Our nation owes people of color a great debt. If not for their service, this nation would not be the strongest, most affluent country in the world.  Yet we too often forget the price people of color have paid for our good fortune. Many people of color have been killed, maimed, tortured and traumatized both physically and emotionally. Those who survived often passed this trauma to children and grandchildren. Those of us who have not experienced the inhumanity that people of color experience are not in a position to judge them.  We do have a responsibility to respond to their injury.

Our nation cannot repay our debt to people of color. However, there are many ways in which we can express our appreciation for their contributions. We can pay the tuition and living expenses of people of color in college and vocational school.  We can offer people of color low cost mortgages guaranteed by the government. We can provide people of color with low interest loans to start businesses. We can give businesses who hire people of color significant tax credits.  We can provide inexpensive healthcare to people of color.  In these ways, while we never fully compensate people of color for their injury and loss, we demonstrate our commitment to their success.

Now that you’ve read this argument, pause for a moment to check your emotional response. Are you sympathetic or angry? Convinced or offended?  Do you find the suggestions for specific reparations reasonable or an injustice to white people?  Once you’ve determined your emotional response, reread the opening two paragraphs and insert “veterans” wherever you read “people of color.”

If you found the argument for reparations for people of color offensive, but find those same sentiments reasonable when applied to veterans, what does this say about you? Why would you support the benefits of the GI Bill, but oppose any legislation offering these same benefits to people of color?  And, before you try to diminish the parallels between the experiences of people of color and veterans, consider what your support for veterans indicates.

1. You believe our nation has a responsibility to those injured in service to our nation, even if this injury was many years in the past.

2. You believe it is possible to target compensation to a specific group of people.

3. You believe the nation has the economic ability to offer a specific group of people special benefits,

4. You believe that all members of this specific group, regardless of the extent of their injury, by their inclusion in this targeted group deserve the same benefits.

So, if you are opposed to reparations for people of color, your opposition must be motivated by something other than the reasons above. If not for racial bias, why would you oppose this response for people of color when you so enthusiastically support it for veterans?

People of color and veterans cannot be compared

While the experiences of people of color and veterans are not identical, they are comparable. In both circumstances, every American has benefited from their pain and trauma.  In both cases, the success of our nation is directly connected to their service and work.  With each group, the white person or non-veteran should be grateful and not resentful.  Indeed, you could argue that people of color are more deserving of these benefits than veterans.  Many veterans volunteered to serve.  People of color were enslaved and face systemic discrimination without their consent.  Veterans served for a specific time.  People of color are burdened for a lifetime.

Making reparations to people of color would bankrupt the nation

Few would make such an argument against offering these benefits to veterans. The passing of the GI Bill in 1944 was applauded as just and reasonable.  Granting this largesse to veterans did not bankrupt the country. Indeed, economists consider the GI Bill as one of the primary wealth creators of the 20th century, catapulting millions of white families into the middle class.  Raising the economic status of people of color could have a similar impact on the American economy, inviting millions of people of color into the middle class.  Reparations should be seen as a national investment and not a redistribution of wealth.

It’s too hard to determine who qualifies for how much reparation

A veteran is someone who joined the armed forces. A person of color is someone who is not identified as white by our culture.  Ancestry and DNA is irrelevant. Systemic racism is targeted at people who society identifies as non-white.  Determining the extent of the damage is also irrelevant.  All veterans receive benefits even if they were uninjured.  Likewise, descendants of slaves may have experienced a more serious injury, but every person of color in our society has and does experience the wounds of racial bias and discrimination.  No one would demand to see a veteran’s scars and no one should require a person of color to prove injury.

I won’t be motivated by guilt for something I didn’t do

Those of us who did not serve in the armed forces should not feel guilty, but we should feel a genuine responsibility for aiding those who did. Those who have not directly participated in the discrimination and oppression of people of color should not feel guilty, but we too should feel an ethical responsibility to right this wrong.  If we can make the distinction between guilt and responsibility for veterans, we can make it in responding to people of color.  However, it is important to remember that when it comes to veterans, the injuries were caused by others.  When it comes to people of color, the injuries were caused by our nation.  Therefore, our responsibility is even greater than for a veteran.

I am opposed to any redistribution of wealth

It is possible to oppose reparations for people of color and not be racist.  If you are opposed to any redistribution of wealth, opposing reparations – while ethically questionable – is a consistent position. However, to hold this position, you must be willing to apply your objections to both reparations and programs targeting veterans.  If not, it is probably time to examine your racial bias and reflect on why you’re able to justify one redistribution and vilify another.

If we do this, when will it ever end?

With both our support of veterans and of people of color, we must offer these benefits until they are no longer necessary. When wars cease, we will no longer need a GI Bill.  When systemic racism ends, we will no longer need reparations. When the economic vitality of people of color is no different than that of white people, we will know we have succeeded.  Reparations can end.  Until that day, our nation has a responsibility to pay its debts.

(This post is the second in a three part series.  The first post was entitled “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question.”  The third post was entitled “Paying My Reparations.”)

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18 thoughts on “A Reasonable Reparation

  1. You are obviously suffering from white guilt and don’t speak for everyone. Why make those who had nothing to do with black slavery responsible for the reparation when slavery existed in Africa, Europe and Asia and affected people of ALL races? In the 1800’s this country went to war against the Barbary Pirates (Libya), who were capturing our merchant ships and enslaving their crews! This country was paying them a ransom of 1/5 the country’s GDP at that time!

    And if you study history, about a million Europeans were sold into slavery in Africa. Google white slave trade. The Irish were the most oppressed.

    Life isn’t fair and it doesn’t always treat people fairly. Nobody else is complaining about what happened to their ancestors. They have picked up and moved on.

    The best way to help blacks is not with handouts but hand ups. If you are feeling especially guilty why not donate to the cause out of your own finances instead of making everyone else pay for your guilt?!!

    I am the grandson of Russian immigrants who fled the slavery of communism during the Bolshevik Revolution and my ancestors settled up North. Are you suggesting I owe something to blacks because of the color of my skin? ??? Excuse me, but blacks don’t have the market cornered on suffering.

    While it breaks my heart to know that blacks were oppressed, I also temper that knowledge with facts: Slavery existed in Africa at the time it existed in America. Rival black tribes were selling off those they defeated and whose land they acquired. The alternative was killing them… They were fortunate that selling was more profitable for their captors who were assured that their captives would go overseas and never return to contest them for the land they lost. Those whining about injustice wouldn’t even be around had their ancestors not had the good fortune to be sold off. Instead of seeing their glass as half empty, perhaps they should begin seeing it as half full. They don’t live in Africa and grew up in one of the best nations on Earth that gives them opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

    Many squander the opportunities they are given and don’t apply themselves to the free education and opportunity they have to pursue their dreams. Many of the problems we see in black communities today are generational and born out of a sense of entitlement. They think people owe them jobs and owe them a living when in fact they have every opportunity to do things for themselves and be self sufficient. We have had a black President, Oprah is a self made billionaire, blacks are over represented in professional sports which pay high salaries… You simply have to make the most of the talents you are born with, or work hard to develop skills and run with it.

    But black culture in America has an inherent problem. Many blacks feel that because of slavery whites owe them. They are slave to their negative attitudes, sense of entitlement, and their own inherent racist beliefs that whites owe them because of White Privilege. It’s more of an excuse to justify their failure. When you have a culture that doesn’t apply itself to education and instead makes excuses for poor academic performance, and when your culture esteems all the wrong things (gangsta/prison culture and all that goes with it gang violence, degradation of women, crap for music, drugs, sex, single parent baby mamas and baby daddies sitting in prison and breakdown of families because most black babies are born out of wedlock, etc.) poverty and dependence is the inevitable result.

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    1. I think, as I stated in the blog, that we can respond out of responsibility and not guilt. I think many of our comments imply a level playing field that simply does not exist. Indeed, your arguments pretty much summarize the opinion of entitled whites. That being said, I understand there is not presently the political will to pay our debts to people of color. For this reason, my family makes a reparation payment each month to some organization working for and with people of color. I do not do this because I feel guilty. I do this because I recognize my privilege.

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  2. I served in the military from 1959 to 1961. There was no war on, and I have only a life insurance plan as a thanks for my service. GI Bill applied to only those in service during conflict. I’m not complaining though. I think everyone should serve at least two years in the military.

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  3. TO EVERYONE COMMENTING: It doesn’t matter if you weren’t alive then, if i wasn’t alive then. If your family had nothing to do with it or if your family came in the 20th century.

    First of all, you’re still benefiting. Secondly, this is something the government needs to do. I dont like that were in a war terrorizing people, but my 0.001 in billions of dollars literally means nothing.

    I agree with this. But as you (James) read in my comment in your previous post, I also believe compensation/ reparations need to be paid to those people and families who were terrorized and murdered during Jim Crow.

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  4. In all honesty, it crazy (not really) how ppl against reparations are. And I really think its because we (ya’ll) dont learn enough about African American history in school…unless you take is as a diversity credit in college.

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  5. I’m a libertarian, so yes, I’m against all forms of the “redistribution of wealth”. I was about to write that it has nothing to do with racism on your last blog post, but you opted to contradict yourself in this blog post, with this comment:

    “It is possible to oppose reparations for people of color and not be racist.” I’ll take it your last blog post was intended to be click bait.

    There are two logical possibilities:
    1) We attempt to correct the past
    2) We attempt to make things as equal as we can now

    I’d be an advocate for the 2nd option even though it would be very hard to implement, since I believe the 1st is actually impossible to implement for a number of reasons.

    As for the “If you are alive today, you are still benefiting” argument. For goodness sakes, who’s to blame here, the person who receives benefit, or the group giving unequal benefit? Why not work towards justice? Either by making sure everyone receives the same benefits. Or seek to remove the benefits from the group that’s benefiting?

    I care very little for other people, but what I do care about is the protection of negative rights, hence my passion for equality above.

    I should say though, I’m not against reparations being paid for by individuals. I think if people want to give their own money away, go ahead, none of my business.

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    1. Steven, thanks for this thoughtful response. While I think both options 1 and 3 are possible, we are going to disagree. I do think you fail to acknowledge how whites generally have the power both to give and receive unequal benefit. That being said, I join you in working for justice.

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      1. No, I see that people get treated unequally, and I see that people benefit unequally. My argument, is why are you not attacking the people who are treating people unequally? Making people pay reparations is putting the onus on the wrong individuals, it should be on the perpetrators of the crime (unequal treatment).

        Also, if you believe the onus is on people who receive benefit, over the people who actually perpetrated the inequality. Who pays? Everyone? Do people of color pay their own reparations? How in the world would that be justice? What if you’re mixed, do you pay half reparations? What if your grandfather was a person of color, a 1/4 reparations, an 1/8, a 1/16? What if you’re tanned? Is there a skin color swatch guide? What if you’re a white Ukrainian who just immigrated, do they pay? I’m not trying to be funny, I’m being serious… because in order for it to be justice (that is, to meet the definition of justice), the people who are responsible, are the people who pay. Making people pay for the crimes of others would be unjust, and I support justice.

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      2. Steven, individual acts of racist and illegal inequality should be challenged using our present systems. However, there are and have been significant systemic oppressions and these will take systemic responses. In this, there is a corporate responsibility. As a libertarian, I suspect you do not agree with this. As a social democrat, I see this differently. However, your concern that people of color don’t end up paying for their own reparations is valid. Perhaps this could be alleviated by offering them a tax exemption for the portion of the taxes that fund reparation programs. However, all that being said, I am not naïve in believing reparations have much of a chance politically. For me, making the reparation argument is as much about a national admission of complicity with systemic racism as it is about reparations. In my final post in this series – probably posted next week – I’ll suggest what I’d like to see many of us do.

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  6. They do have a chance politically if you can do so in a way that promotes justice. In my experience, most of the arguments against reparation stem from 2 views (or variations of…)

    1) Why should I pay (I didn’t do that… etc)? (The claim one is not responsible)
    2) Why should they receive (they weren’t around then… etc)? (The claim one is not a victim)

    If you want to help solve this problem, it seems to me you need to prove, someone is responsible, and someone was a victim. Otherwise, reparations will always appear unjust… and they would be unjust.

    For that you need to identify:

    1) Who EXACTLY are the people who should be paying the benefits?
    2) Who EXACTLY is a person of color that should be receiving benefits?

    To figure this out would be a nightmare… think of all possible racial combinations for both people who should pay, and people who should receive. Do you really need me to go through some? If you’re serious, you need to be exact… simply saying “all people of color deserve reparations” does nothing to create actual change. People wouldn’t be against this idea because they’re racist (although some might be), they’re against this idea because the premise is illogical and ultimately, has no viable solution.

    So, what I was getting at in my first post, and even more so in my second post, is that this an impossible task.

    It’s far more a logical proposition to attempt to correct inequality now (a difficult, but LESS difficult task), than it would be to correct the past.

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    1. Steven,

      If I understand you correctly, you want to see a direct connection between benefits/injuries and specific individuals. Let’s consider the GI Bill then. We know that only about 100 black men qualified for the home loans offered in GI Bill out of about 60,000 loans. Some of this discrepancy was due to policies that excluded soldiers of color. Some of it may have been from individual acts of racist exclusion or sabotage. We could easily track down the men (or their children) impacted by this denial. What would you suggest we do, if anything.

      I am also uncertain how you can argue “simply saying all people of color deserve reparations would do nothing to create actual change.” We certainly said “all white WWII veterans get these benefits and it created a tremendous influx of middle class affluence. I can see the argument for opposing such programs on principle, but I don’t see the evidence for ineffectiveness that you suggest.

      May not respond until Monday, but I appreciate the conversation.

      I’m also curious how a libertarian would have responded to the argument prior to that Civil War that since slaves were property that other people or the government had no business interfering.

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      1. Just because I’m a libertarian doesn’t mean I’m okay with slavery. Just like I’m not okay with murder. In fact, all libertarians are against slavery, and anyone who tells you different isn’t a libertarian. I think you might be thinking of some sort of moral relativistic anarchism.

        “If I understand you correctly, you want to see a direct connection between benefits/injuries and specific individuals.” Is that not the definition of justice? Anything less would be injustice.

        When I say “simply saying all people of color deserve reparations would do nothing to create actual change.” What I’m referring to, is the fact you haven’t even defined who is a person of color? Or even how this would play out? I don’t know much about veterans and the benefits they receive, so I will defer to you on that topic. However, I suspect there is a clear definition of what makes a veteran a veteran. Does someone who is mixed for example pay or receive benefits? Or do they break even? Is anyone who is really tanned a person of color? What if you’re from South America or the Middle East? What if you have just immigrated here in the last year, the last 10, the last 50, do they get benefits?

        You need to give clear definitions as to who are the people of color who should be getting benefits, and who are the people that should be paying for them. As far as I can tell, you haven’t done that. Which is why I’m saying, this doesn’t create change. I mean, I could just run around saying everyone should get money too, but if I don’t provide any details of how that would work, how is that helpful?

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      2. You misunderstand my question. I was not suggesting you personally would approve slavery, but wondering how the libertarian philosophy would have played out in the 1860s. My criticism of libertarianism in general is that it lifts of personal liberty at the expense of corporate responsibility. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the philosophy, but it would seem to make it difficult for you to address systemic injustice. I believe justice can be a corporate issue as well as an individual issue.

        As to who is a person of color, is that really so hard? When our culture has or does exclude or marginalize people of color, we have been and are fairly effective. Essentially, if you look like a person of color, you are a person of color. While, as you suggest, there may need to be certain requirements to receive reparation benefits, why not allow people of color to sort that out? In my opinion, the “it would be too hard” argument isn’t a good argument when it comes to justice.

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