There is no question that slavery of any people, in any form, in any country, and at any time in history, is an abhorrent violation of the sanctity of human life and every individuals right to self-determination and freedom. What is also abhorrent is the persecution and planned extermination of the Jewish people throughout history; the taking of land and killing of Native Americans; and the persecution of Catholics and/or any other religious group. The current genocides, starvation, destruction of religious heritage sites, and general persecution of Christians, all of which is taking place all over the world in various places, at this very instant, is also abhorrent.
That being said, all of this talk about reparations for slavery that occurred in our country’s past more than 154 years ago before it was abolished by Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War, are meaningful in theory, but realistically untenable. I have no knowledge of any of my ancestors owning slaves, but I would guess there is a good chance that some ancestor, at some point, may have, since even going back four generations provides each one of us thirty-two family lines to investigate.
Would I be profoundly disappointed if I found out that an ancestor owned slaves? Certainly I would. Would I be curious to see if they had ever released them or if they treated them well? Certainly I would. Would I feel guilt about something that occurred long before I was ever born and something that I had absolutely no control over? No I would not.
I have nine brothers and sisters, and I am no more accountable for their current actions then I am for some possible great-great-great-great grandmother whose uncle may have owned a slave back in the 1700’s. I am not responsible for history and I cannot change history. Instead of dwelling on past failures the concentration should be on future expectations and successes.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other state and federal legislation to eliminate discrimination of all kinds has been, and continues to be, the avenue to work towards making our nation one of inclusion and opportunity for all. This talk of reparation to one group is simply a liberal’s feel-good response to a few who seek to dwell in the past rather than work towards a successful future.
The reparation idea is theoretically pure, but wholly incapable of being applied in any kind of fair and justifiable way. With poor records, how do you prove ancestors were slaves? Do you base payments on how many years they were enslaved? Is it more for slaves who labored in the fields rather than in the manor house? Is there an additional payment for those who were horribly abused and mistreated? Is there any payment to those who descended from a slave who bore the owner’s child and is, at this point, only 1/16 biologically African American?
These questions are not meant to be flippant, but are posed to show the very great difficulty, and real impossibility, to create a standard by which to the place a dollar figure to try and compensate people today for a horrible event in our nation’s history, that no one currently living participated in.
If someone feels guilt for their ancestor’s actions then, by all means, use your personal funds to establish scholarships, build housing, provide assistance, and do so many other possible acts to help ALL those in need to better their lives and futures.
The last thing this country needs is hours upon hours and months upon months of Congressional hearings on an issue that can never been resolved fairly about a horrendous chapter of history in which no one alive participated. Instead, seek to have Congress expand educational opportunities for ALL citizens and seek to have our children understand that it is only through education that we ALL have the opportunities that this nation presents. Reparations for a few is exclusive not inclusive, and is abhorrent to all others whose ancestors, in one way or another, were mistreated in history.
Senator McConnell is wholly correct in his approach to the reparations issue.
Jeff Schumacher of Maysville, Kentucky is a lawyer, former District Judge, old house enthusiast/restorer, and history buff. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.