I am a life long progressive who supports most of the current progressive agenda (i.e. universal health care, a living wage, a recognition of man made global warming as an existential threat, etc.). But there have been times when I am taken aback by a goal that is added to the agenda that I find unrealistic, or, as in the case of monetary reparations to Afro Americans, nonsensical.
Except for avowed racists, I believe most Americans of reason and conscience recognize that the institution of slavery is a blight upon our history and a paradigm of the extremes to which we are capable of evil. To enslave another human is barbaric and without any justification; absolutely none. I will not recount all of the specific barbarities inflicted upon the innocent people abducted from their homelands and forced to toil in a foreign land for the benefit of their enslavers. The conditions under which they toiled and the variety of punishments are horrible to contemplate, and I will not recount them. When there were finally sufficient abolitionists who decided that slavery must not continue in the South, the great war between the states occurred, and at long last slavery was repealed. But, in a sense, it was merely repressed, only to rise again in the post Reconstruction South in the form of Jim Crow laws, chain gangs, voter repression and lynchings, all under the aegis of State’s Rights. There was a time for monetary or cash value reparations, but that time has long since elapsed. Allow me to opine why.
How would monetary reparations be calculated? What bizarre formula could be implemented to make them equitable? If a living Afro American were 80% descended from slaves, should that person be compensated more than someone who is 40%? How much more? Twice as much? Should Afro Americans who are not descended from slaves, but from Blacks who willfully immigrated from Africa generations ago, be included? Should proof of ancestry be required? Should income and status be factored? Should Lebron James be compensated at the same level as an Afro American who works in a factory and earns $50,000 a year?
I could continue with the impediments to equitably parse out reparations, but I think it may not be necessary. Now, I would like to discuss the elephant in the room that seems to get overlooked.
Slavery was not the only original sin in our past, nor was it the first. Prior to, and concurrent with slavery was the displacement and all but total genocide of Native Americans.
Immediately with the arrival of European colonists, there was an impulse to rid the land of the rightful inhabitants who populated the new land for centuries. The indigenous people were deemed savage, and it was God himself who ordained that the newcomers were entitled to occupy and thrive in the New World. And thus began the annihilation of the native people. Euphemisms evolved- Westward Expansion; Manifest Destiny. Keep moving, expanding. Were these native people truly human? And they were dealt with, by biological warfare (deliberately infecting the native people through blankets and other items which were exposed to smallpox and other diseases for which they had no immunity), by starvation (the great buffalo hunts were a deliberate effort to deprive the Plains peoples of their primary food source) and ultimately by outright slaughter- entire villages burned, men women and children summarily murdered.
In the name of both logical consistency and justice, should not reparations be paid to the descendants of Native Americans?
And then there is pragmatism, which has become a foul word for many progressives. I believe the removal of Donald Trump from office is a moral imperative and will only come through the power of the ballot. Many White Men who voted for Obama subsequently reacted to what was perceived as Identity Politics. They felt, rightfully or wrongfully, that the Democratic Party had abandoned them, both culturally and economically, and turned to Trump. They would maintain that they never enslaved anyone, so why should they feel guilt or owing a debt? We need at least some of them back.
Reparations should be payed forward. There are many Afro Americans today who are disproportionately and unjustly incarcerated; who are singled out by law enforcement and sometimes killed for no reason other than driving while Black; who are looked upon with suspicion and denied opportunities.
We should learn from past sins and not repeat them. Then we should take what we have learned, and move forward.