Is It Finally Time for Reparations for Slavery?

Racial tensions are at an all-time high in America since slavery, segregation and the aftermath. White men are in the streets cracking whips under the American flag. Karens face judgement and sentencing in the courts of the online community. Meanwhile, support for the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow.

Workers who stand with the movement often find themselves needing to defend their stance at work, on the clock. Sometimes, their employers support them and sometimes they don’t.

Some statements of support came from companies that have long spoken out against racially-motivated, unjust treatment, such as Ben and Jerry’s. Others feel less genuine and seem to come from organisations that feel pressured to say something before their patrons start forcing them to pick a side.

This prompted several people to ask the question: is the time finally ripe for reparations? If so, how would it be distributed and how would it work?

What Are the Complications of Reparations?

Last year, while at a social gathering, a funny conversation about rednecks in rural towns turned into a more serious conversation about race. Most of the people at the table were West Indian Blacks. Two men were White. I voiced the unpopular opinion that while I saw the importance of reparations, I could think of no fair way to distribute it. Here were my points of contention:

  1. Should it matter where Black people in the country originally came from when it comes to reparations or should America potentially foot the bill for reparations from the descendants of British, French and Spanish slaves who migrated here?
  2. How do you determine which Black people on American soil are descendants of American slaves, versus those of us who migrated from elsewhere today or several generations ago?
  3. Should the Union States pay the same toward reparations as the Confederacy, which couldn’t pay slaves but could fund a whole Civil War to try to keep them?
  4. If White families can prove they descended from some of the millionaires in the Union States who invested in the Underground Railroad and helped set up safe houses, do they get a pass or do they pay the same as those proudly descended from Confederates? What if someone descends from both sides?
  5. How do you determine who owns properties now that were unlawfully taken from free Black people during slavery, segregation and the aftermath? What if a Black person now owns said property and paid their money for it? Should they give it up?
  6. If we’re tracing all the way back to who originally owned the land, are we going as far back as the Natives as the true owners? Should they also get a claim?

My questions stirred a bit of an uproar at the table. Ultimately, even the Whites disagreed that these presented complexities. While I certainly believe it isn’t our job to figure it out, I don’t think we can ignore that the complexities exist.

There will never be an efficient system for addressing reparations that sufficiently punishes who should be punished and levels the playing field. That said, I suppose the question we should ask is: does it matter, or is any attempt worth it?

Is the Timing Right for Distributing Reparations?

Many people might argue that at the private level, it has already begun. Non-profit organizations claiming to support Black causes are bursting at the seams with tens of millions in cash. Several companies have also pledged millions toward the Black Lives Matter movement in place of empty promises.

For instance, PayPal pledged $530 million:

“…to support Black and minority-owned businesses and communities in the U.S., especially those hardest hit by the pandemic, to help address economic inequality.”

In all honesty, I find this funny, considering that PayPal declined both me and another Black friend for the PPP loan. I know I qualified for the loan because I was later approved by Capital One with the same figures, albeit for crumbs. She was then approved by the SBA for a disaster relief business loan.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, several people are now promoting Black-owned businesses. Many Black women entrepreneurs saw their beauty products sell out and generate six-figure profits in mere hours after launch in the past few weeks. Similarly, many people are asking for more books written by Black authors.

While this certainly is a good step in the right direction, Black people shouldn’t need to be notable to be celebrated and supported. Not all Black people own businesses or want to. And some would rather cut their pinky toes off than attempt to write a book. This is true of all cultures, ethnicities and races.

So, what support does that leave for the nine-to-fivers or the people with convictions who can’t secure a nine-to-five at all? There are some organizations created to assist this demographic, but ultimately, if businesses do not employ them, there is little they can do. That is where a federal or state-level system becomes necessary.

That brings us right back to the question of how. How can we effectively distribute reparations for slavery? I’ve done some thinking since that dinner conversation last year and believe any of the following might work if Uncle Sam feels stingy with cash payments:

  • Create special mortgage programs for Black people, just like there are special loans for veterans (VA Loans) and rural communities (USDA loans).
  • Exclude Black people from paying income taxes in acknowledgement of the fact that slaves built America and did not earn a penny for their pains.
  • Provide a temporary tax holiday to Black people starting a legitimate business in America that mirror the same tax holidays American companies enjoy and exploit in developing countries, like Jamaica.
  • Retrain law enforcement officers and audit the justice system so that Black people do not spend life in prison for stealing $9 while Whites get off for killing little boys walking around with Skittles.

Why Does Anything Need To Be Done?

There are many Black people who, through hard work, the right connections, luck or a combination of all three, excelled in spite of the challenges they faced. Racist Whites often use this as proof that there are no systematic prejudices that put Black people at an economic disadvantage. Many Black people who succeed often share the same sentiment once they get the opportunity to wear rose-coloured glasses.

As an immigrant who has done reasonably well in my five years here, I think I’m in a good position to give a more objective answer. America is, without a doubt, the land of opportunity. It sometimes surprises me how anyone manages to be poor in this country. However, I can acknowledge the difference between myself and your average American that puts me in the position to feel that way.

I don’t come from a country known for opportunities, so I grab every single one I get here. I don’t waive chances by with full confidence that another will present itself when I’m good and ready. I treat every opportunity like the last one. Even so, I face the same setbacks African Americans do — and then some. For instance, even with good credit, I often get denied for loans because my credit is new: an unavoidable situation when you move to America in your mid-20s.

Americans are so accustomed to opportunities that they often let them go by, expecting that another will come. From what I’ve seen, Black and White people share the same level of complacency here, especially in their younger years. However, whereas Whites can count on a lifetime of privilege and millennia of accumulated family wealth to use as a crutch, Black people have fewer opportunities to bounce back from that complacency.

What Is the Wage Gap Between Blacks and Whites?

The term “millennia of accumulated family wealth” might rub a lot of people the wrong way, but it’s the truth. Black people in Africa had their countries turned upside down by Europeans bent on conquest. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was part of my required reading as a history student in Jamaica and I highly recommend it.

As a result of these actions, Europeans essentially reset development for most people of African descent on the Mother Continent and in the Americas. The end result is that most diasporic Africans have only begun to truly build generational wealth since the 1800s at the earliest. In America, some might say African Americans never got a chance worth mentioning until segregation ended.

Meanwhile, First World countries have continued to execute many of the same economic exploitation skills they perfected in Africa in other developing regions. This is how they further enrich themselves. This happens at not just the governmental or corporate levels, but the individual levels as well.

This has allowed Whites to accumulate generational wealth for thousands of years, while Black people have only had a few centuries at most to start over. Yes, there are poor Whites in America. However, failing to acquire wealth despite a 2,000-plus-year headstart is a case of slipping through the cracks, just like many Black people who become successful.

Instances of White poverty do not negate the fact that Whites have benefited from political and socio-economic equality since the dawn of America and beyond. This holds true regardless of what role they or their ancestors played in slavery and regardless of where their current politics lie.

To better illustrate this, here are some important facts published this year by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee:

  • Black households earn 59 cents for every dollar earned by White families.
  • The median wealth owned by Black families is just $17,000, compared to $171,000 for Whites.
  • While 73% of Whites people own their homes, only 43% of Black people do.
  • Unemployment rates are twice as high for Black people as for White people.
  • Black families are twice as likely to live in poverty as White families.
  • Despite the end of Jim Crow, continued segregation in communities leads to inferior secondary education for many Black communities.

In fact, the Washington Post recently shared that the wage gap between races is as bad now as it was in 1968. It is especially terrible for Black women, who must also contend with the gender pay gap, while potentially being single mothers. Note that single-family households of any race are primarily headed by women.

So, is it time for reparations? I think if there was ever a moment in history when monetary reparations for slavery could be made, the time is now. But, under this president? Or under Joe who is on a mission to reunite America by trying not to alienate fellow old, White men from his following? I sincerely doubt that will happen.

The Confederacy will yield neither its millions nor its pennies to right the past wrongs it is so proud of. I plan to air my thoughts on how America has allowed itself to be held hostage by its Civil War traitors, but that’s a post for another day.

What do you think? Is it time to pay reparations, and if so, how should it be distributed? Do you really think it will happen in this lifetime — or ever? Air your thoughts freely and respectfully in the comments below.

A NOTE TO RACISTS: The comments section of this website is actively moderated. If you post any racist comments or become combative with my subscribers or other visitors, your comment might not even make it through the system to become published. I also do not hesitate to block IP addresses, so don’t waste your time. You can take your hate speech elsewhere.

Upate: July 15th 2020 — One blue city in one of the most unlikely states decided to pave the way!

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39 thoughts on “Is It Finally Time for Reparations for Slavery?

  1. I have always thought of reparations, but never like this…Nevertheless, Black people in the US (and the world) deserve reparations, however it is. Be it monetarily, psychologically, mentally, whatever ‘ally. Because the truth is, as you’ve stated, we are behind by 2000+ years!

    When people use the success stories of successful Black people against those who are complacent or wukliss as we call it, it shows how blind and harsh they are. Our ancestor’s histories were interrupted and this interruption has resulted in a new psychology that is only found in Black people. This is why Caribbean Psychology (new) and Black Psychology are fields of study that are booming right now. It nuh easy fi succeed as a Black sumaddi!!! No matta weh u deh! Our complacency IS NOT THE SAME as the White man’s!

    Hopefully we can see it in our lifetime.

    1. I think we’re already seeing some small changes but not by much. The sad part is that the changes we do see is from people making way for us especially. You know, that White friend who genuinely wants to see his Black friend succeed and carves out a path for him kinda thing. Left to the market and how it currently works, we get squeezed out …not because we aren’t qualified but because OTHER people won’t own up to their biases.

      That’s one of the reasons I love the profession I’m in. I’m probably one of the highest paid writers for my current biggest client and I worked my way up there and continue to ask for what’s mine. Sometimes we have to get over that feeling like we should be grateful for the “pass” we received and still ask for what we deserve even when we’re already treated well, because we all know who else is going to ask for more even when we don’t…

      1. That is so true…I have felt similarly before, as if I should not feel “greedy”. If we know our worth–and I am not talking about possessing a grandiose sense of self– you deserve whatever you are owed, earned, and should receive.

  2. Reparations won’t close the gap and money is not a panacea. The people who are wealthy will remain so and many who have nothing will still have nothing after a very short time.
    We have all been wronged in the past generations of our people, not just black people. The Irish for example and the Jews and indigenous people have an axe to grind. I think it’s far better to address racial inequality in real terms.
    I am not an American and from a distance I see that race is a topic Americas share more so than many other countries I have been to. It’s often the first desciptor American’s use when referring to a person. Whether they are Black or Hispanic or Caucasian or Native American etc. Putting someones race before any other characteristic of that person seems to exacerbate the problem of racism. I remember a quote from Morgan Freeman who said the way to stop racism is to stop talking about it. I’m not sure that is the answer but there is something in it.

    1. I could be wrong about this, but I think you commented before reading the entire post. I did not propose giving out money for reparations.

      As far as solving racism by ignoring it, if either of our ancestors had chosen that route, I would still be in shackles pouring Massa’s tea at the Great House. In fact, I’ve written an entire post about why I dislike and mistrust people whose response to racism and general social injustice is to bury their heads in the sand:

      We are all entitled to our opinions, but as I’m the one adversely affected by this line of thinking, I believe mine carries more weight. All the best.

      1. I didn’t propose that people bury their heads in the sand and quoting the last part of my comment out of context is hardly fair. You assume that I’m white and that is part of the problem. You see a race. I see a person.

      2. I made my assumption you’re White based on the photo you chose and the fact that only White people ever say to me what you did.

        If you believe seeing race is problematic, you should know I have several articles on why I believe the claim to being colour blind is a lazy and racist approach to racism. I am not asking anyone to ignore my skin colour. I WANT to be seen as BLACK and WEST INDIAN and JAMAICAN. Being colour blind would require me to erase my racial and ethnic identity so that people do, in fact, get to bury their heads in the sand.

        As I’ve said, I am the one adversely affected, so non-Blacks/non-POC don’t have the right to determine how the rest of us should cope. And, if your are Black or POC and disagree, I recommend reading up a little more on your history. I learned my history in a predominantly BLACK country and I can tell you firsthand that it makes all the difference.

        Good day.

      3. By all means oppose my opinion but why do you have to hold me up to public ridicule in your post by presenting me as either ignorant or racist. I’m neither however I don’t know much about your American history or the history of the slave trade for that matter. My long experience of travelling around the world is that people need to get along and race shouldn’t be something that keeps people apart. No offence was intended.

      4. I did not name you in the post. I quoted a comment that came from a completely different article. I also presented you as someone who needs to better educate themselves more on racism and racial realities. I recommend the book highlighted in this article. That’s a good start.

      5. Half my family are indigenous and I understand the reality they face daily when doing simple things like catching a bus or simply being in public. The suspicion they face for simply not being white. And it makes me angry to think my nieces should be treated any differently to anyone else, yet the racism they face is not necessarily from white people. I think much of it is based on fear and stereotypes. Like I said, I’m not familiar with the American racial experience. I have one friend descended from Africa but she is from the Caribbean and loved by those who know her. It is difficult to understand the idea of white privilege not because I think it’s not real but because my life has been mostly struggle from the start. I don’t usually refer to people by their skin color and in that I’m unlikely to change.

      6. Thank you for shedding more light on your personal experience. However, as you say, you don’t understand what it’s like here. I really do recommend that book about how Europe underdeveloped Africa. It was very enlightening for me in school and I’m sure you’ll find it enlightening as well.

        I mean, you really have two choices. You can make recommendations from the sidelines whole saying you don’t understand. Or, you can take additional steps to better understand the reality of others and make more solid recommendations. The choice is yours.

        Thanks for dropping by! I hope our discussion at least provoked new thought!

  3. Alexis, I have thoroughly enjoyed your article and solutions. I recall one person’s solution was to just give $ x000,000 out. I would love to have you at my dinner table at sometime for these great discussions.

    1. Hi there, Warren! I’m glad you took the time to read this long blog post and leave me a note. It will be a long time before we get to share a dinner table as this pandemic goes on, but keep in touch and I’ll see what’s possible. ☺️

  4. Alexis, enjoyed your thought provoking topic. Money does not fix human beings intents. This has gone on so long that we have circled back to what I witnessed in the 60s as a child. The ones who have perpetrated the egregious behavior will never take responsibility. And if so, they would give the donations with backhanded reasons. Then it will create another divide and It will be back to business as usual. There has been pilfering and stealing of peoples lives for ever. You brought up salient points.There are no easy answers to this question.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! ☺️

      I really did grate a few nerves at that dinner table with my questions. People were so pissed at me that I didn’t even bother explaining lol. I just left it as it is. But I don’t think we can deny that while it’s the only way to truly close the gap, it has a lot of complexities we need to tackle.

      I do, however, believe cash is not the answer and will never be the answer. So many people would blow through that and be right back where they started. What we need are more solid programs directly aimed at closing specific gaps and inequalities.

  5. You’ve outlined some of the major problems with reparations as well as most of the reasons for making them. But far from all of them. You scratched the surface.

    Here are a few problems you didn’t address:

    1) How do you decide who’s black? It seems a simple question, but it’s not. A good friend of mine, a drummer I’ve been playing with for years, has African, Cherokee, and white ancestors? Is he black? Does he qualify? If not, why not? And if so, why?

    2) Should Mexican-Americans, other hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans pay for reparations?

    3) And who should pay for reparations? How do you identify who should qualify for them and who should pay for them? All white people, including the poorest? (Again, if not all of my ancestors are white, should I be on the hook?)

    4) Do you pay attention to class or ignore it? Are all white people equally to blame, or only (or mostly) those at the top of the economic heap who benefit from it?

    5) Do you want to make real change that will benefit all, or do you want to set up yet another neo-liberal scheme to set working class people against each other based on race that leaves fundamental inequities unaddressed (as with busing — the perfect neo-liberal scheme that set working class whites and blacks against each other, without addressing the question of grossly unequal school funding)?

    I’ve thought about this a lot, and in my view, the only way reparations make sense is if they’re based on economic class. The only reforms that have been universally popular in this country are those that benefited everyone (notably social security and medicare).

    To me, it seems a question of whether you want to address the fundamental inequities in this society in a way that will stick, or whether you want to posture and feel virtuous for your posturing, and invite a backlash.

    If you would, please let me know your take on all this.

    1. You make some good points, but I actually did ask and address these questions, just in other words. I also gave my take on some of those questions within the article.

      For instance, I talked about the economic class of Whites. I said that failure to succeed despite a 2000-plus-year headstart doesn’t negate the fact that they have benefited from White privilege and had all that time to build family wealth. The same would go for people who no longer present as Black. They have now had privilege on their side. They would need to argue their own case to be included, just as an immigrant, I would need to argue mine.

      The funny thing is that White people always want kudos and credit for having some spice up the line, but are quick to discredit everyone else’s. My great-great-grandfather was an Irish aristocrat living in Jamaica, but as far as anyone’s concerned, I’m a Black descendant of slaves. As someone said in the comments here, it doesn’t matter what “flavour” of Black we are, no one asks before discriminating.

      I also did ask the question about how we involve the Natives when it comes to the land. The Natives have already received some reparations, so it’s not for me to argue their defense right now. As I said to someone else in the comments here, they will never get full payment unless they get their whole country back. But so far, Blacks haven’t received anything. Nevertheless, when we argue about who originally owned land taken from Blacks, do we consider Natives as the rightful owner before that?

      My suggestions for resolving the inequalities specifically address the inequalities, such as no income tax to replace lost income for 400 hundred years here. Better access to housing so Blacks can catch up to Whites. Auditing of the justice system and retraining of its enforcers to reduce inequalities in punishments for the same crime.

      These are not “posturing” requests. There was no mention of receiving cash, so I’m not sure what you mean by “feel virtuous for your posturing”.

  6. you, as usual, provide an interesting post. i really dont know about “reparations.” i really dont know. over the years, many types of people have been discriminated against. and are still being discriminated against. i dont know why humans do this to each other. do we pay for the “sins” of our fathers? if so, how do we select those to be paid for as im sure someone will feel bad if they didnt get any $$ when they felt they should. not only is it about the slaves who were black, but also those from asia and of course native americans. women are still being discriminated against. many our leaders are afraid to speak up and stay the party line. there is talk to bring back affirmative action. you may feel by me saying “i dont really know” as a cop out, but im not sure if giving $$ would change anything. the change which should be done, is to see everyone one the same line. though i like your ideas of ways to pay back, but feel it may only be a band aid and raise some problems with others who have felt they are or were discriminated against. can we as humans change our ways of feeling against others? i really dont know. but, we need to try. we need leadership to step up. so ms alexis, when i say, i dont know, i am being as honest as i can be. so much about our world as americans needs a make over.

    Thanks for this great post!

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Buddy! Any of us who claim to know right now are lying. None of us know. We can only speculate and propose some fixes.

      I agree that other groups have been discriminated against, but not like African Americans. Even as a Jamaican descendant of Jamaican slaves, I can tell you they had it worse here than us. For starters, slavery lasted a generation longer here and we never had Jim Crow in Jamaica. We’re also a Black majority island so we run our own show and became our own gatekeepers to local success.

      We are doctors and attorneys and politicians and scientists and engineers and no one bats an eyelash there at this. African Americans don’t have that here. They’re still making firsts…and some Black American firsts are actually Jamaicans! African Americans are still struggling to find success in an infrastructure Massa created to benefit himself at prejudice to others.

      Many other groups discriminated against have had opportunities to rise based on privileges. Asians might hate many of the stereotypes people have of them, but it gets them jobs. Few people doubt the capability or intelligence of Asians in any field. Jews are or can pass for White and benefit from that privilege. Natives at least began to receive some reparations (began, because they can never be repaid unless America plans to give the whole country back). But so far, Blacks here haven’t really gotten anything.

      I do agree that women need some help as well. You are very right about that. The same goes for the LGBTQ community.

      Ultimately, I advocate for being given fishing tools and equal access to the same lake as the big boys. That’s why I’m not a fan of cash reparations. Cash means nothing if you don’t teach the people who aren’t used to having it how to manage it. They’d be broke again by next week no matter how much you gave them…

  7. Reparations, yes! We just spent how many trillion on a pandemic? 42 million blacks in america, im sure we could swing it. And swing for the fences I hope. And repay all the money and property for Greenwood Oklahoma and the Tulsa race riots that destroyed black wall street. I don’t care what flavor of black you are. Nobody asks that when they discriminate. This is every bit a pandemic, but it seems the masks that are coming out are hoods. White hoods.

    1. “I don’t care what flavor of Black you are. Nobody asks when they discriminate.”

      This is so true! You’re also right about the destruction of the infrastructure Blacks have repeatedly tried to build here. It’s a travesty. That’s why so many people are tired of the empty words. They want action. They want assets.

  8. Wow! I think reparations should be made because Blacks are still treated wrongly. Two things…. the bail systems and the jail system.

    I don’t have answers. Have you watched The 13th? It is excellent showing the true plight. We also started watching How They See Us. Chilling true story. It’s so complicated.

    We need to rewrite the constitution! Or at the least, rewrite the 13th Amendement.

    I think they should get $$$$ from the federal government. But so should Native Americans.

    1. A lot of African Americans I spoke to about this say Natives already got their share and I find this to be a strange way of thinking! All of America is theirs. Until they get it all back, which they won’t, they are owed.

      That said, they’re not the only ones owed. Blacks have suffered and continue to suffer here. I hear the possibility of reparations is becoming a campaign topic, so we’ll see what gets said on the trail this year.

      Thanks for reading!

      1. Yep. The anti-racist teacher I’m following taught us to give reverence and recognition to the original occupants of the land we live on.

      2. Wise teacher! I certainly agree, even though Natives are often quite racist toward us as well.

      3. Is there ever a good reason to be racist? 😂 I think a lot of them are not very exposed and don’t know as much about African slavery and current Black lives as they should. That said, this doesn’t account for all of them. I haven’t personally met any racist ones. I just see a few of them on Twitter.

      4. Yup, that’s what I’ve always loved about Twitter. I remember in college, mom kept asking me …”How do you not watch the news but always know what’s going on before I do?” My answer was always: TWITTER. That was up to 11 years ago and it’s still true today. 😅

      5. That’s good! You’d be surprised what you find out on there, especially from people who were present at the time things took place. Have you seen the videos comparing footage we see on Twitter versus how news agencies edit it?

      6. Close enough! It’s the protests now that I’ve seen them using.

Chat to me nuh!

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