Thursday, October 30, 2008

National Guilt

I read on someone's web page that we can't ignore the national stain on our history because our nation practiced slavery for hundreds of years. They were saying our nation now owes the descendants of the victims of slavery reparation for the inhumane treatment and lack of justice they suffered.

That got me thinking --

Slavery was not a national problem -- it was a regional problem. I belong to the nation that DEFEATED slavery! It was the United States of America that rose up and told the Confederate South that not only could they not secede from the union, but they could no longer own slaves. It was my country that defended freedom for blacks. It was my country that destroyed the awful system of human trafficking!

It was the Republican Party that defeated slavery! Abraham Lincoln, that great defender of human rights, was a Republican.

None of my ancestors owned or condoned the practice of slavery.

So I oppose the idea that my country owes anybody any reparation for a practice that my country defeated.

I oppose the idea that the Republican Party is worse and the Democrat Party is better for blacks.

I oppose the idea that I owe anybody any reparation just because of my skin color and because of their skin color.

Even if reparation might be somehow justified, it should only be paid by those who are proved
by a high percentage to be descendants of actual slave owners, and the only ones who should receive reparation money are those who prove by a high percentage to be descendants of actual slaves.

Even those reparation payments would have to be filtered. During the slave trafficking days, it was African tribe against African tribe, blacks against blacks, who captured and sold slaves to the traffickers. If someone descended from a black slave captor, then they would owe reparation to someone who descended from a black slave captee. The reparation debt would apply not only to people living in America. There are many descendants of black slave captors still living in Africa. Many of those who received the slaves and transported them to this country were from other countries. So the ship captains and crews and their descendants would also share the guilt. Look out Dutch, French, English and Portuguese!

How ridiculous can this whole issue become? Its like the man who was trying to prove he was 25% American Indian so he could collect reparation money from the U.S. Government. Wait a minute! If he was 25% American Indian and 75% white, then three-fourths of him owes the other one fourth of him payment!

So, if someone proved they were actually descended from slaves, we would also have to see if or how much their ancestors intermarried with non-slave descendants, and adjust their reparation payments accordingly.

There is hardly a group living in this country who can't point to some injustice committed upon them or their ancestors. Besides blacks, there are American Indians, Germans, Jews, Italians, Polish, Hispanics, Japanese, Russians, and others I probably did not think of. I think by the time we all pay reparations to everyone else, we might have just about done an even swap all around.

The reparation issue is not about justice or equality. It is about preference, reverse racism, and self-interest.

Those are my thoughts on this matter.

Oh, and I am still running barefoot! and loving it!
For those who think it matters, I wear no animal products and I wear no petrochemical products when I run! How's that for environmentally friendly?



James said...

Ryan, it's delightful to read such thoughtful comments on such a difficult issue.

However, you and I seem to have read very different history books.

Slavery was not a regional problem. There was extensive slavery throughout the north of this country, both before and after independence from Great Britain. Slavery did not end in the north, in fact, until the Civil War. Moreover, the north dominated the U.S. slave trade, with more than 90% of all slaves brought over by Americans.

Furthermore, the Union did not "rise up" and tell the south it could no longer own slaves. The Union went to war to prevent secession, and the decision to seek the end of slavery as part of its war aims was only made later on.

It may be true that none of your ancestors owned slaves, but that probably means they were all immigrants after the Civil War. Most Americans today have ancestors who were here before the Civil War, and slavery was quite common among average American households back then. Particularly in the north, it was quite common for middle-class families to own one or two slaves.

I'm not in favor of reparations for slavery, but surely the nation that brought over these slaves and held them under its laws for generations, can't say that simply stopping to carry on such an evil practice somehow makes up for it.

I like your suggestion that any reparations for slavery focus on those who are actually descended from slave owners and slaves. It just proves how ridiculous such payments would be (which I'm sure was your point).

After all, millions and millions of Americans are descended from slave owners. Including many lower- and middle-class Americans who could scarcely afford to pay for the wrongs done by their ancestors. The benefits of slavery are by now widely dispersed, and enjoyed by every single American (including the descendants of slaves, although on average they have a much small share of the benefits).

To take it one step further, few would argue that Barack Obama should pay reparations for slavery, despite the fact that he's descended from slave owners (and not from slaves). But if John McCain should pay for what his ancestors did (the McCains owned a southern plantation and 120 slaves, which helped get McCain to where he is today), then surely Obama would have to pay his fair share.

Thanks for listening!


Vancouver Barefoot said...

My wife was reading a book by one of her progenitors. It said her family was living in Virginia, but couldn't stand the slave ownership they saw around them, so they moved to Kentucky to get away from it. I thought that was interesting. In the same book, she wrote that her family had some neighbors who were dirt-poor, named the "Linkums" She wrote they were all a bunch of lazy, good for nothings, except their son, Abraham. He was a pretty good boy! She was writing about the young Abraham Lincoln!