My Thoughts on H.R. 40: A Proposal in Response to a Reparation Requisition

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The House Judiciary Subcommittee has been holding hearings over a bill that would, if passed, “create a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.”

As someone outside of the United States, I am qualified in a unique way to address this issue, in that I and my ancestors were not in any way directly involved in the United States slave trade, and beyond that, I would not directly benefit nor suffer regardless of the outcome of this bill.

I would like to first address the issue of historic reparations; of the 40 acres and a mule once promised to slaves following the conclusion of the Civil War, a promise that was undone by then president Andrew Johnson following President Lincoln’s assassination. It is true that this promise and the weight of it, long withstanding, has not been kept, and I understand fully the justifications and demands that this issue be rectified.

With respect to this injustice, however, I would posit that in the century and a half since this initial promise, many other confounding issues have arisen that will likely lead anyone expecting a great deal from these reparations to be sorely disappointed.

We have lived now through seven, perhaps eight generations of descendants of those initial slaves promised land, assuming a 20 year generational gap. If we also assume a generational spread of two children from each descendant, the initial value promised would have to be split in perhaps as many as 128 to 256 different ways for each individual descendant, and that’s assuming a conservative estimate with each family being a perfect nuclear model.

This also doesn’t consider the additional confounding factors of slaves marrying other slaves, slave descendants marrying in and out of other descendants generation by generation, and the difficult job of tracking all of this, which will require untold amounts of resources just to research and verify for each individual case.

I say this not because the community of those descended from slaves isn’t owed something, as was clearly promised and established by Lincoln’s presidency, but because we have come many years and many more injustices, tribulations, struggles and lifetimes forward since then, and all of these factors confound the issue of reparations in a way that may well make it practically unsolvable as initially conceived of.

Second, I wish to address the further issue that many will be unhappy to hear, but an issue nonetheless that should be brought up; that of blind justice.

While it is true that these issues have effects that have been carried forward, it is unreasonable to assume that the burden of these sins can justifiably be placed on the backs of the children and grandchildren, or in this case, the great, great, great, great grandchildren of those who committed them. We may recognize that an injustice was done, and that it deserves to be fixed, but the method of fixing it should not be solely dependent on those who have descended from the perpetrators (and it likely wouldn’t regardless of how this reparation scheme is decided) and likewise those who benefit would most likely not only be the descendants of slaves.

We can recognize then that this historical issue and injustice has had a detrimental impact on the black community in America at large, and still work towards a modern solution that helps that community deal with modern problems that they face, and help them grow and benefit in a modern world.

What I would hold then, if this injustice, and others done, are to be corrected, is that the lump-sum value owed to the slaves at the time be calculated, that of the value of 40 acres and a mule, for each of the 100,000 slave families promised that, be appropriately calculated in the value at the time, and then adjusted for inflation, perhaps even with some interest to allay for the wait kept in delivering what was owed.

This money in question should then, I believe, be used to help rebuild infrastructure in black communities, with some set aside for college grants, scholarships, and school materials for black students, and for better police training in predominantly black cities, and other projects of this nature. This would be best decided by these same communities, so as to help enrich the communities that have most suffered historically due to the issue of slavery, and fight the modern day issues that plague America’s modern day black families.

I recognize this may not be a popular proposal, that it may be seen as too simple or too pandering, that there are those who will “want theirs”, and that there are those who will likely tell me that it’s none of my goddamn business to get involved in this, and that’s as may be. At the same time, I don’t believe any of those opinions fundamentally deal with the issues I have raised.

If others wish to tear into this proposal, discuss the pros and cons, the minutia of it, and see what works and what doesn’t, I am happier for it. I put this forward not as an absolute means of trying to fix things, but as a suggestion for a potential path.

Ultimately, if Americans decide they want to spend the money on this study, and then spend the money deciding on researching who is eligible for reparations and in what amount, and then spend more money awarding these reparations, that is their prerogative. I table this only as what I believe to be a cost-effective and community effective suggestion to actually help the black community in America heal and grow in a beneficial direction that addresses modern problems, while also putting to rest a specter from the past that should’ve long ago been dealt with.

It will hopefully satisfy the demands of the black community, and not be so burdensome in design and bloat upon the American taxpayers to be seen as an unjust or wasteful spending of their tax dollars, which could further foment more division, which is a problem we should be mindful of. More than this, it would directly impact the issues modern black families face with positive solutions to those problems that would be relatively easy to measure the impact of.