Reparation has become a thorny issue; can it be explored rationally without immediately jumping to one side or the other? Let’s begin with a simple definition—reparation: making amends for a wrong, by money or otherwise helping (offering assistance). The question being asked in America: ‘Are members of the black race entitled to compensation for the injustice of slavery’?
Before continuing, I take a brief side trip in history. For eons slavery was a norm for society, usually a rather local issue. To quote the International Slavery Museum: “For more than 2000 years people in many different parts of the world forced their fellow humans into slavery.”
The character of slavery changed as capitalism emerged in Northern Europe in the 16thCentury; it gave rise to the institutionalization of slavery. Rather than remeining local, vast numbers of people were captured, gathered and shipped far away.
The majority of those enslaved were from central and western Africa where slavery was historically widespread. The captives were sold to Western European slave traders and shipped to America under horrible conditions and then offloaded and sold at auction. This became known as ‘the transatlantic slave trade.’ It went on from the 1600’s to the 1900’s. Only in the 1800’s in Europe and America did it come into question as a moral and political issue.
Denmark was the first nation to ban the import of slaves in 1792, becoming law in 1807. The French colonies abolished slavery in 1848 and in the 1860’s the issue of slavery brought America to the bloody Civil War. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.
The slaves were technically freed, but the injustice caused by slavery continued through decades of segregation and the resulting social inequality has never been directly addressed. The issue of reparation asks that we as a nation address it. Some point to Holocaust survivors being financially compensated—but that is a different issue, those are individuals who experienced direct suffering whereas there are no longer people alive who experienced direct suffering from slavery. Yet, just looking around you will see it is indisputable that blacks are still suffering societal injustice. Some individuals have succeeded against the odds, but the majority has not.
It does not make sense nor is it reasonable to consider direct financial payment to descendants of slaves from several generations ago, but it would make sense to compensate for the societal injustice with a societal response by providing free education or skills training to any low income black family who requests it.
This is a call for a consciousness change to recognize the decades long injustice and offer assistance—reparation—for the wrong that had been done.