As painful as this subject is for many people who are intimately involved with the injustices extant today I enjoy engaging in the discussion and I thank you for your willingness to accept my contribution, if it is. I am cogent of the pain associated with this and respectful of it.
I’m happy you’re willing to discuss this. I am not expecting us to agree—I suspect we start from radically different assumptions—but I more than welcome the discussion.
I offer these rebuttals to your arguments because I believe your reasoning to be inconsistent and flawed.
Let me number your paragraphs for reference beginning with “I shared the article..” as number one. In this paragraph you wrestle with the issue of who shall pay reparations after having enumerated various positions above that.
Actually, I don’t wrestle with the issue of WHO should pay reparations at all. I don’t touch on the who. I write in the passive voice for a reason. What I say is: reparations must be paid. The point of this paragraph is to discuss a fundamental principle: that reparation (the concept, without the “s”) for the wrong of slavery must (and, I believe, will) be paid. It’s you who is worried about the who.
But since you ask the following questions, let me answer.
Presumably you would offer a pass to those whose intellectual abilities are insufficient to understand the issue.
No, I wouldn’t. It isn’t an issue that requires understanding. No one who inhabits the societies (economies) that benefitted from the institution of transatlantic chattel slavery is exempt. It’s a question of justice, of balance, or righting scales; it’s not a question of individual differences.
A Down syndrome sufferer say, may be exempt from making reparation?
How about a Latina mother of three living on food stamps?
In other words I suggest you may insist on payment of reparations based on the means of the individual.
No. Not talking about the individuals.
Further, you may offer a pass to people of African-American descent;
how could a slave descendant be culpable?
You’d be surprised. The institution was far more complex than you’re imagining. A number of people of African descent owned slaves—for various reasons, not all of them benign. So, people of African descent are not exempt.
And to whom would she make reparation? Herself? The choosing of who must pay looks a lot like racism.
My stance is based on a simple principle. Capital was raised to fuel the foundations of modern western society on the backs of people who were forced to work in inhumane conditions for no pay. That bill has come due, and must be paid. I don’t care who pays it. The societies who benefitted need to even the keel. For me, how the reparations are paid doesn’t have much to do with race. It has to do with capital, with history, with society. Race isn’t incidental; but neither is it exculpatory. Who pays isn’t the point. That payment is made—reparation, restitution, restoration—is what matters.
As for the democracy point. Democracy is a system of making decisions, not tied to policy itself. Plato’s Republic was a democracy yet it endorsed slave-ownership de facto. Aristotle owned slaves and thought it was good for them. He promoted democracy.
I think you miss my democracy point, or oversimplify it. By referring to the Greek form of “democracy” you (deliberately?) overlook the modern iteration of that idea, which would probably be pretty unrecognizable to the ancient Greeks. European thinkers of the so-called “Enlightenment” pondered and expanded upon the Greeks’ idea of government by the people, because they defined “people” by their humanity rather than by their ownership of property. The world we inhabit understands “democracy” very differently from the ancient world, and starts from the principle that all humans are equal, or should be.
History is full of similar examples. Democracy does not rise or fail because of slave ownership.
No; but slave ownership fell because of democracy.
If that is correct, then the job has only half been done. If we accept that the people who were enslaved, or whose ancestors were, were forced to work without compensation, and that economies grew and thrived upon that forced unwaged labour; and we accept that those people are human; and we accept that they are equal and therefore deserve to be paid for their labour (Marx, Smith, Hobbes), then there is a second shoe that still has to drop.
But of course you may believe that there was nothing wrong with slavery in its time—that the people who were enslaved were in actuality lesser beings who ultimately benefitted from their enslavement. That’s a position that has been popular in its day; but it’s a position that is the very definition of racist. It assumes that one group of people is inherently superior to another group of people, and whatever is done to the second, subordinate group is well done, because the perpetrator of what is done are, well, superior by nature.
You can define humanity and rights independently.
Yes, you can. But nothing that I’ve argued suggests that you should.
The argument against reparations is not itself racist. It turns largely on the issue of to whom would you pay reparations.
One argument against reparations does, yes.
The qualification of the recipients is the problem.
Why? What “qualification” is required?
There are no pure blood descendants of slaves left living.
First of all, how on earth can you know? I happen to live in a nation where it is entirely possible that there are some people who are exclusively descended from enslaved Africans. The likelihood is higher in other parts of our region. Second of all, what does “pure blood” even mean? This idea of “purity” invokes the unfortunate language of racial superiority. And it’s irrelevant anyway in the context of chattel slavery where you were born a slave, no matter what your parentage, if you were born to or by a slave.
The idea you (and others propose) that if you wait long enough the problem will go away and culpability will go with it. I don’t buy it. The culpability remains in the very lands inhabited, the very wealth exhibited, in the banks, the businesses, the schools, the capitals, the countries, the empires built on centuries of the unwaged labour of people who are now dead. It’s an old trick, but it doesn’t work. The guilt doesn’t go away with time. In fact, it may well grow. The wound, the sin, may well fester—but that’s speculation, so I’ll leave it right there.
What % of slave blood must you have to qualify? Is 2% enough? How about 10% or 33%? Where will you draw the line? Who would decide this? How about people of colour who never experienced slavery, nor did their ancestors? Or would you dole out partial payments based on the amount of African DNA in you? Btw, we all have African DNA in us. The whole thing gets arbitrary very quickly.
There is no arbitrariness in my position. Once again, you’re personalizing an issue that is beyond individuals, beyond “qualification”. A wrong was committed against the idea of humanity itself. The fundamental difference between transatlantic slavery and ancient slavery lay in three elements: the permanent and irreversible removal of the enslaved from their personhood, identity, culture, and lands; the permanent and legal definition of human beings as non-human chattel; and the creation of an entire system—the hierarchical system of race—to justify the first two actions. This rupture of the concept of a shared humanity among all people—which was necessary for slavery to be practiced by the well-meaning and the good—is the wrong of which I speak. REPARATION is required for the repairing of that rupture. I believe that it’s necessary for humanity as a whole to move on. Imagining that I am making room in my discussion for individuals is an error. I am not making any such room at all.
The very idea of enforcing reparations is racist. You are going to be looking for white people to make them pay. The whole concept is little more than retribution and blaming and yes it will be divisive, rather than healing.
I answered this objection above. You have concluded that my stance is racist. It’s not. It may be territorial; most of the wealth that was generated by the institution of slavery went from certain parts of the world to others. The conduits for that wealth extraction are still at work today. For me, then, reparation would involve sending wealth back across those conduits. Redistributive, not racist.
In paragraph two, “Aha, you say..” you write. “Our entire reality is racist.” You are correct. Race is one of the factors of selection in evolution. Physically it is the melanin thing that enables people of colour to thrive in tropical climates where they evolved. As civilized humans, we regard it now as immoral to judge based on skin colour.
Here, here is where we differ absolutely fundamentally. The position you put forward—that “race is one of the factors of selection in evolution”—is fiction. It is part of that fiction that emerged in Europe in the 19th century to help buttress the empires and justify (again for the well-meaning) the conquest and rape of the globe. The idea of “race” as you present it, as something akin to species and genuses etc, is nothing more than a construct. (This was evident the very moment a so-called “mulatto”, named after the barren mule, gave birth…) Those bundles of characteristics (which vary from society to society and from era to era) which we assume to be defining measures that can help us tell one group of people from another, which we assume to be linked one to another by culture, aptitude, inclination and morality—these are what is arbitrary. They are self-referential and self-defining, but they do not exist scientifically. Race is a fiction; racism—the creation of arguments, philosophies, separations, policies, structures and laws based on “race”—is real. And I link this creation of separations, policies and structures to the institution of slavery for which I expect reparation will ultimately be given.
That is not wrong, but it just shows how arbitrary morality is, hopefully we can work around it with education. I have lived in RSA under apartheid btw, I have dated black women, invited a black teammate to be my roommate, and regard myself as non-racist. I have traveled to 38 countries including the Bahamas and I think I have gained some perspective on this. (That is just about me, not about the issue or your argument.)
I accept that all of the above is about you. But if you read my comment above, it is not the race of these people that matters; it is racism, that thing that expects any of these people to be essentially different from you. I don’t (=try not to) expect external appearance to be a predictor of anything that an individual can achieve, do, say, or think. Racism, however, does.
Paragraph five. The crime was not monetary. There is no such thing. The crime was abduction, imprisonment, transport across international boundaries, and state lines for purposes of sex, and so on.
The main “so on” that you are collapsing is profit. Chattel slavery rested upon the redefinition of human beings as things—things without names, histories, families or agency. They were things to be owned, bought, sold, paid for. They were defined and insured as “cargo”. They were abducted not for the purposes of sex (that was an added benefit) but for the purposes of profit. They were traded by Africans at African ports for money and material goods. They were transported as cargo. They were sold by Europeans at American ports for money and material goods. The crime was most certainly monetary.
Therefore it is not so obvious that reparations should be monetary, though they usually are for ease of administration. You involve the whole human race in this, but ignore the entire HISTORY of the human race. If you deny the concept of a statute of limitations on this, you must go back millennia, even to the ancient Greeks.
I deny the concept of a statute of limitations for two reasons. One, because the evil that was sown with the enslavement of human beings and the creation of the concept of “race” and the system of racism to justify that enslavement persists today. So the crime against humanity is still being committed. In my perspective, it’s when reparation begins that the crime will eventually end. Only then might any concept of a statute of limitations begin. And two, because the economic imbalance of the world remains as it was created by slavery. For me, reparation is the levelling of that field. It is a redistribution of the wealth. It is a recognition of what was stolen, and the repayment of it. Simple, and not arbitrary at all. The crime persists because the wealth remains stolen. Return the wealth, then let’s talk about statutes and limitations.
To even think of unraveling the racial heritage of everybody involved is ridiculous, of course. But it means i think, that you mean to restrict this just to the slavery of the Americas since Columbus. Purely arbitrary, therefore many of your arguments lose force. But I am not dismissing the wrong done to these people, any more than I deny the wrong to Jews done by the Third Reich, but I do not endorse the idea of the whole world making reparations to the survivors of the holocaust, and their descendants, paid by non-Jews who were born even in this century, which is an argument of the same sort you seem to be making for the slavery issue.
You are at least consistent here. I think I’m consistent on the opposite side of the argument. My stance is not personal in any way.
Legally, there is the issue of actual loss. How can you determine the amount of actual loss …
Legality is simply a matter of the powerful sitting down to define the world in their favour and writing laws to make it so. Thus legally what is defined as “loss” is malleable.
But. Do you deny that great wealth was generated from the exploitation of the enslaved? And do you deny that this wealth remains concentrated in the countries that established and controlled the trade in human beings? There may be no legal definition of “loss” today; but that does not mean that there is no moral definition. And where there is a moral defition of loss, then legality may well catch up in the generations to come.
As I observed in my earlier answer and at the top of this one, you and I are approaching this discussion from fundamentally different premises. For that reason I’ve chosen not to engage further in the specific objections you raise, because I think I covered the fact that I’m not concerned with individuals or variables above. I’m concerned with a principle. So if you don’t mind, I’ll skip forward to the point in your discussion where you discuss the principle itself, even though you slide right back into the consideration of individuals.
Reparation simply perpetuates the atrocities of racial disharmony and solves nothing.
This is where it’s obvious that you and I start from fundamentally different premises. For you to continue to link reparation with race and racism when I have expressly said that it is not about race, both in my original article and in my rebuttals since, suggests that perhaps your argument does not start from the premise that human beings are equal. In your argument there may be some justification for what I will continue to refer to as the crime against humanity: the abduction and dehumanization of millions of people from their ancestral lands and forcing them to become the working property of other people to generate profit and capital and power. I have come across the argument that suggests that without the institution of slavery, Africans would never have been introduced to (fill in the blank) education/ medicine/ Christianity/ roads/ clothes/ civilization. It’s an argument firmly rooted in the white man’s burden version of white supremacy, but it is an argument.
The fact that you continue to think of reparation as a thing as opposed to a principle suggests that you missed the point of my essay. To regard the demand for justice as a “vendetta” suggests that you may not really imagine that much harm was done at all, because the concept of “vendetta” raises ideas of spite, of incontinence, of irrational violence, not of justice. It’s a word that is often used to describe applications of justice that differ from one’s own. It doesn’t trivialize the past; rather, it undercuts the wrong that was done and devalues it.