Thursday, June 25, 2009

This is part of what I mean

A day or so ago Renee did a post in response to the resolution passed by the House to apologize for slavery and the injustices of the Jim Crow era. I have to agree with her on this that while an apology sounds great in the soundbytes and headlines unless there is at least some sincere effort to make up for it then the apology is ultimately empty. From there I started to wonder, "How exactly could reparations be calculated and distributed?"

For the last several years I've heard a lot of people say that reparations should be paid to Americans of African decent but other than just a lump some of money I've rarely heard anyone recommend exactly how to figure the calculations and distribution method. I want to take a moment to look at money as a possible method of compensation.

A. Who would get it?
The most direct way of returning what is owed. Let's say the government were to distribute large sums of money. First who would get it? (Because we all know the government isn't just going to hand this money over to anyone claiming ancestry.) Would they include anyone who has even the slightest amount of slave ancestry? That would take some method of verification that would take years (You'd be checking upwards of 200 million people). And then there are the people who have no way to tracking their family lines back that far. Would simply being "black enough" suffice to warrant them a cut or would there be a whole hell of a lot of people being informed that since their heritage could not be verified they do not qualify? And finally would those who descended from slaves that left the country (such as those who made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad) and never returned qualify?

B. Where would it come from?
Money doesn't come from nowhere (well it does but it shouldn't). Once it is sorted out who will receive monetary compensation this compensation has to be funded by something. Many would insist that the only people affected would be those that really didn't earn their money. How the hell do you determine who "really earned" their fortunes (however big or small) and who is riding the coat tails of unearned advantages? I'm going to go ahead and say it, no you can't just blanketly assume that all white people owe their fortunes to unfair advantages and to do so would be a serious slight against those who did work for theirs (yes you can say it would not be as bad as the slave trade and Jim Crow but I don't think "an eye for an eye" is the answer). And remember, this country isn't just black and white. What of the millions of tax payers whose ancestry had absolutely nothing to do with it?

Now I'm not trying to jerk and imply that the difficulty of calculating and distributing repayment is justification for not going through with it but I am saying there will a lot more to it than just writing a few million checks. Shoutout to Renee for bringing this up.