Do Black People Owe White People Reparations For Slavery?


DISCLAIMER FOR THE EASILY TRIGGERED: Slavery is wrong. I make no apologies for it. None of the research presented herein is intended to lessen the injustice of African slavery in America or slavery in any incarnation. If you disagree with what I have researched and decide to call me a (insert your insult here) I will say now, that you’re rubber and I’m glue. What you say bounces off me and sticks to you. Such is my present-day retort and likely my future rebuttal, should I feel so inclined. If you’re still curious as to why I posted this disclaimer, read on.

So, today, someone shared with me this article from Fox News, “Evanston, Illinois first in US to pay reparations to Black residents” and here are some quotes from that article.

The City Council in Evanston, Ill., voted 8-1 late Monday to approve a plan to make reparations available to Black residents over past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery.

The plan, which could be the first of its kind in the U.S., is to distribute $400,000 to eligible Black households. The Associated Press reported that qualifying households in the city of 73,000 would be eligible to receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property.

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons, the lawmaker who proposed the initiative back in 2019, called the approval a first step but said more needs to be done.

“It is, alone, not enough,” she said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We all know that the road to repair and justice in the Black community is going to be a generation of work. It’s going to be many programs and initiatives and more funding.”

Further down in the article it reads…

Qualifying residents must either have lived in or been a direct descendant of a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 and who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices.

The article reminded me of a conversation I had with a very dear friend of mine about race issues in America. (My friend happens to be white.) She asked me what percentage of black people would likely hold her personally responsible for slavery? I told her that I could not quantify a percentage but likely many African Americans would hold her personally responsible for the sins of her ancestors because of news reports like this.

Now, I’ve heard several arguments made for reparations on numerous occasions, but I tend to reject them. Why? For me, it always comes down to this – who should pay?

The topic of reparations for African Americans is a topic that has been discussed ad nauseum and typically for political advantage. Case in point, here’s a quote the Washington Times. The headline reads, “California moves to consider reparations for slavery.” The date of the article is August 29, 2020.

California lawmakers are setting up a task force to study and make recommendations for reparations to African Americans, particularly the descendants of slaves, as the nation struggles again with civil rights and unrest following the latest shooting of a Black man by police.

The state Senate supported creating the nine-member commission on a bipartisan 33-3 vote Saturday. The measure returns to the Assembly for a final vote before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Monday, though Assembly members overwhelmingly already approved an earlier version of the bill.

“Let’s be clear: Chattel slavery, both in California and across our nation, birthed a legacy of racial harm and inequity that continues to impact the conditions of Black life in California,” said Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles.

She cited disproportionate homelessness, unemployment, involvement in the criminal justice system, lower academic performance and higher health risks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although California before the Civil War was officially a free state, Mitchell listed legal and judicial steps state officials took at the time to support slavery in Southern states while repressing Blacks.

The legislation would require the task force to conduct a detailed study of the impact of slavery in California and recommend to the Legislature by July 2023 the form of compensation that should be awarded, how it should be awarded, and who should be should be eligible for compensation.

The panel, which would start meeting no later than June 2021, could also recommend other forms of rehabilitation or redress.

A sober minded person might ask, what does slavery that happened centuries ago have to do with today’s homelessness, unemployment, health risks associated with the coronavirus and the other social issues mentioned in that quote? Outside of inciting the passions of would-be voters, what immediate benefit does it provide to the people of California?

When reparations are discussed it is typically proposed that the US government should be paying African Americans an undetermined amount of money for the suffering inflicted upon their ancestors by all the white people in America. If we look at this logically and without angry rhetoric, that argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. To illustrate that, let me share with you some inconvenient facts.

Inconvenient fact #1: Very few white people in America owned slaves.

  • According to data on White Slave Owners from a US Census Bureau 1860 Report, only 1.6 percent of whites in America owned slaves. I’ll quote that number again, 1.6. Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. In other words, 4% of slaves from Africa went to North America. The other 96% went to South America.

Inconvenient fact #2: Native Americans owned and traded in slaves!

  • According to the Oklahoma Historical Society website and Smithsonian Magazine, from the late 18th century on, Native Americans in the South, like whites, owned slaves. And, when the U.S. government “removed” the five nations to “Indian Territory” (now the state of Oklahoma) in the 1830s, they took their slaves with them, so that “[b]y the time the Civil War broke out more than eight thousand blacks were enslaved in Indian Territory.” Overall, enslaved people accounted for “14 percent of the population” of the Indian Territory, and it wasn’t until after the Civil War that emancipation arrived for some of the slaves. 

Inconvenient fact #3: African Americans owned slaves too

Should white people today be forced to pay reparations when only 1.6 percent of whites during the slavery era owned slaves? Should we demand payment from Native Americans and African Americans as well? Both groups owned African American slaves too. I could go on but, no, I’ll share a bit more.

Inconvenient fact #4: Whites Were Slaves in North Africa Before Blacks Were Slaves in America

I am quoting a 2004 article now from Ohio State News.”

A new study suggests that a million or more European Christians were enslaved by Muslims in North Africa between 1530 and 1780 – a far greater number than had ever been estimated before. In a new book, Robert Davis, professor of history at Ohio State University, developed a unique methodology to calculate the number of white Christians who were enslaved along Africa’s Barbary Coast, arriving at much higher slave population estimates than any previous studies had found.

Most other accounts of slavery along the Barbary coast didn’t try to estimate the number of slaves, or only looked at the number of slaves in particular cities, Davis said. Most previously estimated slave counts have thus tended to be in the thousands, or at most in the tens of thousands. Davis, by contrast, has calculated that between 1 million and 1.25 million European Christians were captured and forced to work in North Africa from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Davis’s new estimates appear in the book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan).

Now, should today’s white people demand reparations from today’s black people for the crime of enslaving their ancestors for two centuries? For some reason, lack of education mostly, so many people in America believe that America created the institution of slavery. I assure you America did not invent slavery. A cursory glance into a bible proves that. But, I digress, because I am veering off from something, I really want to say in 3 points.

  • Point #1… The Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany was signed on September 10, 1952, and entered in force on March 27, 1953. According to the Agreement, West Germany was to pay Israel for the costs of “resettling so great a number of uprooted and destitute Jewish refugees” after the war, and to compensate individual Jews, via the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, for losses in Jewish livelihood and property resulting from Nazi persecution. | That was justice and the right thing to do.
  • Point #2… When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, President FDR forced Japanese Americans to be relocated and incarcerated in concentration camps. There was no justification for this strategy and later, research proved it was motivated by fear and racism. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each former internee who was still alive when the act was passed; a total cost of 1.6 billion dollars. | That was justice and the right thing to do.
  • Point #3… Reparations were paid to Jewish and Japanese survivors who were personally affected by the trauma. So, should African Americans be paid reparations? The African survivors of Slavery, who were personally traumatized centuries ago, should have been. But not the African Americans of today because who can truly know who owes what? Statistically speaking, very few whites enslaved black people, Native Americans enslaved black people, black people enslaved black people and blacks enslaved white people for two centuries. So, again, who pays?

No doubt, some of you reading this will have a problem with what I’ve shared. Perhaps, you are calling me names now. (No doubt. Its why I posted the disclaimer at the beginning.) If so, let me leave you with one final quote where a certain group is demanding social justice because of slavery. This quote is from BBC News.

The West is being asked to pay Africa $777 [trillion] within five years in reparation for enslaving Africans while colonising the continent. The African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission, meeting in Accra for its first international conference, also called for all international debt owed by Africa to be “unconditionally cancelled”.

The Accra Declaration issued at the conference says that money will be demanded from ”all those nations of Western Europe and the Americas and institutions, who participated and benefited from the slave trade and colonialism”.

The conference, co-chaired by Dr Hamet Maulana and Mrs Debra Kofie, announced plans to set up an international team of lawyers from Africa and the diaspora to pursue all legal means to collect the money. The group will also be contacting the International Court of Justice, as well as the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity for assistance.

Mrs Kofie told the BBC the reparation figure was based on the number of human lives lost to Africa during the slave-trade, as well as an assessment of the worth of the gold, diamonds and other minerals taken from the continent during colonial rule.

She says Africa’s turn has come. “We are the only group that have not received reparations. The Jewish people have received reparations. The native Americans have received reparations. The Korean comfort women and so-on and so forth,” she said.

The declaration added that all those in the diaspora, who want to return and settle in Africa, should be allowed to do so and that those who enslaved and colonised Africa should provide seaworthy vessels and aircraft for such repatriation.

The date of that article from BBC News is August 20, 1999.

Thanks for reading this far. I know it was a rather long rant today. A shorter one tomorrow. (I think. It all depends on what I read.)

Jim Stroud

P.S. Did you know that reparations were actually paid to slaves after the Civil War? This was thanks to a measure initiated by Abraham Lincoln (R). However, after his assassination, his Vice President – Andrew Johnson (D) assumed power and reversed it. Click here to listen to my podcast where I discuss that bit of history. (Or, just listen to it below.)

The header image comes from the Face 2 Face Africa article, “The shocking history of enslavement of 1.5 million white Europeans in North Africa in the 16th century.” I HIGHLY recommend it.

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