: A supposed lessening of black anger (to the extent it exists) because of slavery really abate if reparations were enacted? Evidence is scant.
Issue Date: August 23, 2004