West Coast Publishing
Reparations African Americans
Public Forum August 2015
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Resolved: The United States Federal Government ought to pay reparations to African Americans.
Resolved: The United States Federal Government ought to pay reparations to African Americans. 3
United States Government 6
Ought to 8
Contention 1—Tangible Costs 13
Contention 2—Racial discourse 16
Reparations are good for the economy 18
Reparations are morally necessary 20
Reparations key to reconciliation 21
American wealth is built on black exploitation 22
Reparations are legally necessary 25
Answer to debt has been paid 30
Answer to no recent victims 31
Answer to African-American privilege 32
Services reparations are needed 33
Contention 1—Logistics 36
Contention 2—Black Economies 38
Reparations aren’t owed 40
Reparations won’t make up for slavery 42
Reparations won’t help black economies 43
Reparations hurt race relations 48
Reparations deny black agency 53
Answer to American wealth built on slavery 54
This month’s topic is simultaneously timely and timeless. Reparations for the hardships suffered by African-Americans were promised at the end of the Civil War over 150 years ago and remain a contentious issue today. While the debate has been largely academic and removed from legitimate public policy circles, the increased acceptance of white and government culpability as well as the influx of media images depicting police violence and mistreatment of black people have hastened calls for reform. While reparations still represent an abstract and politically difficult policy goal, many scholars believe a public discussion is the starting point of a more concrete solution.
The terms “reparations” and “African-American” are potential sources of contention. While some will define reparations as a strictly referring to cash payments, most acknowledge and accept that reparations could take the form of investment in social programs, tax cuts or non-traditional payments like land or favorable college admission. While some negatives will attempt to restrict the affirmative to direct monetary payments alone, indirect payments through services should be included as long as they are explicitly based on race. The definition of African-American is a question of historical significant; not all black Americans are the descendants of slaves (some are from families that migrated more recently) and not all blacks lived in areas affected by Jim Crow.
Some opponents of reparations use this as a way of decrying the racial divisiveness and imprecise allocation of such a system. Jim Crow reparations present a range of distinct legal and political options that are in contrast to claims made in the lawsuits focusing on slavery claims. Many of the differences are obvious and perhaps explain the greater level of public and scholarly support for one form of reparations litigation over another. In contrast to the slavery reparations context, Jim Crow litigation usually includes a more readily identifiable set of harms, plaintiffs, and defendants. However, the racist and oppressive “one-drop” rule that the government applied for more than a century, which implied that any individual able to trace their ancestry to an black person was considered black, was a tool of oppression to deny rights. It seems fighting that such a rule would ensure broad payouts to confront a broad issue of racial inequality.
The affirmative has a wealth of economic and ethical reasons to support a system of formal reparations. Many scholars have noted that the economic strength of the United States and several other western economies were developed thanks to the institutions of slavery, sharecropping, segregation, redlining and racial profiling. In this view, reparations aren’t so much a penalty but a distribution of monies owed to compensate black people for their historical contribution. While not all problems confronting black people are strictly economic, tax cuts, direct payments and public assistance programs will provide key support that furthers equality goals. Evidence suggests short-term monetary transfers can have a big impact on local economies and families. Most Americans admit that slavery was a morally monstrous system that wreaked severe pain and suffering on America. City councils in Chicago, Dallas, Oakland, and Los Angeles, and other cities in the past year have passed resolutions supporting a federal commission to study reparations. Also, there was no national outcry when the U.S. government made special indemnity payments, provided land and social service benefits to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, Native-Americans for the theft of lands and mineral rights, and Philippine veterans who fought with the American army during World War II.
Legal and moral justifications for reparations are plentiful as well. The Takings Clause of the Constitutions, the United Nations Convention on Genocide, Unjust Enrichment and various local civil rights tort payments provide ample legal framework for a reparations system that could address tangible wrongs and provide real compensation. Even the narrative stories of those who suffered the worst results of slavery, Jim Crow and white supremacy could be a moving reason for judges to vote Pro, regardless of the economic rationale of reparations. The issue of race-based reparations concerns a fundamental issue of social justice as well: the responsibility that the community as a whole shoulders for the enslavement of and continuing discrimination against African Americans.
The general moral obligation to eradicate racism from our society requires coordinated efforts to work toward correcting the chronic fragmentation along racial lines that exists in so much of our country today. The moral force of reparations arguments is simply to suggest that the African American community cannot shoulder the burden of redeeming American society, as Dr. King put it, on our own. Instead, Dr. King persuasively argues that all Americans must engage as full participants in a dialogue examining the cost of repairing our society to make it a place for all citizens to and their home
While the Pro side of the debate may seem to have a monopoly on pathos in this debate, the Con has significant reasons to oppose reparations. The most common arguments point out the difficulty in attributed blame for historical abuses of black people, especially the most antiquated abuses like slavery where no slave-owners are left to hold accountable. With civil rights laws on the books for the last 50 years, very few of those paying for reparations through taxes ever directly profited from any kind of abuse. This conveniently goes in hand with the argument that contemporary black people have not experienced the kind of abuses they would be compensated for.
There are also questions concerning how persistent this debt really is. Ever since the foundation of government assistance programs in the 1930s, black people have used a disproportionate about of welfare, social security and public school funding relative to the rest of the population. While this cost may not alleviate the burdens of historic racism, they do obscure the modern costs owed. And if one argues these programs did not compensate, it is fair to ask whether any kind of monetary transfer could be more effective.
One of the inherent assumptions of a reparations system is that it would be develop black economies that have been hit by the worst forms of poverty. The Con can dispute this point by pointing to the lack of development stemming from welfare and other poverty alleviation programs. Because reparations would target payments by race rather than economic need, reparations are, at best, an inefficient way of tackling the issue. At worst, reparations may be cost-prohibitive of these other government assistance programs while providing nothing more than a short-term boost in spending money. Data on poverty and African-Americans seems to suggest that sudden cash infusions aren’t typically invested or saved in sustainable ways.
Another compelling line of argument for the Con is to point out the racial divisions imposed by reparations. Not only would reparations make racial identity a matter of great public importance but it would also exclude other underprivileged minorities and further issues of inequality. Victimhood and a lack of agency are often associated with such programs and could have a negative long term effect on the development of black communities the same way welfare has stunted progress.