Should blacks be paid reparations for slavery?

If you ask someone that question, I bet the chances are that they will answer with something like:

"Whites today didn't commit slavery, so why should they be punished?" or "Blacks today aren't slaves, so why should they be rewarded?".

The problem with those comments is that they have a perception problem. What they should be asking themselves is this:

"If blacks weren't slaves, how would the financial position of blacks and non-blacks differ today?"

It's clear that slavery resulted in white families having more income than they otherwise would (income that they could pass through the generations through inheritance) and resulted in black families having less income (than they otherwise would) passed through inheritance. Hence, white families are richer, and black families poorer, than they otherwise would be had slavery not occurred.

Hence, using that criteria alone, you could strongly argue that it would be the right thing for whites to pay reparations.

However, you could argue that affirmative action programs that have lasted for 40+ years acted as a form of reparation. This would be one of the strongest arguments against further reparations being paid.  However, I have no idea whether reparations through affirmative action are enough to offset the financial damage done through slavery (however, I feel it's plausible that affirmative action resulted in a gain to blacks above and beyond any concurrent damage done by discrimination in hiring, etc.)  There is no doubt that whites and asians have been discriminated against heavily in academia and the workforce as a result of affirmative action programs.

But what if affirmative action wasn't enough of a reparation to compensate for slavery? What factors should be considered when trying to calculate how to go about further reparations?

Try to estimate which blacks actually have slaves as ancestors, and which whites (or other races) had slave owners as ancestors. Only they should be impacted

And since the mode of damage was conducted by financial inheritance, it's families that should be concentrated on.  What I mean is that you'd need to trace or estimate which families were burdened or benefited by slavery, and to trace the impact.  For example, if a slave family was poorer due to slavery, and if that family had two sons, then those two sons should be paid a sum of money, not the entire families of those two sons (not the sons' sisters and brothers, etc.)  And since blacks have a higher birth rate than whites, if it was determine that whites paid, say $50 per white in reparations, the amount blacks received in compensation would be less than $50 per black.

Another important factor is the impact of African slave traders. After all, they profited by selling their countrymen to Americans.  Their ancestors should pay reparations too.

And perhaps the most important consideration is this: Even if it's fair to pay reparations, would the benefits of doing so (fairness) outweigh the costs of doing so? What if other groups start making claims for grievances? What if women or natives or handicapped or homosexuals start asking for reparations? What if it results in such a significant shift in transfer of wealth that it results in rich businesses firing some workers or changing their spending habits?  You can easily see how it might not be a good idea to proceed with reparations.

At one time or another, many groups could have been victimized unfairly. In order to remedy this, it could require extremely complicated calculations.  For example, a white woman might end up owing money to blacks for slavery, but that same woman might end up being owed money for being discriminated against in the workforce.  It could become a huge tangled web of financial calculations.

When it comes to compensation for past systemic (but since largely/partially remedied) unfairness, perhaps it's best to let old dogs lie.  After all, as society evolves and new information becomes available daily, do we really want to endlessly compensate for the way "things should have been?"

I don't know, but a discussion should occur.

10/21/2010 05:26:28 pm

I agree with what you wrote. Have you read where our sitting president has started handing out millions to the Indians and the farmers, and they didn't even have to prove discrimination,and now the Guatamalens (sp) for something that happened 64 years ago about test for syphillis? That floodgate is now open. Wonder if my family could collect-we started as serfs sent from England for stealing bread.

10/22/2010 07:58:05 am


I have read about reparations being given for unverified claims, and it's yet one more disturbing action by the Obama administration.

As far as public apologies for past actions, I feel that it often takes a big person to apologize, and i don't have a problem with individual apologies (unless you can show the costs of the act outweigh the benefits).

However, I do think that the pace of apologies and fawning towards foreign countries by Obama is so numerous that it is disturbing, because it is auggestive that he may be trying to make America look bad. If he was to at least counterbalance his actions with words that were actually supportive of America as well, perhaps he'd have more sympathy.

You make a good point about the serfs; as I said, there is a potential problem with opening the floodgates, because in the past, and continually through the future, one may be able to identify groups that were at one point treated unfairly. If reparations are going to be that complex, and potentially cause much conflict between groups, it may not be worth it.

Also, if you are able to identify several groups that have been treated unfairly, it's possible that (at least eventually), they will each have claims against each other, and thereby reparations would at least partially cancel each other out!

I do think that blacks with slavery ancestors probably would have deserved reparations originally, because of the scale of their situation, but it's possible they have already been given equal compensation from whites in the form of affirmative action and other programs. And aside from that, there's the question of whether opening the floodgates would result in the positives outweighing the negatives.

10/25/2010 04:14:14 am

But what financial resources would those blacks have if their ancestors had remained in Africa?

You want to look at one side of the coin but not the other. Slavery was horribly wrong, but your analysis is short-sighted. Interesting blog, nonetheless.

10/25/2010 07:25:40 am


you make a fantastic point. I didn't purposely avoid it. It slipped my mind.

In fact, in the past i had thought about that exact same point: that even though slavery was wrong, by bringing blacks to America, you could argue that, once free, blacks enjoyed a better life here than they would have had in Africa.

This should be taken into consideration.

Of course, the argument that blacks were eventually better off due to slavery would only apply to the free black ancestors. The slaves themselves may have been better off than in Africa when they weren't working, but when they were working they were slaves. That's a huge hardship, of course.

However, there may be a flaw with this line of thinking: Even if the slaves themselves overall were better off in America than in Africa (highly doubtful), I don't think reparations should necessarily be dismissed simply because they were better off in America than they would've been in Africa.

Why? Because it wasn't their choice to come to America. That's the key. Even if they were better off in America, because it wasn't their choice, they can't be faulted for that. If they were better off as slaves in America, they still were not as well off as they should've been in that situation (receiving wages). And that was due to no fault of their own, since they weren't in America willingly.

This would be an argument in favor of reparations, because even though the slave descendants today are better off than in Africa, they are still not as well off as they should've been if their ancestors passed down inheritance earned from wages, and the key, again, is that their existence in America was not due to any action of their own.

This is quite a complex and interesting argument!!

The summary is this: As a result of slavery, blacks today may be better off by being in America rather than in Africa, but they are still not as well off as they should have been when they were placed in America. It almost seems like a catch 22!

Not Unique Name
11/1/2010 07:43:10 am

Also, it's not like the vast majority of blacks now are trying to gain more education (Bachelor's and beyond), or would that also be circular? They're not advancing themselves because they have little money, which is an effect of advancing themselves.

Would the abundance of scholarships specifically meant for blacks unwind the circle above?

11/11/2010 03:32:13 pm

My family is Indian and Irish. Do I get $ or pay $? Do I need a DNA test to prove what % Indian I am?

Most black people are a % white. Do you get more $ if you are a higher % black? If you are half black and half white, do you pay yourself?

Reader 81
11/11/2010 03:32:48 pm

if african american wasn't brought here as slaves how would they have came to america in the first place?? not like cuban where they might float here on a boat right? so where would most of the african american that are here now have gotten here? where would most be now ? in africa dying form wars and staving?

Reader 82
11/11/2010 03:33:12 pm

The "Jews" were given reparations for Holocaust by Germany... and they were also given what they call ISRAEL today by the British in a deal they struck even before WWII (because WWII was planned anyway)... the problem with reparations for blacks is obviously IT IS PRICELESS... or BEYOND PRICE... the debt is in blood over generations and slavery has not ended for blacks who are still in dect stuck in the system created after the emancipation... there is no sum of money sufficient enough. Justice will be served..

11/11/2010 03:33:35 pm

You, my non-friend, are a n1gger.

Reader 81
11/11/2010 03:34:06 pm

@Reader 82 today a black person can work hard and go to college and become more than you could have before you don't work hard like lots of white people had to do why should it be handed to you look whats going on for the parents that just hand everything to theyre kids not good,if a black person doesn't make something of themselves,they didn't try at all, or had a very bad childhood which happens to all races

Reader 81
11/11/2010 03:34:40 pm

yes you may have to get student loans like my kids had to. but do it. anyone who had family who were slaves worked hard to make changes so they're kids would have it better and that wheon to next set of family who worked hard too they worked hard to make it easier on you all if you deside to waste it on drugs or laziness join the whites race they blown it to by using drugs and being lazy . but that would be nobodies fault but your own today..

Reader 81
11/11/2010 03:35:01 pm

one more thing instead of giving reparations. to people who would have to show proof put money in a fund to send more african americans to colleges where it would do them more good maybe help start businesses things like that. and i was wondering thisw If a african amerian got any welfare or help from the goverment shouldn't that be taking off what they're family would get/

11/11/2010 03:35:26 pm

Reader 81,please, for the love of whatever god you believe in, use some grammar.

As for the the whole slave issue, "Whites today didn't commit slavery, so why should they be punished?" or "Blacks today aren't slaves, so why should they be rewarded?".
As for the poverty most of them face today, yes, whites on average have a better chance to do what they want in life.. But, no one deserves money because of what happened to someone else. They are better off now then they would have been if we did not bring their ancestors here. If you do not like it, you are free to go back, that is your right as a human being. As for the poverty, that is a huge bump to go over, but with this affirmative action BS... we are saying we value one persons right to succeed over another. No law should have anything to do with any specific person. Everything should be available to everyone. There are plenty of non black people living in poverty. Those people deserve the same chance as everyone else. If we want a affirmative action plan, we need to make it for everyone in poverty. A majority of people in poverty are black, so a majority of people receiving help would also be black. Race is not what give a person opportunities, money does... We need to stop being overly race cautious and stick to the problem at hand.

11/11/2010 03:36:05 pm


you wrote:

"My family is Indian and Irish. Do I get $ or pay $? Do I need a DNA test to prove what % Indian I am?

Most black people are a % white. Do you get more $ if you are a higher % black? If you are half black and half white, do you pay yourself?"

As I wrote, it becomes very complicated if you were to most accurately allocate the funds.

11/11/2010 03:36:22 pm


1/16/2011 05:13:22 pm

better chance to do what they want in life

Reader 91
1/18/2011 11:42:15 am

Is it fair that me, a white lower middle class male be given less financial aid for the same college than a black lower middle class male of the same grades and test scores? You make the point that blacks that are descendants of slaves are worse off economically; today it is far easier for a black person a to pay for a higher education. Minorities are given more resources to draw from in order to raise there economic status. This argument would fall under what you said about affirmative action.

IMHO the thought of reparations is just petty. I think opportunities offered to people be based on merit and ability and not race.

1/18/2011 11:42:58 am

Reader 91,

I used to think that reparations weren't a good idea, until I started to think about it from the perspective of inheritance.

I agree that affirmative action is, overall, very unfair to whites (outside of the context of reparations). In fact, white bitterness about it could result in an INCREASE in discrimination by whites toward blacks. Nobody likes to be treated unfairly!

And if you ancestors were not slave owners, then affirmative action that discriminates unfairly against you is even MORE unfair!

2/17/2011 05:15:58 pm

Thank you for yor post!it is amazing!i like it!

3/4/2011 11:21:29 am

Life is just like a box of chocolate, You never know what you are going to take.

1/19/2012 12:35:26 pm


you could easily argue that slave's ancestors are better off being in America than Africa...however, that doesn't mean that it's necessarily fair to say that because blacks are better off it means that it's ok to apply a different set of standards to them economically (in terms of inheritance).

To think along those lines is to think along lines like this: If the minimum wage is $10 in America, it's ok to pay immigrants from China $7 simply because that $7 is greter than the $1 minimum wage in China.

See my point?

Anyway, I'm not convinced that blacks should be paid reparations, for the reasons that my article has outlined...i'm simply saying that i don't think the argument you give is the conclusive reason to rule out reparations.


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