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Comments by YACCS

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Wednesday, March 27, 2002
Show me the money
Susanna Cornett has a very good discussion of some of the problems with the recently announced slavery reparations lawsuit.
But wait, isn't he benefiting from work done by slaves, for which they weren't paid? Yes, but so are the descendents of the slaves, even if you accept that they are not benefiting as much as other groups. So you would need to look at the relative harm - he has benefited, say, 10% or 25% or 50% more because one half of his ancestry is American of Anglo-European descent. And what about the generalized benefit of living in the United States versus Africa? Would it be reasonable to calculate what the average person in Africa has vs what the average African slave descendent in America has, and use that as a part of the reparation formula?

Another difficulty is identifying which people should benefit and how much. It isn't as if, in the case of the interned Japanese-Americans, it could be tracked that the family owned this property and it was taken so therefore this harm calculates to this amount, and this person is a direct descendent of the person who lost the property, so he/she should receive the money. First we would need to determine which people have no ancestors who were slaves, and whether they suffered specific harm because of the culture resulting from a history of slavery in this country. The next tier are people who have varying degrees of slave ancestry - 10%, 25%, etc. I think it unlikely we would find many if any at all that have 100% ancestry from slaves or slaveholders. Can you imagine the mess it would be to parse these issues? What about a Halle Berry - if her black father was descended from slaves, and her white mother from slaveholders, would that not be a wash?
The issues she raises are valid; the only problem with her analysis is that she works from the faulty premise that people who were injured by slavery -- directly or through their ancestors -- are the intended beneficiaries of this lawsuit. As even the plaintiff's lawyers admit, that's simply not the case:
Any damages won from the lawsuit would be put into a fund to improve health, education and housing opportunities for blacks, said attorney Roger Wareham, one of a group of lawyers who prepared the lawsuits.

''This is not about individuals receiving checks in their mailbox,'' Wareham said.
If it were truly "reparations," of course it would be about individuals receiving checks in their mailbox. So if it doesn't go to individuals, where is it going to go? Well, aside from the plaintiffs' attorneys (which goes without saying), it will go to activist groups, who will then use the money to fund more lobbying efforts and lawsuits for more money. And, of course, to keep activists employed. Jesse Jackson has made a career of this; why shouldn't others?

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