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James
Boston, Mass.
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Michael, you ask about what benefits white people have enjoyed as a result of our nation's history of slavery and discrimination. Slavery, and businesses directly tied to slavery (such as supplying slave plantations) built our colonial economy. (President John Quincy Adams noted that the economic success of these businesses was "essential" to our ability to gain independence from Great Britain.) Slavery and directly related businesses (such as transporting or processing slave-produced goods) also industrialized the northern U.S. between the revolution and the Civil War, and allowed us to enter the 20th and 21st centuries as the largest and one of the most advanced economies in the world. White families, including immigrants also enjoyed other benefits specifically related to Jim Crow. These laws meant that white citizens, including new arrivals, enjoyed opportunities in hiring, promotions, education, and entrepreneurship that black families couldn't enjoy until the 1960s. White families also benefited from massive federal government programs in the 20th century, which largely built the white middle class in areas like homeownership, higher education, and small business loans. These were almost entirely closed to black citizens. You also write, that "Apologies are meaningful only if they come from the heart, from the person who caused an offense. The people who owned slaves are all dead. Historical fact." That's true, but institutions (including countries) often apologize for wrongdoing. Why should the U.S. not do so in this case, since as an institution it was directly involved? Meanwhile, you say that " The people who enacted and enforced the Jim Crow laws and other barriers to advancement for African Americans are also all dead." This is manifestly untrue, Michael, as many of those people are still alive -- as are many of the people who suffered under Jim Crow.
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You say that you oppose slavery reparations, because "anyone who could reasonably claim to have been harmed by it is long gone." Yet surely you're aware that the freed slaves were never compensated, that their families faced brutal discrimination until the 1960s, and that as a result, their descendants to this day have not made up the gap that existed in 1865?
Toggle Commented Feb 19, 2009 on France faces history at Public Secrets
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"Seeing as her majesties forces ... were used very effectively, and at no little cost, to bring an end to this immoral trade, it would seem perverse at best for the UK to be paying reparations." What seems perverse, to me, is to focus not on the wrongs committed, or the suffering of the victims and their descendants, but on the efforts of the perpetrators to eventually stop committing those wrongs. Certainly it is admirable that Britain eventually resolved to cease the evils of the slave trade (and, later, slavery itself). And expending effort to enforce that ban among its own subjects, as well as to stop the trade conducted by other Western nations, was noble as well. But this hardly makes up for the harmful practices of Britain and, to a lesser extent, those other Western nations, now does it? It doesn't begin to make the victims, or their descendants, whole, either, does it? "Aside from that, forcing those who comitted no crime, to pay reparations to those who were not victims, is an extremely bizarre notion." That's true. But I hardly think it unreasonable for those who have inherited the benefits of those crimes to consider offering some compensation to those who have inherited the consequences. It would fly in the fact of the facts, for instance, to suggest that Britain, and others in the West, have not benefited enormously from slavery and the slave trade, or that the descendants of those enslaved were ever made whole.
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