People still talk about reparations for slavery. But it's a complex and thorny issue

Compensation for the descendants of American slaves became a hot topic in the election campaign, with presidential candidates expressing support for the reparation of slavery. The new proposals also seek financial recovery for decades of legal segregation and discrimination against African Americans in employment, housing, health and education.

But why now? And how would repairs, specifically focused on slavery, work?

Here's what you need to know about the most controversial topics.

The idea of ​​giving blacks reparations for slavery dates back to the end of the Civil War (ie 40 acres and a mullet). For decades, this idea has mostly been debated outside the mainstream of American political thought.
But writer Ta-Nehisi Coates reintroduced it into the mainstream with an article titled "The Case for Reparations" in 2014 in The Atlantic. And now, several Democratic presidential candidates, who need the votes and energy of Liberal voters to succeed in the primaries, have said they support some form of slavery remedy.
  • Senator Cory Booker introduced this week a bill that would create a commission to study possible remedies.
  • Senator Kamala Harris recently told a radio host that the idea of ​​reparations should be considered in the face of economic inequality.
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke with satisfaction of the need for reparations for African Americans, as well as for Native Americans whose lands were seized by European settlers.
  • The same is true of the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro.

How do you put monetary value on hundreds of years of forced bondage?

This is perhaps the most disputed part. Academics, lawyers and activists have tried, and their results are variable.

Most of the preparations had figures ranging from $ 17 billion to nearly $ 5 trillion.

– However, as noted by anthropologist and author Jason Hickel in his 2018 book, "The Gap: Global Inequality of Conquest to Free Markets," the most-quoted figure is truly mind-boggling:

"It is estimated that the United States alone benefited from 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and the abolition of slavery in 1865. Valued at the US minimum wage, with a rate of 39%. modest interest, worth today $ 97 trillion. "

Keep in mind, the total The US federal budget for the 2018 fiscal year was $ 4.1 trillion.
– Other formulations are more modest, such as a 2015 report from Assistant Professor Thomas Craemer of the University of Connecticut. He estimated that slave labor was worth at least $ 5.9 trillion and perhaps $ 14.2 trillion (in 2009 dollars). Craemer proposed this figure by estimating the monetary value of slaves over time, the total number of hours worked and the salary at which this work should have been remunerated.

The number of Craemer is also lower because it only deals with the slavery that took place from the founding of the country until the end of the Civil War. He thus ignores slavery during the colonial period and the discrimination that blacks suffer during the Jim Crow era.

Where would the money come from?

As a rule, advocates of reparations say that three different groups should pay them: governments, private businesses and wealthy families who owe much of their wealth to slavery.

It makes sense that federal and state governments (who dedicated, supported and protected the institution of slavery) and private companies (who benefits financially) would be tempting targets from which reparations could be extracted. But rich families?

"Today there are huge, wealthy families in the South who once had a large number of slaves. You can bring all their wealth to the free work of blacks. So when you identify the accused, there are a lot of people, "said the lawyer. Willie E. Gary told Harper & # 39; s magazine in November 2000, at the height of the last big reparations debate. Gray was talking about how these families could be sued for compensation because they directly benefited from slavery.

As you can imagine, suing large groups of people for redress would not have been a good thing. Others have suggested that lawmakers could enact a law to force families to pay. But that might not be constitutional.

"I do not think you can legislate and charge these families," CNN Malik Edwards, a law professor at the Central University of North Carolina, told CNN. "If you want to attack individuals, you will have to come up with a theory to do it in court – at least at the federal level, the Congress does not have the power to take on these people." its powers with respect to the commercial clause. "

The Trade Clause refers to the section of the US Constitution that gives Congress the power to regulate trade between states.

But the repairs mean more than a cash payment, right?

It could. Reparations could take the form of special social programs. It could mean giving land.

This is why people should check the details of the support provided by all Democratic candidates for the presidency. None of them made a concrete proposal that would specifically give a monetary benefit to black Americans.

They talked about developing tax credits that would go to all low-income people, not just blacks, and create so-called "birth certificates" that would help all American kids pay for their education, not just African-American children.

Until now, none of the leading Democratic candidates has offered direct cash payments to African Americans to allow the country to buy back its "original sin", with the exception of Marianne. Williamson, who announced his candidacy in January.

Williamson, bestselling author and spiritual advisor to Oprah Winfrey, has been advocating for reparations for years and proposes to grant $ 100 billion in reparations for slavery, including $ 10 billion a year over 10 years.

Others have suggested a combination of funds and programs to help African Americans.

"The direct benefits could include cash payments and subsidized mortgages similar to those that created substantial wealth for the white middle class after World War II, but focused on those excluded or victims of predatory lending," said Chuck Collins, author and program director at the Institute for Policy Studies, told CNN. "This could include free education and financial support in universities and colleges for first-generation students."

The repair funds could also be used to provide one-time donations to create museums and historical exhibits on slavery, Collins said.

What are the arguments against reparations?

There is a lot of. Opponents of reparation claim that all slaves are dead, no white people living today have owned slaves or that all immigrants who have arrived in America since the civil war have nothing to do with with slavery. In addition, all Blacks living in America today are not descendants of slaves (like former President Barack Obama).

Others point out that slavery makes it almost impossible for most African Americans to regain their lineage before the American Civil War. How could they prove that they came down from slaves?

Writer David Frum pointed out these obstacles and other potentials in a 2014 article for The Atlantic entitled "The Impossibility of Reparations", which was a counterpoint to the Coates test. Frum warned that any repair program would eventually be extended to other groups, such as Native Americans, and he feared that the repairs would create their own brand of inequality.

"In the target population, will everyone receive the same thing, the same person, or even the family, or will there be a need-based adjustment and how will the needs be measured?" Frum asks, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. "And if reparations were sort of collectively and collectively granted, the disparities of wealth and power and political influence within black America would become even more urgent." In other words, when the government spends money on complex programs, the more influence on spending than the intended beneficiaries. "

In a recent column in The Hill, conservative activist Bob Woodson described the idea of ​​reparations as "another insult to black America clad in social justice traps". He also told CNN that he thought America had restored slavery a long time ago, so no reparation is needed.

"I wish they could understand the futility of wasting time engaging in such a discussion when many members of the Black community are facing larger and larger challenges," he said. told CNN Woodson, founder and president of the Woodson Center. "America has expiated the sin of slavery when it embarked on a civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Let's say every black gets $ 20,000.

This is not the first time repairs are done, is not it?

After decades of marginal ideas, the call for redress grew in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Former Democratic Representative John Conyers introduced for the first time a bill in 1989 to create a commission to study reparations. Known as HR 40, Conyers repeatedly introduced the never-passed bill until his departure from office in 2017. Texas Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee , took over to sponsor HR 40 at this year's Congress.
Activist groups, such as the Black National Coalition for Reparations in America and the Restitution Task Force, were formed during this period. Books such as Randall Robinson's "Debt: What America owes to Blacks" have generated enormous interest.
Then came the trial. In 2002, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann became the leading plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit against a number of companies – including banks, insurance company Aetna and the CSX railway company – in search of billions of dollars in repairs after Farmer-Paellmann linked the activities to the slave. Trade.

She came up with the idea of ​​prosecution by examining the old Aetna insurance policies and documenting the insurer's role in the 19th century in slavery insurance. The prosecution sought financial payments equal to the value of "stolen" work and unjust enrichment and called on corporations to forgo "illicit profits".

"These are companies that have benefited from the theft of people, forced labor, forced reproduction, torture, the commission of many horrible acts, and there is no reason for them to do so. can keep assets acquired during such horrific acts, "said Farmer. Paellmann said at the time.

The case was dismissed by a federal judge in 2005 because it was held that Farmer-Paellmann and the other plaintiffs had no legal value, which meant that they could not prove that they had a claim. sufficient link with the companies or how they worked. injured. The judge also stated that the statute of limitations had long passed. Appeals to the US Circuit Court of the 7th Circuit and the United States Supreme Court were unsuccessful, and the claim for compensation has somehow faded.
But the 2014 article by Coates in The Atlantic has revived interest in the issue. New victims' rights groups, such as the Citizens Citizens Initiative Initiative Inc., have entered the battlefield. Black Lives Matter includes the repair of slavery in its list of proposals to improve the economic life of black Americans. Even a panel of the UN said that the United States should pay for repairs.

And now, the main presidential candidates are endorsing this idea.

So, what are the prospects for the future of repairs?

Despite the supportive words of these Democratic presidential candidates, reparations for slavery still face a difficult battle.

The idea is not popular with the American public. A 2016 Marist poll found that 68% of Americans do not think that the United States should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves. Not surprisingly, there is a racial divide to this. About 81% of white Americans are against reparations, while 58% of African Americans support them. What is surprising is the division of generations revealed by the survey. The Millennials surveyed were much more likely than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to support repairs. Nevertheless, 49% of the millennia opposed it.

These figures make it difficult for a candidate to try to sell the idea to a skeptical American public and have laws passed by legislators. And after the failure of Farmer-Paellmann's lawsuit more than a decade ago, taking legal action to seek redress also does not appear to be the most promising avenue.

Anyway, almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done to reduce the enormous wealth gap between whites and blacks created by slavery. Collins, the author and researcher, said that his own research has shown that the average wealth of a white household is $ 147,000, which is about 41 times greater than that of a household black, which is $ 3,600.

"This can only be explained by an understanding of the multigenerational legacy of white supremacy in building assets," he told CNN.

"People say," slavery was so long ago "or" my family did not have slaves. "But it's vital to understand that the unpaid work of millions of people – and the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, discrimination in mortgage lending and an incarceration system of mass based on race – have created unpaid wealth for individuals and white society as European immigrants have directly and indirectly benefited from this system of white supremacy.The past is very present. "

Zachary B. Wolf from CNN contributed to this report.

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