Thursday, July 17, 2003

What Form Reparations?

I have given considerable thought to the subject of reparations for slavery and its legacy of late, a lot of thought. I have tried to wrap my mind around that which is fast becoming a flash point of both personal and political debate; not only across the country, but in Hollywood as well. A recent episode of the West Wing (a very fine show) addressed the issue and touched upon some of its complexities. And complexities there are.

But let’s leave that aside for now and address the broader issue; should the nation’s Black American population be given monetary compensation in order to atone for the forced labor of their ancestors? My short answer would have to be no! Now ask the same question another way; should the nation’s Black American population be given monetary compensation in order to atone for the forced labor of their ancestors and the resulting legacy of inequality that prevented many Black Americans from achieving even the basic tenets of the American Dream? My short answer is a hedged no, leaning towards a, “let’s see what we can do” refrain! All of which of course brings us back to the complexities of the situation.

The tide of support for reparations is rising all across the nation as the issue comes once more out of the doldrums of back room chats over poker and angry dinner table discussions, into the mainstream of American politics. Former President Clinton went on record as saying that he is against both an apology for slavery and reparations for slavery ( Bush predictably has not mentioned either the apology or reparations issue., a premiere web site dedicated to Black American issues conducted a poll on the issue, in which overwhelming support was given to the idea of reparations. The results of the poll can be viewed here ( And the old forty acres and mule argument is resurfacing as H.R. 29 introduced by Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, on March 11, 1867, makes its voice heard once again. The complete text of the bill can be read here (

But what form should reparations take? Except for the Thaddeus Stevens bill, that question has never been intelligently addressed. Should the reparations take the form of cash, real estate, or a college/technical school endowment, or voucher program? And how do we pay for them; through a special tax on just White people? Hardly fair. A one-time tax deduction, or some other tax relief for Black Americans? Again, hardly fair from a number of perspectives. And most importantly, how to craft the reparations so that they will be easy for all American to swallow (no mean feat I assure you!), or at least come to terms with?

And how does the government insure that only those directly descended from slavery receive reparations? Aside from the question addressed in the previous paragraph, this is undeniably the most vexing to answer.

Here are some thoughts. First, what form should reparations take? I think the reparations, if given, should take the form of educational vouchers to the school or technical institute of their choice for those Black Americans seeking a Technical, Vocational, Associates, Bachelor’s, Masters, or PhD degree. This not only helps Black Americans (especially Black American males) lift themselves out of poverty, but also helps the country as a whole. How you might ask? By assuring that a steady stream of highly educated and motivated individuals will join the work force well into this century as America continues to shift its economy away from heavy industry into high tech and the service industry. Any Black American alive when the bill is passed would be eligible and assured at least four years of study at an institution of higher learning, or technical program. And for those who have already completed their degrees, any and all outstanding student loans would be forgiven. The aforementioned would be the sole form(s) of reparations offered: no money, no cars, no land, and no houses.

Eligibility would be determined using census data from the latest census to determine heritage. Those Black Americans, who turned in their census forms and identified themselves, as Black Americans no matter what age, or social status, would be eligible for reparations. Census data currently on hand would be verified by home visits by census officials.

The only question left is funding. I am no economist, or self proclaimed expert on government funding, but I think a .5% to 1% hike in the corporate tax rate, along with a .25% tax on luxury items costing over $300,000 should be enough to fund the program, given the current state of the U.S. economy. In this way corporate America and the richest 1% of Americans give back to the country that gave them so much!

Good idea, or is there room for improvement? Or am I totally out to lunch? I don’t think so! The writing is on the wall; this issue will not go away and will no long stay under the rug where it has been brushed lo these past 135 years. If we are going to do justice to the past by addressing reparations for slavery and its legacy, why not do so with an eye on the future of our nation as a whole? An educated person is one of hope in the future and its promise of a brighter tomorrow. Education is now and will forever be the slayer of ignorance and the harbinger of hope. Let’s not waste yet another opportunity to enrich our nation and secure her future status by yet again turning our collective backs on her Black citizens.

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