To Answer Julian Castro’s Question About Slavery Reparations


Because the people who have been slaves have been dead a century:

“If under the Constitution we compensate people because we take their property, why wouldn’t you compensate people who actually were property?” he said.

It’s also true that those who gained the benefit of their being property have also been dead a century. There’s no one alive who suffered directly as a slave, no one alive who gained directly from enslaving.

All of which is a reasonable answer to this:

As to the larger answer about reparations this is the major point:

This lets lies survive even in the words of those fighting against them. After denouncing “genocidal whiteness”, Coates demands “reparations” for slavery. Consider the following thought experiments. – Suppose the US government tells Mr Coates they have just learned he was in fact born in Senegal and adopted as a tiny infant by his US parents, who neglected the relevant legalities – so he is not a US citizen and should depart for his true country. In this thought experiment, Mr Coates’ true parents were not descended from slaves sold to white traders on the West African coast centuries ago. His true ancestors did not suffer from “genocidal whiteness”. How much money would Mr Coates spend on lawyers and investigators to overturn this assessment? How much money would Mr Coates pay to reacquire the legacy for which he says he should be paid?

– As another way of asking the same thing, suppose a powerful witch offers to wave her magic wand over Mr Coates. His ancestors’ past will be changed. The “genocidal whiteness” that has affected that past will be expunged. At every moment when one of his ancestors was about to be pushed onto a white trader’s ship – at every moment when the white western world was about to impinge upon them – they will instead be among the unselected, remaining in Africa. As a special bonus, the witch will ensure that they are not instead sent into the King of Dahomey’s murder spectacle, nor have their eyes gouged out by the Bemba, nor die entertaining the Ashanti, nor be eaten by a cannibal tribe. They will instead live to give rise to Ta-Nehisi Coates, still himself, but now a slave-descended citizen of Senegal from whose past all “genocidal whiteness” has been erased. How much would Mr Coates pay the witch not to wave her wand? It seems so superfluous to point out that the sums Mr Coates would pay (in these hypothetical examples) to keep his heritage are the sums he should pay, not be paid, if his agitation for reparations ever overcame the many better, more fundamental reasons against it.

The descendants of slaves in the United States are better off than the descendants of not-slaves in West Africa.

What reparations, for what?