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Subject:  Re: Factor an additional 5% to RE - Reparations Date:  3/27/2002  3:40 PM
Author:  SirTas Number:  64256 of 876087

I think one could argue the point successfully that most African Americans are better off today because their ancestors were slaves than they would have been had those same ancestors not been enslaved.

I see this as having two problems. (And there may be more, but right now, I see two.) The first is this. According to the hypothesis, I am to take some African-American and imagine him (or her) under two different sets of assumptions: one assumption is that this person's ancestors were slaves, and the other assumption is that they were not slaves. (Presumably, on the second assumption, there was no slavery, and my imagined African-American is the descendant of immigrants--those same ancestors--who came here to America in some other way.) Then it is said that the imagined African-American is better off under the first set of assumptions. Very strange. (Apparently, it is too bad that my own ancestors were Europeans who came to America in the 1900's seaching for a better life....) But then (and here comes the second problem) it will be said that this is not meant at all, that what is meant is that, as history really worked out--with slavery--these people are better off now than they would have been if slavery had never existed. The problem is that these people wouldn't even have existed if there was no slavery. Here's a thought experiment. Go back in time and imagine the slave child of a slave father and slave mother, where the parents were brought from different villages or tribes of Africa. If they had stayed in Africa--if there was no slavery, these parents never would have met, and the real child born in America never would have been born. In reality however, the child was born into slavery in America. So, you could say he's better off existing (as a slave in America) than not existing at all. But that's strange, since he might seem the most deserving of reparations. Most African-Americans are descendants of slaves and never would have existed without slavery.

If the comparison is between African-Americans and black Africans, it's pretty clear that the African-Americans enjoy a higher standard of living. But it's not clear why this matters. Since the slave trade was abolished, there has been ample time for people in North America, Africa, and other places to differentiate themselves with respect to standard of living. I don't think the reparations argument has to do with differences of standards of living here and there. It has to do with justice and injustice. That's why the slave child (in my though experiment) seemed worthy of reparations. It doesn't really have to do with standards of living (although that comes into it), but with injustice.

There's another problem in getting from the child in my thought experiment to the African-Americans of today. Since the child's parents were slaves, he was a slave. (Actually, only the mother had to be a slave for the child to be one. White slave-owners could have sex-slaves--but their unions could only produce more slaves, not illegimate children.) The African-Americans of today are not slaves--but, as I said, most of them are descendants of slaves. It would be very complicated to trace the history of blacks in America--from slavery, to Jim Crow, to Civil Rights, etc. It's not a nice history at all, but, presuambly, most of it does go back to slavery.


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