Someone recently posted an entry lambasting the idea of reparations for slavery, and, claiming African-Americans benefitted from one of the most monstrous acts in history, to a large blog. He stopped short of calling for the re-enslavement of African-Americans, but that would be the outcome if one took his beliefs seriously. Why end a good thing? The entry reminded me that though there is intelligent, thoughtful information about the idea of reparations to the descendants of slaves available, it does not get read often enough. Instead, the kind of nonsense in that entry is what most people know about the idea.
The best article I've located online about reparations was published by Harper's Magazine in November of 2000. The periodical hosted a symposium on the topic, inviting legal experts Jack Hitt, Dennis C. Sweet III, Alexander Pires, Jr., and Willie E. Gary.
Does America owe a debt to the descendants of its slaves?
Hardly a week goes by that we don't read of another gigantic lawsuit with thousands of plaintiffs and billions in damages. Once an esoteric legal device, the class-action lawsuit has become the dominant form of litigation to resolve bitter disputes over collective guilt and innocence that not so long ago played out in Congress. Indeed, our preening national legislature, besotted with special-interest money, seems rivaled by the big budgets and major issues that now thrive in the class-action courtroom.
At the same time, one hears rumblings among historians and philosophers to consider a lawsuit for slave reparations. After all, class-action lawyers have ridden to the rescue of those forced into slave labor in Germany and prostitution in Korea. The academics discuss such a slavery suit in moral, historical, or metaphysical terms. That's nice. But in this, the land of show-me-the-money, the thinking quickly becomes practical: Who gets sued? For how much? What's the legal argument? How do you get a case into court?