When talk of reparations comes up, there are lots of reasons many white people are opposed to the idea.
1. There Is No Single Group Clearly Responsible For The Crime Of Slavery
2. There Is No One Group That Benefitted Exclusively From Its Fruits
3. Only A Tiny Minority Of White Americans Ever Owned Slaves, And Others Gave Their Lives To Free Them
4. America Today Is A Multi-Ethnic Nation, and Most Americans Have No Connection (Direct Or Indirect) To Slavery
5. The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury
6. The Reparations Argument Is Based On The Unfounded Claim That All African-American Descendants of Slaves Suffer From The Economic Consequences Of Slavery And Discrimination
7. The Reparations Claim Is One More Attempt To Turn African-Americans Into Victims. It Sends A Damaging Message To The African-American Community.
8. Reparations To African Americans Have Already Been Paid
9. What About The Debt Blacks Owe To America?
10. The Reparations Claim Is A Separatist Idea That Sets African-Americans Against The Nation That Gave Them Freedom.
This particular list comes from an ad published by David Horowitz in several college newspapers in 2001. It was titled, “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery are a Bad Idea and Racist, Too!”
There are other reasons often cited which summed up come down to:
- Nobody currently alive enslaved people.
- Black people have already received reparations through affirmative action.
- I am not responsible.
- Black people don’t deserve anything.
I’ve written about reparations previously, and I believe the government owes reparations for its actions throughout history. I’m not here to defend reparations for the descendants of the enslaved today. I’m writing about the multiple instances when white people got reparations for their loss of slave labor. None of the reasons listed above applied then, so why do they apply to Black people?
This conversation isn’t limited to America. The first instance where a Black nation won its freedom from a colonizer was Haiti’s independence from France. Though Haiti declared itself free in 1804, France didn’t recognize Haiti’s independence for two decades. In 1825, King Charles X agreed to acknowledge Haiti only if Haiti compensated France and the absentee owners of enslaved people for their property loss. France demanded 150 million francs, more than ten times Haiti’s annual revenue.
They could make such a demand because the world’s white nations, including America, placed an embargo on Haitian goods. Haiti had to agree to France’s extortion; to pay the ransom, they had to borrow money from two French banks at substantial interest, adding insult to injury. French aristocrats lived in luxury for doing nothing, while Haiti became the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. The United States didn’t recognize Haiti as a nation until 1862. France stopped collecting payments in 1947 though everyone that once owned slaves was long deceased. Most of the loan debt was forgiven in 2010; Haiti had paid out the equivalent of $21 billion because the world couldn’t stand the thought of Black people winning their freedom.
When Britain abolished slavery in 1833, it paid out millions in reparations. Not to those who were enslaved but to those who enslaved them. Over 47,000 British citizens received compensation for their losses following 500 years of participating in the slave trade. Not one enslaved person got a pound sterling for their labor and suffering. White people received reparations while Black people got none. Individual slave owners got reparations in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and much of South America. That’s the way of the world.
After the abolition of slavery, Britain paid millions in compensation — but every penny of it went to slave owners, and nothing to those they enslaved. We must stop overlooking the brutality of British history. -Kris Manjapra
The United States paid out reparations on more than one occasion though you would have missed it in the history books. When Abraham Lincoln ended enslavement in the District of Columbia in 1862, he eased the blow for slaveholders by paying them $300 per enslaved person for their loss. He also paid $100 each to each enslaved person if they agreed to leave the country. Black people who remained in the country they helped build for free got nothing. Did I mention they had to agree to leave permanently? Lincoln had a plan to send all enslaved people away once they got their freedom but couldn’t convince Fredrick Douglas and other Black leaders to support him.
It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.
He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. — Frederick Douglass
You may have heard reference to “40 acres and a mule?” That came from General William T. Sherman’s Field Order 15 in 1865, intended to redistribute confiscated Southern land to freedmen in 40-acre plots. Most people think of Field Order 15 as an unfulfilled promise, but Sherman did distribute land to Black people in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The order never included a mule though the army did lend mules to the freedmen in some cases. The formerly enslaved planted crops and made improvements to the land. Only to see President Andrew Johnson revoke the order and return the land to its original owners. Many of those who owned land for less than a year fell victim to provisions of the Black Codes which forced them back to work for the same people that got what for a brief time was their land.
Andrew Johnson, as President, made “Confederate resettlement” a priority which was reparations by another name. White Southerners had but to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States and “proof of property” to recover land, including some they never owned in the first place. A lot of federal money went to the South after the Civil War. Schools and roads were built, the railroads were restored. While some schools were intended to serve the freedmen, most funds went to serve white institutions and business interests. That should be considered reparations as well. America has found dozens of ways to inequitably support white people, whether the tax code, subsidies for farmers, small business loans, education loans, grants, housing, and employment policies. FHA and VA loans were almost exclusively available to white people for decades until the FAir Housing Act of 1968. White Americans have received reparations since the founding of the country.
Given the benefits white people have gotten, maybe it’s worth another look at why some think Black people aren’t entitled to them? Ta-Nehisi Coates got the ball rolling with his famous article in the Atlantic, The Case for Reparations,” in 2014. I think he pretty well debunks the excuses against providing reparations to those who deserved them most. White people have already gotten theirs.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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