I notice yesterday Obama weighing in on reparations for slavery and I’m sure that once it gains traction in the US and moves further into the Overton Window of what is politically acceptable, the idea will be picked up in Australia. Not for slavery, but for Cook and Phillip and the British empire as it was at the time, laying claim and settling the Great Southern Land.
I think Obama raising it at an already tense time in the US, is just another excuse to further the inflame matters on behalf of BLM and Antifa.
The idea does raise some interesting and serious questions though.
In the American context, reparations payable to whom, by whom and how much?
Assuming the reparations were paid out of the common tax pool into which African Americans also contribute would it be a case of paying reparations with their own money.
Would it be by way of a tax credit or cash? Would it be by way of a tax levy on everyone else except African Americans but including native Americans and if so wouldn’t that be discriminatory? And then wouldn’t the Native Americans then say, what about us? We were here long before any of you?
But we are talking about the descendants of slaves and of original inhabitants and all mostly born in the last, say, 100 years, so reparations for what exactly?
What have they lost as opposed to what have they gained?
This then brings us to the “but for” argument developed by Dinesh D’Souza.
To paraphrase it in one sentence, the argument is that, assume you were involved in an accident you would argue that “but for” this accident that happened to me, I would be much better off. I’ve suffered all these damages because of this accident.
For example let’s say that a massive piece of steel drops on your feet in a workplace accident, the argument would be that “but for” that steel dropping on your feet, you would be leading a normal life of daily activity like going to work and playing golf on the weekends and not housebound, in pain and confined to a wheel chair with massive medical bills.
In short your damages are measured by what your situation would be like if that accident hadn’t happened in the first place.
So now, let’s reverse that scenario and say that “but for” an event happening to you that left you better off, why should you be paid reparations?
The reward is that you’ve been left better off because of the event and would have been worse off “but for” the event.
So with that rationale what would the circumstances of the descendants of slavery been like had there been no trans-Atlantic slave trade into North America at all.
Well, they would be existing in Africa. And so the next question is, what would their comparative quality of life and their fate have been then?
Better than now, or worse? Think, the Congo and Rwanda or Zimbabwe for example.
Compared to the overall quality of life in the West, the entire logic underpinning the reparations argument falls away because life in the West with all its problems in 2021 is light years ahead of the much poorer existence in Africa in 2021.
Think, the basics like decent roads, sewerage and drinking water, education etc.
In other words, as D’Souza points out, as criminal and evil as it was, the slave trade for the slaves descendants, was a conveyor belt to a much better life in the West.
In the wash up, on the balance sheet of life, the descendants of slaves have been net beneficiaries
The same for the Australian aborigine. “But for” the settlement of Australia by the British (or the French or Dutch) their life would be as it was 250 years ago.
As Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan about those places before settlement, where the danger of violent death was ever present, “..the life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short..”
When Muhammad Ali arrived back in the US from the George Foreman, Rumble in the Jungle fight in the mid 70’s, he was asked what he thought of Africa to which he replied: “Thank god my granddaddy got on that boat”.
People calling for reparations need to identify what it is they’re being compensated for.
Apart from that, what are the various programs over the years like the, ‘Closing the Gap’ program if not a form of reparations? What about the affirmative action triggered on all government forms where they specifically ask the question ‘are you of aboriginal heritage’? And the creation of instrumentalities like ATSIC? These kind of taxpayer funded endeavours are already a form of reparations.
A person born say, in Australia 1970 or 1980 should draw up a balance sheet of what’s been lost (that they personally never had or experienced anyway) and what has been gained and I think you’ll find that the benefits flow in one direction.
In short they can’t know what they think they lost because they never had it.
In the case of America what also has to be factored in and remembered is that a civil war was fought over slavery and the slave owning side lost and the slave owing side was the Democrats and the Democrat Party.
Just to add to the confusion many black Americans were also slave owners. How does that figure in the reparation calculation?
Its worth considering the thinking of Zora Neale Hurston a black feminist writer and anthropologist.From her autobiography, Dust tracks on a road —
“..From what can learn, it was sad, certainly, but my ancestors who lived and died in it are dead. The white men who profited by their Labor and Lives are dead also. I have no personal memory of those times and no responsibility for them, neither has the grandson of the man who held my folks. I have no intention of wasting my time beating on old graves. I don’t belong to the sobbing school of negroes who holds that nature has somehow given them a low down dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt by it. Slavery is the price I paid for civilisation and that is worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it…”
So if reparations are to be paid, they should be paid by the Democrats and while we’re at it, as well as reparations to black Americans they should also be paid to the descendants of those settler whites of the north that fought against the south and died or were badly injured in this war against the iniquitous and barbaric practice of slavery.