Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential elections are calling for reparations for slavery or for the study of reparations. Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren are leading the charge. Slavery was a gross violation of human rights. Justice would demand that slave owners make compensatory payments to slaves. Since both slaves and slave owners are no longer with us, such punishment and compensation is beyond our reach.
So which white Americans owe which black Americans how much? Reparations advocates don’t want that question asked, but let’s you and I ask it. Are the millions of European, Asian and Latin Americans who immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century responsible for slavery? What about descendants of Northern whites who fought and died in the War of 1861 in the name of freeing slaves? Should they cough up money for black Americans? What about non-slave-owning Southern whites, who were a majority of Southern whites — should their descendants be made to pay reparations?
On black people’s side of the ledger, thorny questions arise. Some blacks purchased other blacks as a means to free family members. But other blacks owned slaves for the same reason whites owned slaves — to work farms or plantations. Would descendants of these blacks be eligible for reparations?