- Site Feedback
- IDEA Sites
- Digital Freedoms
- 2012 Presidential Debates Guide
- Asia Youth Forum
- Big Apple Cogers
- Debate Changing Europe
- Debate in the Neighborhood
- Debating and Producing Media
- Debating the Future of Youth in Africa and Europe
- Digital Debating Blog
- Free Speech Debate
- Global Youth Forum
- Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge
- International Public Policy Forum
- Online Mentoring
- The Freedom Series
- Youth and Sports Mega-Events
This House would compensate the descendants of slaves
This House would compensate the descendants of slaves
Slavery is the use or the threat of violence to make another do work without compensation, and usually involves the ownership of one person by another. It was abolished in the USA in 1865 and was universally abolished by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, although it has persisted in some countries to the present day. Given that their ancestors were abused, ought governments and/or corporations to be made to make reparations for slavery? There are different types of slavery. The traditional form of slavery (the one most people immediately think of) is chattel slavery, in which the person is viewed as personal property of the 'owner'. Humans are bought and sold as commodities. It is, however, the least common form today. Another type is debt bondage, in which a person can agree to be used for unpaid labor in the event of being unable to repay a loan. There is not always a definite period of time given and the debt can be passed from one generation to the next. This is the most prevalent form of slavery today and usually occurs in developing countries. Human trafficking can involve being tricked or kidnapped into slavery. Forced labor tends to occur in war zones, where the threat of violence coerces people into slavery and it can include forced conscription, usually into militias and child soldiers.This debate focuses on reparations for slavery in the trans-Atlantic trade, because it is the area of trade for which African countries, Caribbean countries and African Americans campaign for reparations.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Nations are still benefiting from Slavery.||Determining who ought pay is impossible.|
|Reparation would be a symbolic apology.||Repayment would be too expensive, especially given the current fiscal situation.|
|Slaves were forced to work without pay, so their descendants are owed for their labour.||Quantification of debt is impossible, rendering this practice impractical.|
|Forcing us to pay reparations holds current people accountable for their ancestors' actions.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Nations are still benefiting from Slavery.
There is a perfectly reasonable case that the state should pay. The wealth now enjoyed by the USA, for example, stems in part from the use of slaves. Its development wouldn't have been as fast, its GDP would not be so high, it would not have so much money if it weren't for slaves. Some of it should be paid back. If links can be established to corporations, then those corporations should pay. Pointing to the fact that individuals alive today didn't keep slaves is simplistic - they have benefited from living in an enviromnent whose wealth was built on the backs of slaves.Improve this
Firstly, simply because current individuals are benefitting from the previous harms doesn’t mean that they are responsible for them, they are just feeling its aftermath. There is no link between the two – they did not commit these atrocities, even if it has helped the nation they live in. Secondly, the proposition points out that identified corporations ought pay, but many individuals and corporations benefited from slave ownership, and the wealth it generated has trickled down into investments, bank accounts and business funds today. But why should the state or corporations pay, when the primary benefit was to individuals?
The current government and state grew out of the Union, which opposed slavery. Furthermore, the state’s money comes from taxes which are levied on a population that never kept slaves. No-one should be punished for something they haven’t doneImprove this
Reparation would be a symbolic apology.
This money would be more symbolic – and that symbolism could be the means for beginning the restoration of the fortunes of a minority that has been long oppressed. This isn’t about victimhood or singling out a particular minority for special charitable treatment – this is money owed, and money people are entitled to. It is not the causing of a division, but rather the healing of a still-open wound. That supposed symbol of freedom and liberty, the US Capitol building was constructed by slaves. African-Americans cannot truly feel part of the free society and democracy in which they live until this wrong is publicly admitted and righted.
 Roesgen Susan and Cooper, Aaron. “Slaves helped build White House, U.S. Capitol”, CNN, 2nd December 2008, http://articles.cnn.com/2008-12-02/us/slaves.white.house_1_colored-man-s...
It is divisive to push an agenda that suggests that African Americans are still so different that they can and should be singled out. Why encourage those that weren't born at the time of slavery to see themselves as victims in a society that actually offers them huge opportunities? We should be looking beyond race. We should forgive and forget. This discussion drags us back to old problems, opens old wounds, and makes racial divisions and tensions more likely.Improve this
Slaves were forced to work without pay, so their descendants are owed for their labour.
Slaves were entitled to compensation and, being deceased, that money should go to their descendants. This principle doesn't cease to be true over time – truth and justice don’t have sell-by dates. The most important thing to establish is the principle of reparation being right. The how is less important. A reasonable approach would be to say that individuals would have to establish a direct link between themselves and a slave (many can). The fact that doing so will be difficult does not mean that it should not happen. Dwelling on the practical difficulties is no real opposition. Practicalities come second: the focus should be on righting this wrong.Improve this
Simply because one's ancestor was entitled to payment does not mean their descendants are due that money, similar to how if one's ancestor committed a crime one is not held accountable. No wrong has been taken against the descendants of the slaves, only the slaves themselves.
Furthermore, the proposition states that practicalities ought come second, but practicalities are important insofar as ideals can never be realized fully in the real world; rather, we ought look at what is feasible so we can actually make strides towards what is right and wrong. In this sense, the idea of compensation is ridiculous. Firstly, how can we tell how much is owed to each individual slave – didn’t some slaves do more work than others? Secondly, How distant a descendent can one be, and still receive compensation? An eighth? A sixteenth? Many people who are or appear to be completely white, some of whom perhaps have no idea that an ancestor of theirs was a slave or even that they were colored, won’t benefit from this. This is made more likely by the fact that many slaves were effectively white – records show slaves who were as little as one 64th African were sold. Plenty of people who are descended from those that suffered cannot provide concrete proof – or, as discussed above, don’t even know it. If there has ever been a case for slavery reparations, it would have been in the generation or two after slavery ended. So, this point is flawed both theoretically and practically.
Determining who ought pay is impossible.
Many of the companies advocates suggest suing for reparations are only tangentially connected to the slave trade by long-forgotten predecessors. FleetBoston, for example, which grew from hundreds of predecessor banks, has a single predecessor, the Providence Bank, with a loan that went to a slave trader and assets derived from trade1. Should they be liable? Furthermore, most corporations don't have records from 150 years go. They're not obliged to. Moreover, without denying the fact that slavery was very wrong, it was legal to have slaves when people had them. It is wrong to pass laws that criminalize conduct that was legal when originally performed (for example, the Constitution enshrines this in its prohibition of ex post facto laws).
1 Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Slavery and Justice, Brown University, p.59
Companies can be traced back over many generations, and can be proven to have profited from slavery. It's fair to take money from them. Recent settlements over the use of slave labor in World War II provide a clear precedent, as do legal liabilities for asbestos injuries. Moreover, even though it was legal slavery was a terrible, fundamental wrong. Even if legal at the time, any member of humanity should have realized that it was his duty to oppose it. It's the same position as with Nazi executioners – even though following an order to kill a Jew might have been legal under the Nazi regime, it was nevertheless wrong.Improve this
Repayment would be too expensive, especially given the current fiscal situation.
The amount concerned is absurd. Harper’s magazine estimates the total of reparations due at over 100 trillion dollars, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865, subject to compound interest since. Dr Robert Brock, a proponent of reparations, suggests $500,000 per descendant. Given the fact that most African Americans have at least one slave ancestor somewhere in their family tree, this equals a mere $15 trillion – or a surtax of $50,000 on every non-African American man, woman and child in the USA (higher than the median family annual income).
Firstly, the idea that cost should impede on justice is horrifying – simply because it is costly is not a reason not to do the correct thing. Secondly, reparations are more symbolic than anything, they do not have to pay for the actual work done. Reparations are about acknowledgement and an attempt at compensation, not an attempt to pay off all the labour of slaves in its entirety.Improve this
Quantification of debt is impossible, rendering this practice impractical.
Without knowledge of each individual's suffering, there is no reasonable way to determine how much each person is due. Some individuals suffered much more than others. Should some descendents therefore receive more? Moreover, saying that everyone should deserve a certain fixed amount seems to deny the individuals who suffered their humanity by labeling each a slave, each doing the same work and suffering the same amount. On one hand, considering the horrors of slavery, would any amount ever really be compensation? On the other hand, some slaves benefited from being transported to a land of opportunity – and their descendents certainly gained. How can they be said to be worse off than the descendents of those left in disease and war-ravaged Africa?Improve this
There doesn’t need to be a quantification of how much any individual suffered – all suffered the same gross indignity of being denied their freedom. Denial of liberty is a grievous wrong. Arguments about the supposed benefits of slavery for those who suffered under it are speculative and insulting, set against the great suffering generations of African-Americans endured. Far from being a land of opportunity, the United States continued to oppress black people for a hundred years after the formal end of slavery. Even today, African-Americans are the poorest social group. Finally, a comparison between the USA and Africa today is ill-informed: many of the problems of Africa can be traced to the slave trade and to the colonialism which followed it.Improve this
Forcing us to pay reparations holds current people accountable for their ancestors' actions.
Clearly, forcing individuals to pay for the unjust actions of their ancestors is ridiculous – they were not the ones who committed the crimes, and people today are all aghast at the actions that were taken. This would violate the fundamental principle of ex post facto – people today do not believe that the punishment for the sins of the father should be passed on the son. Further while there have been cases of compensation for similar acts, Holocaust reparation or the compensation given to Japanese internees this was reparations given for the suffering of identified individuals. In the Tulsa riots, compensation was either paid to the individuals or to their first generation descendants, directly affected by violence done to their parents.
 Ogletree, Charles J. Jr, “Repairing the Past: New Efforts in the Reparations Debate in America”, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 38, 2003, pp. 279-320, http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/crcl/vol38_2/ogletree.pdf, Pp.295-297
Firstly, there are precedents for this kind of compensation. The notion of national responsibility for the acts of the past is displayed in Holocaust reparation – why is the suffering of Africans different to the suffering of Jews? Germany has paid billions not only to individual Jews, but also to the State of Israel. Compensation was also paid in 2001 to victims of the Tulsa race riots of the 1920s – or to their descendants. Secondly, although we normally do not hold descendants accountable for the sins of their fathers, the fact that they have benefitted from the atrocities committed from the crime means they have some form of accountability for repayment.Improve this
Berry, Mary Francis. "My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations". 2005. USA.Brock, Robert. "BLACK REPARATION MEETINGS ACROSS THE COUNTRY "THE NEW MILLENIUM"".Brown, Gene A. Reparations for Slavery and Disenfranchisement to African Americans: Four Hundred Years. August 13th, 2007. USA.Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Slavery and Justice, Brown University,p.59 Cose, Ellis. Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge. 2004. NY, USA.Flaherty, Peter and Carlisle, John. "The Case Against Slave Reparations." Harper's Magazine. "Human Rights and Reparations." All for Reparations and Emancipation (AFRE)."Join the Fight for Reparations." 40 Acres.Muhammad, Kevin A. The Slave Diet: Disease and Reparations. 2003. Delaware, USA.Ogletree, Charles J. Jr, "Repairing the Past: New Efforts in the Reparations Debate in America", Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 38, 2003, pp. 279-320,Reparation', West's Encyclopedia of American Law,Roesgen Susan and Cooper, Aaron. "Slaves helped build White House, U.S. Capitol", CNN, 2nd December 2008,
- Baldwin, David L. One Hundred One Reasons Why Blacks Won't Get Reparations for Slavery. 2008. USA
- Horowitz, David. Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Reparations for Slavery. April 1st, 2003. USA.
- Salzberger, Ronald P and Turck, Marcy C. Reparations for Slavery: A Reader. December, 2004. USA.
- Thompson, Janna. Taking Responsibility for the Past: Reparation and Historical Injustice. 2002. MA, USA.
- Winbush, Raymond. Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. 2003. USA.
- A discussion of historical blame on Ethics Bites:
Curate this debate
If you are an academic or highly knowledgeable about a particular debate could you give an hour or two a month to curate a debate?
Be a debatabase editor
Idebate needs editors from around the world to check, moderate and create content for debatabase and the site more generally. Editors are vital in making the site run smoothly and ensuring that debates are as informative as possible.