The issue of reparations for slavery is a divisive one in America. While a 2002 opinion poll found that 67 percent of African-Americans supported monetary reparations, only 4 percent of whites agreed. If whites were to compensate African-Americans for their centuries of servitude, how much would it cost? According to Harper’s Magazine, the United States owes African-Americans over $100 trillion in reparations, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865, with a compounded interest of 6%.
Is there precedent for such an action? Since 1951, Germany has paid an estimated $25 billion in reparations to Israeli Holocaust survivors.
But let's not kid ourselves into thinking the United States will follow Germany's lead. Whites here are much more comfortable with the idea of spending $1.3 trillion to torture and kill dark-skinned people in Iraq than they are with using that money to recompense the descendants of the slaves who helped build our nation.
Admittedly, a $100 trillion payoff in a country with a GDP of $14.2 trillion is nigh impossible. At the very least, an apology would be nice. But even that proved too much to bear for the 70 percent of whites who opposed last year's formal apology for slavery.
Affirmative Action? This is yet another sore spot for whites, 74% of whom oppose giving some racial groups preference for private sector jobs to increase diversity.
Whites support the status quo and no wonder, it has been very good for them these last 500 years.
But here is the way I view the situation: life is like the game of Monopoly. African-Americans were not even allowed to play until 1865 and then for the next hundred years whites let them roll the dice but not collect their full $200 for passing Go or inherit the money in the middle for landing on Free Parking. Today African-Americans are free to buy anything they wish; only they are unable to afford much given whites 400 year head start.
The effects of slavery and Jim Crow reverberate today in the disparity between white and black wealth. According to the Consumer Federation of America, median household wealth among blacks is less than a quarter of that of whites and eighty percent of African-American children begin their adult lives with no assets whatsoever. But according to Melvin Oliver, co-author of Black Wealth/White Wealth, "That's not the case for white kids. If they don't have financial resources in hand, they have access to them through their families. Most black kids don't have that available to them."
Oliver goes on to add that "as much as 80 percent of the wealth people accumulate over the course of their lifetimes actually begins as a gift from a relative. That gift can come in the form of a down payment on a first home, a college education, or an inheritance from a parent or grandparent."
You can see this disparity in action when comparing the current occupant of the Oval Office with the prior tenant. Bush used his familial connections to avert financial ruin, then buy the Texas Rangers and finally win the Presidency with a little help from his baby brother. Obama on the other hand had to run a nearly flawless campaign against a clearly overmatched and seemingly senile opponent to win last year's election.
And for those who think racism is no longer relevant, look at the compromises Obama had to make to win the presidency such as speaking out against reparations and throwing his own pastor the Reverand Jeremiah Wright under the bus. The compromises continue in the Obama cabinet, which has plenty of room for white mediocrities such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Judging by the racial makeup of the cabinet, there is only one fellow African-American, Attorney General Eric Holder, competent enough to advise our President.
And we call this progress? It sounds like more of the same white mediocrities in high places to me.
If we can afford to spend nearly a trillion dollars bailing out the predominantly white bankers whose greed got us into this recession, what's another trillion to pay back the people who helped build this country through the blood and sweat of their forced labor?
To those who complain that their ancestors did not personally own slaves, I say suck it up.This country would be in more disarray that it is already if we all personally decided where our tax dollars went. Seventeen states fund abortions for poor women. What about all the pro-life people in those states who must fund a procedure they consider murder? And what about the Amish, Quakers and other pacifists currently paying for the wars of the Middle East with their tax money?
To those who contend the paying out of reparations is too complicated, I offer up the Germans who figured out a way to do it. If the United States of America can put a man on the moon, we can surely figure out a fair way to divvy up reparations.