The argument proposed is neatly summed up here:
Richard Cellini, a lawyer, summarised the reparations debate as a question in three parts. “First, was a great wrong done? The answer is ‘yes’, that’s indisputable,” said Mr Cellini. “Then, to whom do we pay the reparations, and from what corpus of wealth?”
There’s a quite ghastly, great, gaping hole in that argument.
Which is, can we compensate those who suffered the wrong? If we answer no to that then there is no case whatsoever for reparations, is there?
All those who did suffer slavery are long dead. Thus the wrong cannot be righted. Case closed.
This is before we even get to who should be paying.
Now, of course, it’s possible to move on and claim that the descendants of the slaves are in a worse position than they would have been in the absence of slavery. This does not work, the average African American is very much better off than the average inhabitant of the West African gold and slave coasts, than an Angolan – to give likely sources of ancestors. There is no harm to those African Americans today from the existence of slavery. The children of the enslaved are better off than the children of the not-enslaved.
None of this means that African Americans don’t suffer discrimination today and to the extent they do then that should be changed. It also doesn’t change the manner in which other oppressions and indignities were perpetrated – Jim Crow, redlining and all that. But they are all separate issues and not slavery. The argument that because slavery the inner city school systems must be reformed is not true. The argument that the inner city school systems must be reformed because they’re shit is true and valid.
There is no case for slavery reparations. There’s a good and perfect one for reforms in American life.