The topic of reparations has been raised again in lieu of the identitarian Marxist group BLM's ever-increasing popularity and transformed from a bad idea into a practice today in Evanston, Illinois. Given this is a serious matter—given serious consideration by serious people—I thought it prudent to take some time to pose some serious questions worth answering.
In a 2018 Munk Debate with Michael Eric Dyson concerning political correctness, Dr. Jordan Peterson inquired how best to “dispense” with white privilege; whether a tax would be necessary, and if so, how to quantify privilege to determine an appropriate figure or percentage. His point got to the heart of the problem of quantifying group guilt and group victimhood. To what degree has a given Black American living today been aggrieved by slavery? If an American Black living today—who has never been himself a slave—is not the descendant of an American slave, are they to receive reparations based solely on their having darker pigmentation? What if an American Black was naturalized recently after moving from South America or Africa? In the case of the former, should Uncle Sam bill Brazil or Haiti or Spain or Portugal or the descendants of the African tribesmen who sold off their rivals?
If a descendant of slaves is one-eighth black, do they receive one-eighth the reparation of a ‘full’-black descendant of slaves? Nella Larsen’s phenomenal novel Passing illuminates the nastiness of such authenticity claims. That same descendant of slaves who is one-eighth black—does he or she then pay towards reparations to the extent that they are white? Where historical records are lacking, must one provide a blood test? A map of their genome? How are our noble politicians to decide whom to confer reparations to, when apparently Latinos are also black?
What about guilt then? Given reparations would be paid by people today who have not owned slaves, what of those who are not descendants of slave owners? In 1860, the population of the United States was 31,183,582. Of that ~31M, the total number of slave owners was 393,975 and the number of slaves at that time totaled 3,950,528. Do descendants of those slave-owners alone assume the collective guilt and the responsibility for reparations? Should they alone be fined for the sin of slavery? Should the sons and daughters of Slav or Irish serfs who lived in remote European/Eurasian towns, never owned slaves, and came to America after slavery was abolished, be fined the same? Should sons and daughters descended from abolitionists be fined? If one’s great-grandfather fought in the Civil War against the South, ought they get a tax break? What if one is one-eighth guilty? Would there be diminished penalties?
What of the descendants of William Ellison, the former ‘Mulatto’ slave who owned 63 black slaves? Do they bear any collective guilt?
Owing to Lincoln’s assassination and Jackson’s dismissal, forty acres and a mule were never conferred in full. Would reparations come down to making good on Lincoln’s promise, but only to those to whom it was first promised?
If those advocating for reparations tie guilt only to pigmentation, then it seems as though they mean to paint all who look one way with the same prejudicial brush, ignoring historical nuance, individual rights, and individual context.