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LETTER

Double Standard For Reparations

“No Guilt By Association” by Sourav K. Mandal [April 6] opens with the slippery slope argument that if inherited wealth originating from criminal activities is subject to reparations claims it will lead to “abhorrent tribal practices”. A counter slippery slope argument to that is the following: the rejection of all claims against ill-gotten wealth that has passed through a couple generations will lead to even worse tribal practices. A tribe, ethnicity or race with a Darwinian outlook might engage in brutal conquest and slavery knowing that in a couple generations their offspring will have unquestioned right to the fruits of their crime.

In “Reparations: An Endless Chain” by Kris Schnee it is suggested that “deep pockets” is the only reason why the U.S. government, rather than all the other countries involved in slavery through history, is being targeted by some reparations groups for a class action suit. Perhaps Schnee should consider that maybe it’s because the reparations claims under discussion are being made on behalf of the descendents of U.S. slaves, not Brazilian slaves, not Cuban slaves, but U.S slaves. Would it make more sense for them to sue Brazil?

Schnee then attempts a reductio ad absurdum argument by comparing reparations for U.S. slavery to hypothetical reparations for crusaders that stole books from Constantinople which supposedly sparked the Renaissance and the modern world. Well, if fanatical capitalists succeed in their quest to make knowledge and ideas patentable, maybe there will be grounds for reparations claims on knowledge “stolen” by the crusaders. Until such an awful time, however, the comparison is irrelevant.

The argument does raise the legitimate question about a statute of limitations on reparations claims. Mandal draws an arbitrary line at direct descendants. Schnee is unclear but since he’s against reparations (presumably) he draws the line at direct descendants as well since there are living Americans whose grandparents were slaves. I believe the number of generations is less important than the effect the crimes have on the present. No one should be the specific beneficiary of kidnapping, murder, and torture whether it’s after one generation or 20. Have the effects of U.S. slavery dissipated with time? It seems unlikely. Not only were slaves released penniless from bondage, many of them and their descendants were excluded legally until 1965, and extralegally up to the present, from a wide array of opportunities in this society. Hence it seems doubtful that a descendant of slaves is on average inheriting nearly as much wealth as someone from a lineage that’s been in America just as long, but with no slaves in the family tree.

South Africa is currently held accountable for the debts built up by the Apartheid governments, which is like charging the family of someone whose been executed for the cost of the bullets. But you never hear any protests from the conservatives about this kind of inherited debt. Only when the issue of slavery reparations come up do they start howling about the evils of inherited debt.

I too abhor inherited debt. But I abhor a double standard even more. So until the United States starts rejecting the imposition of inherited debt on other countries, I’ll keep an open mind about the U.S. government’s inherited debt for slavery. As for reparations claims against corporate and individual wealth, if the evidence supports them, they deserve support.

John S. Reed G


[LTE]Reparations Are Not Practical[body]
David Horowitz’s crudely made argument against reparations led to several opinion pieces in The Tech. These articles were, for the most part, verbose, full of long words, and decently written, but they neglected a crucial point -- the practicality of these reparations.
My family and I emigrated from the former Soviet Union a decade ago. I challenge anyone to make the claim that I owe something to African-Americans for the enslavement that occurred to them while my Jewish ancestors were being persecuted in a variety of ways in a far away land. Who shall pay these reparations then? For the reparations to have a chance to live up to their claim of delayed justice, those about to be punished must, in the very least, have their ancestry traced back to the days of slavery. But what if those ancestors belong to the small but existent group of whites who worked hard to ban slavery? It doesn’t seem awfully fair to punish these people’s descendents. Does this begin to get complicated? Also, remember those Asian-Americans? The ones who were brought here to build railroads and such under slave conditions? Granted, they may have been better off than blacks had been. The differences, though, are quantitative, not qualitative, and if blacks are to get reparations, the Asian-Americans deserve some as well.
Did we (the white Americans of course) not at some point exterminate entire Native American nations? They, if anyone, deserve reparations. The Catholics and Irish weren’t treated too well either. The list of people who deserve reparations extends indefinitely.
The philosophical debate about the morality of reparations is not trivial. As a practical matter, though, reparations are absurd, and I’ve only begun to cite the reasons why.
Aleksey Golovinskiy ’04[sig]