Should African Americans be PAID Reparations?

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Should African Americans be PAID Reparations?

Reparations for slavery has been fiercely discussed in the United States since Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman promised "40 acres and a mule" to 4 million freed slaves in 1865.  In 2000 only 4% of Whites supported monetary compensation to descendants of enslaved people. This year, according to a Reuters poll, only 1 in 10 White Americans support reparations.

So, why is there such a push back against reparations to blacks.  Could it be racism?  After all, other groups have received reparations for the atrocities inflicted on them. 

As a Holocaust survivor, Ascher Teich, who lives in Florida, is eligible for reparations from the German government under the Article II Fund, a program initiated during the reunification of east and west Germany in 1990. It’s one of many components of the German government’s ambitious reparations program.  

In 1951, West Germany committed to paying “moral and material indemnity” for the “unspeakable crimes…committed in the name of the German people” against Jews during World War II.  Over the next 20 years Germany committed to compensating other countries, Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and former forced laborers. While it’s difficult to estimate the exact amount of money, in today’s dollars, that was paid in deutsche mark over all this time, Germany says it has distributed over €77.8 billion (approximately $91.9 billion US dollars).

In addition, the US government has paid reparations before.  In 1988, it paid $ 1.6 billion to Japanese Americans interned during World War II.  The US also compensated Native American tribes about $1.3 billion between 1946 and 1978 for seizing their land, although the program was criticized for its shortcomings.  

Black Americans have called on the US to right the wrongs done to African Americans. Their claims have gone unanswered. But now, the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many others, have sparked a national reckoning around inequality and police violence against Black people. This, in turn, has generated a surge of support for the HR40 bill introduced by Congress in  January 2019 to create a task force for studying the feasibility and mechanisms of reparations.

Some opponents of reparations for Black Americans say that the real issue here are differences between the populations in the capacity to generate wealth.  If you redistribute, you may have a short-term impact, but in the long run, unless the differences in these populations, in their capacity to generate wealth, to start a business, to effectively take risks, to save and accumulate within their families, the underlying structure will push blacks back into a situation of inequality again.

However, supporters for reparation point out that the median wealth of Black families remains less than 1/10 of white families in 2020.  All caused by 400 years of slavery, forcing blacks to live in an apartheid state -- with Jim Crow Laws in the South and actively racist practices such as redlining -- financial institutions denying mortgages to people of color, or providing mortgages to them only in limited areas usually with homes and properties of low value.  Advocates and experts argue that this ongoing systemic practice of discrimination and  racism has placed Black Americans at a disadvantage in everything from obtaining an education to being paid fair wages, purchasing homes, starting businesses and passing down generational wealth -- all components needed to achieve robust economic health.  They state that reparations is the answer to start leveling the playing field for Blacks.

What should reparations look like?  Many advocates are calling for direct payments, others are arguing for tax cuts, while some say it should come in the form of investments in Black communities, business loans, educational scholarship funds or other collective investments.  Still, others say it’s about a debt that is owed, – compensation for labor and damage, so it should come into the form of a direct check to descendants of enslaved people.

So, are you an opponent or an advocate for reparations?  No matter your choice, the debate and dialogue will be on going.  It’s unlikely a federal decision will be made anytime soon.  Just like “40 acres and mule” – chances are it will not come to fruition.



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