Skip to comments.The absurdity of demanding reparations for slavery
Posted on 10/05/2015 7:19:01 AM PDT by Mrs. Don-o
I am descended from slaves. So are you. From slave-owners, too. Given the history of the human race, it could hardly be otherwise.
Slavery was the normal form of social organization from the discovery of agriculture onwards. It may have been common among hunter-gatherers long before that, but the evidence is inconclusive. What we do know is that ownership of human beings is at least as old as civilization. The cities of Ur and Sumer, of Egypt and Persia, of the Indus Valley and Xia Dynasty China were built by forced labor.
Slaves raised the Acropolis in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome. They piled up the ziggurats of Meso-America. Incas, Maoris, Apache: All accepted slavery as part of the natural order. An Aleutian tribe kept a special caste of boys raised as girls for the sexual gratification of its chiefs. An early Indian clan bred slave children for the specific purpose of sacrificing them. Slavery was so endemic in Africa that it became more common following the abolition of the Atlantic trade.
This history is what makes arguments about reparations so bizarre. The people paying up would be statistically certain to have both owners and owned in their family tree; so would the people accepting compensation.
Jamaican politicians are currently demanding reparations from Britain for its role in the trans-Atlantic traffic. Because slavery was such an abominable practice, people naturally feel a need to express their revulsion. When we read of the monstrous conditions on the ships and in the plantations, we want to tell someone how wretched we feel about the whole thing.
But tell whom? There has been much press comment in the Caribbean about the fact that David Cameron is descended from a slave-owner called General Sir James Duff, who was compensated for the emancipation of 202 slaves when the institution was abolished in 1833.
Still, here's a hard thing that needs saying. Cameron, like most British people, is only very distantly related to a plantation owner. General Duff is, as far as I can work out, his sixth cousin. Isn't it statistically likely that some of the Jamaican politicians demanding compensation are more directly descended from plantation owners than he is?
Which brings us to the absurdity of assigning collective national guilt in these situations. Should a Jamaican who migrated to Britain in the 1950s now be liable to pay reparations to his family who remained behind?
Don't get me wrong, Britain and Jamaica have been through a great deal together. Jamaicans volunteered in large numbers to fight for Britain in two world wars. The reason this whole debate has come up is that Mr. Cameron visited Jamaica to announce a substantial trade and investment package, rightly recognizing the ties between our two islands.
But valuing such ties is a world away from assigning hereditary guilt which was, paradoxically, the justification for slavery in many societies. Quite apart from being immoral, the argument is unsustainable.
When the issue of reparations comes up, half-clever white people in Britain sometimes say things like, "Well, in that case, I want reparations from Denmark for the Viking invasions." To which one answer is: You're the one likely to be descended from Vikings; the Danes of today are descended from the ones who stayed behind. Similarly, who is likelier to have slave-owners in his or her family tree: An African-American, or a Polish-American?
Britain, unlike the United States, followed a policy of compensated manumission: Slave-owners were bought out, meaning that the institution was abolished much earlier, and without a civil war. Some leftist activists regard these payments as shameful, and Ron Paul was excoriated when he suggested that the U.S. should have done something similar.
But surely the fact that people were prepared to pay to abolish slavery is a cause for pride, not shame. If we absolutely insist on singling Britain out, let's consider the truly exceptional factor, namely that, after thousands of years of slavery, Britain was the country that poured its resources and energy into stamping out the traffic, even diverting ships from a life-and-death struggle with Napoleon to intercept Atlantic slavers.
Should we Brits demand compensation from the rest of the world for having played that role? Of course not. We're all individuals, responsible for our own actions. That, if you think about it, was the philosophy that destroyed slavery in the first place.
Dan Hannan is a British Conservative MEP.
Negroes in the U.S. should be thankful there was slavery, otherwise they probably wouldn’t even be alive today, or else they would be in Africa today running for their lives from hungry predators.
I am not descended from slavery nor did any of my grandparents, who came from eastern Europe, own any slaves. The very first line of this article capitulates to the liberal notion of reparations.
Why did you start your post with your lineage? Is it to imply that you are exempt from reparations because of it? When it comes to reparations does the fact that I have slave owners in the family tree give you a superior defense then me from paying reparations?
Guilt is not passed down through DNA. Entitlement is not either. However, leftists act as if it were.
And as a person of Polish national origin, aren't you a descendant of slaves? The very word "Slav" comes from "slave".
[Middle English sclave, from Old French esclave, from Medieval Latin sclvus, from Sclvus, Slav (from the widespread enslavement of captured Slavs in the early Middle Ages). See Slav.]
You could make the argument that African-Americans fathered by a slave-owner were unjustly disinherited, as opposed to their white half-siblings.
I’m white, and descended from several slave owners. In one case, my 8x great-grandfather left my 7x great-grandfather one dollar in his will, while leaving the farm and a slave named, uncomfortably and suggestively, Hagar to the eldest son.
Another got my white 3x great-grandmother pregnant but paid an Irishman to marry her. I don’t know if he got any slave women pregnant or did them any favors if he did.
A study of history will do this kind of thing to a writer. :-)
None of us would be alive today - other people would, but not us as individuals - if anything had happened differently two hundred years ago. If not for the Civil War, my great-grandfather would, almost certainly, never have met my great grandmother. So, even had the slavery issue been settled peacefully, Id not be here. As far as blacks are concerned, a very many of them have at least a little white blood. Which settles the issue instantaneously, for them as individuals. And even for the rest, how many of them are not descended from multiple African tribes, and how would their ancestors ever have met?
Let even one African who in fact was shipped to America 200 years ago survive and have descendants in Africa, how would that ripple differently through the genealogies of the rest of their society?? And not just in his own genealogical line, but in those of others. Even if the same people married, they might have done so at different times than they in fact did - and consequently had different descendants. In the most obvious example, have a girl a month earlier rather than the boy who in fact was conceived a month later. Nothings changed - but everything is.
No, none of us would ever have seen the light of day if a mite had been different 200 years ago. Its inarguable.
— There IS a potential case to be made in the US for slavery reparations. Unfortunately for supporters of the idea, the case to be made is for reparations to the descendants of those who owned slaves in 1865, and had their titles to said “property” stripped by the US government with no compensation. I think this is a bad idea, in part due to point #2...
— The 14th Amendment (one of America’s uglier bits of victor’s justice), expressly prohibits such compensation. Indeed, a close reading of the 14th suggests that slavery reparations to the descendants of slaves might also be prohibited.
When I think about the trillions spent on things like Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” here, I’d say reparations have already been paid and then some.
“””When it comes to reparations does the fact that I have slave owners in the family tree give you a superior defense then me from paying reparations? “””
Sure does. If you want to pay reparations go right ahead. Leave me out of it.
I'd never stay in a country that purportedly treated me as poorly as most Blacks say they are.
Offer them a one-time choice.
Take the reparations, and forever lose eligibility for any form of public assistance (welfare).
Eschew the reparations, and everything stays the same.
After they get done calling you a racist, you will hear nothing more about reparations.
I have never owned a slave.
I don’t owe nobody a damned thing.
ISIS has sex slaves today.
We’ve already paid reparations many many time over in welfare, food stamps, section 8 housing etc etc- not to mention the civil war where Lincoln killed over 900,000 and wounded a million of his fellow Americans ‘to free the slaves’
The English word “slave” comes from the word Slav because so many Slavs were carried off into slavery, but the people living in the Slavic-speaking countries today (or their cousins whose ancestors emigrated from those countries) are descended from the ones left behind who were not enslaved.
Good to know you agree with the nut job leftists that descendants of former slave owners must pay. By the way, if you havent done the math try it. If you trace your ancestors back 8 generations you will find you have over 2,000 ancestors. Somehow you know none of them had slaves.
You got some dodge about not being white either? Because your goin to pay based he privilege of being white in the US.
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