Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

U.S. Reparations to Descendants of Enslaved Blacks in the U.S

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

U.S. Reparations to Descendants of Enslaved Blacks in the U.S

Article excerpt

"So, doing what is unjust is the second worst thing. Not paying what's due when one has done what's unjust is by its nature the first worst thing, the very worst of all."--Socrates (1)

Introduction

The question of whether or not reparations are owed by the U.S. Government to various peoples and governments is a complex one, and can be approached from any one or more of a variety of perspectives: economically, ethically, legally, philosophically, sociologically, theologically, etc. I provide a distinctly philosophical and ethical approach to the question of whether or not the U.S. Government owes reparations to black people (with origins in Africa) in the U.S. due to the transatlantic slave trade. There are broader issues that are pertinent to the matter of reparations to descendants of enslaved blacks in the U.S., such as whether or not certain African countries owe reparations to them, or whether or not certain oppressor-heirs (those who are the heirs of the slave traders and slave owners of black people in the U.S., for instance) owe reparations to descendants of enslaved blacks in the U.S.

Furthermore, I shall not address the matter of many American Indians being held as slaves in the U.S. and elsewhere. There is a case to be made for reparations to their descendants as well. However, I shall address those important matters on another occasion.

And here I of course refer to such people of African descent (black people) who are descendants of enslaved blacks in the U.S. as a group. And there are yet further issues of whether or not the heirs of U.S. slave traders and slave owners owe compensation to the heirs of particular enslaved people they traded or owned, as the case may be. But I am concerned with the moral class-action issue of whether or not the U.S. Government owes reparations of some kind or another to such black people in the U.S. as a group.

More specifically, I shall provide a definition of "reparations," one that is based on the notion of reparations in U.S. law. Then I set forth the various kinds and philosophical approaches to reparations. Following this, I provide a general reparations argument, and entertain the most substantial philosophical objections to the argument. In the end, it will be shown that, given certain moral and legal considerations, the most important objections to the reparations argument fail for one reason or another. And given the considerable strength of the considerations in favor of such reparations, it is concluded that the reparations argument stands as being the most plausible answer to the question of U.S. reparations to descendants of enslaved blacks in the U.S.

I assume that moral and legal rights are crucial elements that must be respected in any morally decent society, and that those who commit crimes, especially of the most heinous varieties, ought to be punished or forced to rectify those crimes in approximate proportion to the harms they have wrought on their innocent victims. Those who question the veracity of these assumptions are not those who will find the arguments of this paper plausible. But the reader can be assured that these assumptions are fundamental to U.S. law, and it is the moral foundations of U.S. law that is most relevant to this topic. How ought U.S. law to handle the question of reparations to descendants of enslaved blacks in the U.S., and why?

What Are Reparations and Why are They Important?

Reparations are rectificatory means by which one party, the harming party, sets matters right with regard to the harm s/he has caused her/his victim. A harm is the setting back of a legitimate interest. (2) Thus enslavement is a harm to the enslaved because it sets back the enslaved's legitimate interest in freedom and autonomy. Living under Jim Crow harmed descendants of the enslaved in the U.S. because it set back their legitimate interest in equal protection under the law, in accordance with the 14th Amendment to the U. …

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