When will Georgia apologize for slavery?

America's Trillion Question: Should Afro-Americans Be Paid "Reparations" For Slavery?

Slavery is believed to be one of the roots of the economic backwardness of blacks. The demand for reparations is now likely to be intensified by the recent unrest. Better schools or a safe neighborhood would be more important than transfers.

"How do we end systemic racism in our society?" Asks former President George W. Bush these days. One should hear the voices of the many people who are hurt and mourned, he writes. For many black civil rights activists, that's not enough. They hope that the latest events will boost a cause that they have championed for decades: The US should pay reparations for the descendants of the slaves. The slaves were not only exploited, but never received any compensation. Instead, for example, in the capital Washington after the civil war, former slave owners were compensated for the "expropriation".

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865. It and decades of discrimination are one reason for the persistent inequality between blacks and whites: the average wealth of a white family, at $ 171,000, is almost exactly ten times that of a black family.

General promises land and a mule

What could such reparation look like in theory? Economists tie in with the order of General William Sherman, who after the American Civil War of 1865 in Georgia and South Carolina allocated confiscated land in lots of 40 acres each to freed slaves. There was also a mule. However, after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his successor, Andrew Johnson, withdrew the directive.

Economists now estimate what this country would be worth today if each of the four million slaves at the time had received such a piece. There are estimates of $ 500 billion to $ 2.5 trillion, or $ 16,000 to $ 80,000 per descendant today. It is assumed that of the 48 million black Americans, around 30 million are descendants of slaves. Another estimate comes to $ 6 to $ 14 trillion if you convert the decades of labor of the slaves into money. In the seven states that cultivated cotton, for example, one third of the income of whites is said to have come from slavery; In 1840, cotton made by slave labor accounted for 59 percent of exports.

Civil rights activists also point to other groups that have been compensated to support their concerns. It mentions Americans of Japanese descent who were wrongly interned in World War II and who were awarded $ 20,000 per capita under President Ronald Reagan. Or America's natives, who were partially compensated for the land grab with land, money, and casino licenses. However, the economic situation of many indigenous people remains deplorable, which shows the limits of such transfers if little else changes.

In a 2019 poll, three-quarters of blacks said the US should pay compensation to descendants of slaves, while only 15 percent of whites share this opinion. This difference is only surprising at first glance. Many white Americans are descended from people who came to the country with later waves of immigration. So their family history has nothing to do indirectly with the exploitation over 250 years.

This could be countered by the fact that the discrimination persisted for a long time after the prohibition of slavery and in some cases continues to this day. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal after the Great Depression, much touted by the left, had elements that disadvantaged blacks. Agricultural and domestic workers were excluded from the old-age and unemployment insurance introduced with the New Deal, which meant that many blacks were initially denied social insurance. Most blacks also benefited from easier access to mortgages for war veterans after the Second World War.

Congress apologized

Even those who are in favor of compensation for moral reasons must admit that it would be extremely difficult to implement. American economist William Darity of Duke University suggests that a claimant must have at least one ancestor who was enslaved. He should also have identified himself as an African American on official documents for at least a decade. Barack Obama, for example, would not be entitled to any compensation because he is the son of a white man and an immigrant from Kenya. His daughters Malia and Sasha, on the other hand, would be eligible because their mother, Michelle Robinson Obama, was descended from slaves. One might wonder, however, whether such payments do not lead to new divisions if a good number of blacks who have no ancestral slaves (or cannot prove them) receive nothing.

So far, initiatives for reparation can be found mainly in churches, universities and individual cities. In 1838, Georgetown University in the capital, founded by Jesuits, had sold 272 slaves to save the college. The university has since apologized for this trade. Descendants of these slaves have easier access to training at this renowned university. In Chicago, on the other hand, a $ 5.5 million fund was set up in 2015 to compensate black Americans who were ill-treated by the police in the 1970s to 1990s. The initiative for this went back to the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

A year ago the Democratic-led House of Representatives held a hearing on reparations. The young intellectual Coleman Hughes had caused a stir. Racism is a bloody stain in US history, said the African American. It was an enormous injustice that the slaves were not directly compensated at the time. However, he fears that if you spend hundreds of billions on dealing with the past, you will be neglecting the present.

In doing so, Hughes recalled that nearly a million black people are in prisons. Seventy percent of black men born in 1975 who haven't graduated from high school have been in prison. Blacks would need no further apology after the House of Representatives and then the Senate issued one in 2008 and 2009 respectively. What matters are better schools, a safe neighborhood or affordable health insurance, he says. And, it has to be emphasized after the death of George Floyd, that includes reforming the judicial system, which today is often biased against blacks.