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I would define slavery reparations as money paid out to people who have been harmed by slavery. It would also be possible for the reparations to come in the form of in-kind transfers (like food stamp-type things or vouchers for tuition in college). Reparations are payments made to the victims of some injustice by the people who perpetrated and/or benefitted from that injustice.
There is no way to argue that slavery and segregation were just. There is no way to argue that African Americans were not harmed by those things. Even so, I am not in favor of reparations. Let us explore why this is so.
My main problem with reparations for slavery and segregation is that it is practically impossible to know who should get how much. There two main aspects to this.
First of all, what is a fair amount of money to pay someone for the fact that their ancestor was enslaved? If we gave a nominal amount of reparations, would that be an insult to the value of the slaves’ lives? If we gave the true worth of a slave’s life (much less the true worth of hundreds of years of slaves’ lives) we would never be able to afford it. So how much do we give in reparations?
Second, who deserves to get reparations and who must pay for them? My father immigrated to the US from the Philippines in 1960. My mother is a white American. So how much have I benefitted from slavery and discrimination and, therefore, how much should I pay? How much should a person who is half black and half white get? How do we tell if that person has gained more from slavery and segregation (through the white part of the family) than he or she has lost (through the black part of the family)? What about African Americans whose ancestors were free blacks? What about those whose ancestors came from the Caribbean and were therefore enslaved by English people (or Spanish or French people)? Who owes them reparations?
Morally speaking, reparations are owed to African Americans for what American society did to them. But the logistics make it essentially impossible to pay these reparations in a way that is fair and reasonable. Therefore, I do not see that reparations would be a good idea.
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