Equality and Absolution Cannot be Gained with Reparations

I’m not sure if the battle is still brewing nationwide, but in the Chicago area, politicians—especially those seeking, rather than already holding office—frequently address the idea of providing reparations for the decedents of slaves in an effort to make amends for the suffering of their ancestors. I am absolutely opposed to the idea.

First off, let me say that I do not have even the slightest bit of racial or other prejudice. I make no judgments on people based on their race, religion, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical limitations, age, weight, or ability to never have a bad hair day (well, okay, I might resent that last bunch just a wee little bit). Whether I like you, love you, connect with you, or am repulsed by you, rest assured that it has nothing at all to do with the color of your skin.

Okay, so if my opposition to providing financial reparations to the descendents of slaves does not stem from bigotry, what is the reason? Clearly, the fact that some of our citizens once held human beings as possessions is a deep and shameful scar on our country. It’s a wrong so repugnant that we need to never forget it; we should and will wear the scarlet S of slavery always, its existence a reminder that the life and the country we have today was built on both admirable and evil platforms.

When candidates start talking reparations, though, it gets my goat. First of all, handing someone a check would not repair anything. It couldn’t undo what has been done and it would restore dignity to neither the wrong nor the wronged. If anything, it is an insult to assume that a couple of bucks could compensate for such unspeakable abuse. Tossing money at a bad situation doesn’t clean up anything.

Additionally—and this is where people sometimes get their hackles up—I haven’t, nor have any people currently living, held a slave, so the debt isn’t ours to pay. Now hear me out on this one, please. I don’t believe that any of us have the right or the obligation to take either the credit or the blame for anyone else’s life. This applies even to those living right now, let alone those who are long gone. If my spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors are wonderful, kind, responsible people, the accolades are theirs, not mine. Equally, if they turn out to be complete jackasses, the blame lies with them. My sins are mine, but yours belong to you.

Finally, I believe that providing financial reparations to current citizens who are descended from slaves would open the floodgates for additional groups requesting similar payments, and to be quite frank, we simply couldn’t afford that. While I doubt that many would argue that any other single group has suffered as much at the hands of others as slaves, there is no question that oppression was not limited to only them. Immigrants from all around the world have been ostracized and oppressed. Members of various religious groups have and continue to suffer the wrongs of intolerance, and women in this country, while having come a long way baby, are still not on an equal footing with men.

I am descended from women, how about you? Does this mean that we should expect to get a payment in the mail as a form of apology for how our great-grandmothers were treated? And even if we did, would that check somehow restore her right to vote, to hold the same job as her husband, to speak her mind?

Of course not. The best that we can do to right some of the wrongs of the past is to learn from them. My guess is that if we were somehow able to sit down with a council of past slaves and ask them what we could do, as a people, to gain absolution, they wouldn’t ask for money. What they would want, I believe, is for their descendents to be treated fairly, equally, justly. For them to be afforded the same rights and responsibilities as their paler brothers and sisters. For simple human decency.

And that is exactly what we should be doing. What we should have been doing all along. We cannot change the past, but we are writing history right now, and it’s up to us how we do it.


  1. Total agreement here. There aren't any former slaves alive nor are there any former slave owners. One branch of my family tree was run out of Germany in the late 1600s. Does that mean I should go to Germany and sue for reparations? Nope, I don't think so! I've done some research on my family tree and haven't found slave owners among my tree's branches. I know that there may have been some but if there isn't, why should the money I've paid in taxes be squandered thusly? Our government is so far into debt that I doubt we can see our way clear for many generations. Why throw away money on a situation that has NO merit? Thanks for bringing this topic up.

  2. @Sharon Marie: We have so many current problems in this country that demand our attention. So many. We need to address what is right before us--security, poverty, education, health care, infrastructure...the list goes on and on. Taking care of the here and now--truly taking care of it--would provide better for the descendants of slaves and the descendants of everyone else than any sort of one-time reparation payment possibly could.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. :O)

  3. This was an excellent post with some good points; however, I'm still on the fence with this issue. We are a product of our ancestors and the harm of slavery is still affecting the living relatives today. During the time of slavery, children were separated from their parents. This treatment and being told they were nothing digs at the self-esteem of slaves; therefore, it was tougher to raise their children as confident adults. Any time someone has emotional problems, one can go back and find at least three generations of disfunction. Providing reparations to ancestors of slaves doesn't repair the damage, but I see it as a start in the right direction. On the other side, you made some excellent points about other groups that have been harmed. I can certainly see both sides of the argument.


  4. Just another example of politicians trying to find a button issue to push that will divide us and keep us against each other instead of looking at the leadership we elect!

  5. This is so perfect and I couldn't agree with you more! I am voting for you to be elected President on the next election day.
    Also, I am glad that you still love me even though I'm fat and white. I'm sorry about the hair though and I will try to have more bad hair days in the future.

  6. Oh and most of my ancestors were in Ireland until well after slavery was abolished and a good portion of the ones that weren't were Native American and we all know they had their fair share of suffering and abuse at the hands of the Government and white men in General. Does that give me the right to get a check too? How would they decide who should pay and who should get a check? It just wouldn't work and shouldn't even be considered. If there is one thing that comes across very strongly when stories are written or told about former slaves, it is how strong willed and proud they were.What they all wanted was freedom and equality. No amount of money in the world could make up for what they endured.

  7. Absolute total agreement-this was one of the dumbest things ever proposed (first by Bill Clinton).

    Even if we decide that it is just to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves, how is it fair that I am taxed to support this? My ancestors were in Ireland and Italy while slavery was going on.

    Slavery was a black mark (no pun intended) on our history, and I applaud Lincoln in the nineteenth and the civil rights activists of the twentieth centuries for what they accomplished.

    But it's time to let go of the past and live.

    Plus you make a very good financial point. America has crapped (excuse the term) on every wave of immigrants that came here. We couldn't PRINT enough money!


  8. Once again, I could not agree more. Both with your philosophy and your phrasing. Money is not the answer to this nor is it the answer to any social problem. Slavery was wrong, but in it's day it was considered to be the norm. We have grown, thank you God for that. We are, however, still growing. Complete equality and a color blind society is the goal. I think I have obtained that, but there is always room for improvement.
    Excellent article and when you run, you got my vote!

  9. I posted before reading other comments-looks like Dances With Vodka already covered all of my thoughts.

    And she's got vodka. And can dance.


  10. Excellent! I agree with all of your points. Well said my friend.

  11. First of all, beautiful blog!!!!

    Second, I love this post. There are, as Dances with Vodka so eloquently said, many of us in this country currently whose ancesters were not here when slavery was a part of the fabric of this country... not only that, but how far back are we planning on going? Indentured servants were also slaves of a sort, though they could buy their freedom back after a certain amount of time... Slaves were not only a certain race or creed,either... Racial inequaltiy is terrible, but socio-economic inequality is just as rampant and repugnant.

    Also, and here's where the thing galls me... who does anyone think is going to be paying the check? The taxpayers... which includes decendants of slaves as well as anyone else working and paying into the system. But besides all of that - I'm with you. Even if you had irrefutable proof that I was a direct decendant of a slave owner - how can you hold me accountable for that ancestor's actions? You can't. Not any more than I should get accolades for their sparkling acheivements.

  12. @Joyce: I understand your viewpoint. I think that rather than issuing funds directly to families, we would do them far more good to provide a healthy environment with solid educational opportunities, good health care, and an atmosphere of equality and respect.

    Thank you for chiming in--I appreciate your input!

    @Gary: What is it they say? "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullsh*t." I think that applies well here. ;O)

    @DWV: You are so insightful. And I adore you, even though your hair always looks fabulous.

    @Larry: You and I tend to see the world in much the same way, so of course I think that you're brilliant. ;O)

    Oh, and DWV not only has vodka and can dance, she's gorgeous and brilliant, too.

    @Jo: Thank you. Gee, for a person who has no use for politics or politicians, I'm excited to find that I could get two votes!

    @Tai: Thank you, ma'am! :O)

    @Merry: Yes, yes, and yes. I'm plum tired of paying for stuff I don't approve of while a lot of the stuff I think matters most goes by the wayside.

  13. Thanks for writing about this, as I was unaware that politicians in Chicago are pushing this issue....I thought that the topic or suggestion of reparations was yesterday's news (metaphorically speaking).

    I do not believe that many of the politicians, if not all, are truly interested in providing reparations for the betterment of society or to try and make amends for horrors of the past.

    Instead, I believe that the politicians who are in support of it are only interested in receiving votes or being popular among the citizens in their state or county, etc. when they need something such as a re-election or support from citizens on any other legislation or things that they want to put into place.

    As a minority woman who can trace her family directly to those who enslaved her ancestors, thanks to knowing her great-grandmother and to her relative's efforts of keeping on top of the history of our particular family, I can understand the anger and quest for some type of justice for slavery.

    However, I personally do not agree with the distribution of reparations in this day and age with all that is going on in our country and around the world in 2011.

    I agree with you that just writing a check won't fix problems or undo what has been done years ago. This can be likened to the scenes on TV and in movies where someone gets attacked, raped, murdered, betrayed, wrongfully fired from a job or something and the perpetrator or his/her lawyer tries to pay that person off, knowing good and well that money doesn't justify their actions.

    I also agree with the "floodgates" point you made. If it starts with slavery, where does it stop?

    Very thoughtful post!

    The Madlab Post

  14. I didn't know that 'reparations' was an issue at all, let alone something that's being debated. You know I love a good debate, but I've no argument against anything you've said.

  15. I couldn't agree with you more. My mother's cousin traced my maternal geneology back 11 generations to 1680 when my ancestor first came to this country from England. I have read each and every entry and by the looks of things, my family has been "poor white trash" the entire time and never owned slaves...at least in that line. You are right, it will be a slippery slope, but if it happens, I want reparations for all the blond jokes that were told in the 80's!

  16. @Nicole: Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! I agree with you that the politicians are likely approaching the topic of reparations solely to win votes and have no real desire to attempt such an undertaking.

    I'd be thrilled if people simply started treating one another with kindness and respect--we could, in no time at all--literally change the world with that one simple action.

    @Jay: :O)

    @Cyndi: Oh, and there were TONS of them...you'd be owed a bundle. ;O)

  17. I so agree with you. I find bigotry and racism to be one of the most repugnant human traits around, but 1) money can't fix the stupidity of the past, 2) there are no survivors today of yesterday's atrocities (as there were and are of the Japanese internments) and 3) if we pay reparations to descendants of former slaves, we'll have to for descendants of the Chinese who were brought to work the railroad, Native Americans who STILL suffer because of our arrogance and untold others who were victimized by a Eurocentric societal system. We simply can't afford to fix the past. We can only improve the future.

  18. @SJerZGirl: You are absolutely right. I do hope that as a society, we have learned. I know that we've made progress, but we definitely have a long way to go.


I'd love to hear what you think. Whether you're reading something that was written two minutes or two years ago, please chime in!