Should Today’s Generation Make Amends for Slavery

There are a few things about slavery trades over the last few centuries we can agree on: they are another blot on Western history’s rather questionable moral history, perhaps being the most obvious. That it was bad is rarely questioned. Sure, there are historical moral relativists who question whether we should hold old cultures to modern standards, so perhaps the truly non-contentious point is that it is preferable that it is not happening now.

One of the truly contentious points, however, is the question of whether people today should make amends for what was happening all that time ago. And, on that point, I have my own view. (Oh, really? Who would have thought Allallt has a view on this? He never normally has views on contentious points.)

We need to look at what it means for this generation to make amends. The first assumption is normally that some sort of financial compensation should take place: that a state like the modern United Kingdom should give money to a country like modern Jamaica. The problem here is that the United Kingdom’s participation in that slave trade ended about 8 generations ago. No one alive today is the slave owner or the slave from that particular trade. It is incredibly difficult to explain why the great great great great great great grandchildren of people who did something heinous should compensate the great great great great great great grandchildren of the victims. Making these kind of amends is just silly.

However, it is reasonable to expect that the ‘labour drain’ in Jamaica’s history has had lasting economic impacts on modern-day Jamaica. It is equally reasonable to expect the expansion of the labour force in the UK’s history gave a lasting and significant economic boost to the UK. So, although no modern person is at fault in this issue, there are modern day winners and losers in the consequences. It can’t imagine it is feasible to put a figure to that loss, but there is a concept there worth playing with. Although, I still struggle to see that ‘making amends’ involves holding people who weren’t involved in the slave trade responsible for its consequences.

There are other thoughts on what making amends might mean, though. We could use the blots on our history as motivation to make a commitment to ending slavery. The UK has contracts and trade deals with companies and countries that exploit slavery, perhaps we could make our amends regarding the darker parts of our history by using our economic strength to either cease contracts with modern-day slave drivers, or manipulate the contracts to encourage these slave drivers to respect human life and political responsibility.

I can imagine the response that using economic power to spread one’s own moral and political ideas is a sort of colonialism. This assumes that, somehow, countries should not encourage the improvement of living conditions in other countries; that international law is some kind of oppression; that having relationships that span countries is bad.

Making amends this way, by respecting the idea that slavery is bad and the modern UK doesn’t want to have a part in it, is something I think we should do.

I also think that modern developed countries could show this solidarity with the non-contentious idea that slavery is bad by ensuring history education doesn’t gloss over this part. Honest interrogation of historical slavery does encourage us to reject that treatment of people.

19 thoughts on “Should Today’s Generation Make Amends for Slavery”

  1. The problem is, when most people talk “reparations”, they are talking about themselves getting money because their countrymen or relatives, distant or even direct, suffered from slavery. And this is, as you mention, ludicrous.

    Concern for the countries from which the slaves were taken is less ludicrous, but again, we are talking about a long time since the slavery was in effect, and no matter the impact on the country way back when, the current condition of the country is largely dependent on the efforts of the people still there or perhaps people who went there later for non-slavery impact reasons. Helping them overcome their weaknesses or staving off the current people out to do them harm would be of value. Giving them money will have no useful effect (except for a few individuals, of course).

    Now each “enlightened” country “going after” countries or groups still attempting to maintain slavery could possibly be of value, and a suitable “reparation” for being involved with slavery all those years ago..

  2. Why should I or anyone, make amends for something we had no part in?

    The idea of reparations is truly silly being just another effort by the left to steal wealth from those who earn it and give it to those who don’t.

      1. Are you taking the ‘wealth redistribution’ approach? Because, although I see the merit in that, it doesn’t address the question; is ‘making reparations’ the right reason to handout money?

      2. I was probing that, but only in so far as SOM’s recent comment elsewhere about not being able to afford healthcare in the US, whereas you and I enjoy cradle to grave healthcare as a natural right of citizenship. Not related to the post, but found it interesting considering SOM’s comment here.

  3. Affirmative Action

    No. Affirmative action is not about diversity. Affirmative action is how we repair the damage caused by racial slavery. This was not like ancient Rome, where a slave was an enemy defeated in battle. We justified our slavery by insisting that black skinned people were inferior. We wrote this prejudice into national and state laws. We taught this prejudice to our children. We hammered it into the black men and women we enslaved.

    We continued this indoctrination, well past the end of slavery, through segregated facilities and discrimination in all aspects of life. It has only been within my lifetime that black children were allowed to attend school with white children.

    The damage is real and can be measured objectively by the disproportionate number of black men in our prisons and the relatively small percentage of black men and women in professional careers.

    Enabling qualified black men and women to enter college and pursue professional careers, opportunities that we refused them in the past, is an important remediation. They must not be denied simply because someone else scored a few points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The prejudice that black people are inherently inferior cannot be sustained against the reality of black doctors, lawyers, generals, and elected leaders.

    When a child sees these examples he realizes that his potential is not limited to menial labor. When teachers see this reality, their expectations for black children are elevated. Aspirations and expectations motivate achievement, and achievement is the key to all real opportunity in our society.

    It is unprincipled to attack affirmative action on the grounds of unequal treatment. you cannot break your competitor’s leg the day before the race and then insist it is unfair for him to use crutches. If we value the principle of equal treatment we must take responsibility for the damage we caused when we violated it. Invoking the principle to escape our responsibility is self-serving and hypocritical.

    The only honorable argument for ending affirmative action is that the damage has been effectively repaired. That must be measured objectively. When the percentage of blacks who become doctors is close to the percentage of non-blacks who become doctors, and when the percentage of blacks who are unemployed or in prison is no greater than the percentage of whites in a similar predicament, then and only then can we responsibly end affirmative action.

    1. Your compassion is admirable; your critical thinking ability less so.

      First of all, “affirmative action” requires a decision to be made about a person based solely on their race. This is, by definition, racism, and worse, forced racism. This is not disputable; where dispute is possible is whether the benefit provided by legally entrenching racism is of more value than harm.

      So let us consider whether it does, as you claim, “repair the damage of racial slavery” (hopefully you find all forms of slavery repellent, not just racial slavery). The first step is is to determine what is that damage. We’ll use your list:

      – the impression imparted to both black people and non-black people that black people are inferior, at least mentally (nobody with an IQ above single digits thinks they are inferior physically).
      – laws and regulations which support or required discrimination against black people (I think we’ve cleared all of them up, except of course, for affirmative action)
      – percent of black people in prison high disproportionate to the poplulation
      – percent of black people in “prestigious” jobs low disproportionate to the population

      Definitely problems. Let’s consider how affirmative action can affect these.

      – it gives the impression (to both black and non-black) that black people “can’t get into important positions without help”. Doesn’t that kind of support the “inferior” hypothesis?
      – It is racism by force of law, not just stupidity.
      – Black people are not in prison because they can’t get into college; it is the forces working on them since they were children.
      – Yes, the number of black doctors, etc can go up a bit. But will there not be the accompanying feeling that these professionals “must be second rate” because “they could not cut it without affirmative action”?

      1. No, it’s not racism. Racism is the prejudice that one race is superior to another. And that’s not what’s going on with affirmative action.

        Treating people differently due to actual differences is not a problem. For example, giving a prostate exam to males but not to females, is based on actual differences, not imaginary ones.

        The same may be said for medical treatments that take race into account. Given the same set of symptoms in a black person and a white person, the likelihood of those symptoms being related to sickle cell anemia is much higher in blacks than whites, so a test to rule that out may occur earlier in the diagnostic process or later, based solely on race.

        And if one man steals another man’s car, how do we correct the harm done? Do we give a car to both men? No. We take back the car that was stolen and restore it to its rightful owner.

        If blacks had immigrated voluntarily to America, then, after a few years, they would be represented proportionately in the professions. Their children, like ours, would have the same expectations and aspirations as our own.

        But that didn’t happen. Instead, they were captured against their will. And they were not treated as men and women, but as livestock. They were bought and sold like cows and horses. Their children were taken from them and sold. Husbands and wives were separated and sold to different owners.

        Whips, chains, and laws requiring the return of runaways kept them in their place. In some states it was against the law to teach them to read.

        The false belief that they were an inferior creature to be owned, trained, and pacified by a superior white race, was beaten into them. And white families passed this belief on to their own children, for how else could one deal with inflicting inhuman treatment than by choosing to believe they were less than human.

        And this belief was at the core of the damage done by one race upon another, a damage that continued to be afflicted by passing this belief forward long after slavery was ended.

        So. What do you do when you run your car into someone else’s car? You fix his car or pay to have someone else fix it.

        And what does one race do when it has damaged the opportunity of another race to compete equally for education and jobs, due to a widespread belief in their inferiority, a belief the white race deliberately instilled in their children for generations yet to come?

        What boggles my mind is that you wish to treat both races the same, as if one had not been responsible for the damage done to the other. It’s like denying the Holocaust.

        In any case, affirmative action in college admissions never attempts to admit any person who is unqualified to achieve in college. But as long as the black student is underrepresented, any qualified black student should be admitted rather than a white student with similar qualifications.

      2. Racism is way more than just a prejudice. After all, there is no way to tell what a person is thinking; one has to see their actions in order to get any idea about their thoughts. Racism may be based on a prejudice, but unless it results in actions being taken, it is just stupidity, not evil.

        And yes, if a person or specific group does harm to a person or specific group, then the harming person or group should be tasked with making amends to the harmed person or group. Expanding this retribution beyond the actual people involved becomes problematical.

        You are saying the “white race” caused harm to the “black race”. And you are not completely wrong, but not completely right either. It was not ALL the white race causing the harm 250 years ago; 150 years ago a significant portion of the white race worked and even gave their lives to end slavery. And 50 years ago, a much larger portion of the white race worked to help end segregation and diminish racism. And by 10 years ago, we had made significant progress towards that goal. And at each of these milestones, fewer black people were harmed by white people and more of the black people who were harmed were harmed by black people (including in some cases, themselves).

        Sadly, in the last 10 years we have suffered some reverses, seemingly mostly incited by highly placed black people for their own profit or agenda.

        What I am saying is, it is neither possible or reasonable for the entire white race to make amends to the whole black race for things which they did not do and even their parents did not do. What all people should attempt to do is not to do any more harm, and that includes not fostering the belief in any race that black people are not capable of competing on an equal footing.

        So if I apply for medical school and a black person applies at the same time who happens to be almost as qualified as I, and they take the black person because the black race is under represented in the profession, then yes, it is racism. It may not be based on a rampant prejudice, but the results are exactly the same as the most intense racism; I was denied and they were accepted based solely on our races. Conversely, if I applied to another medical school and a black person who was slightly more qualified than I also applied, and I was selected, that might be based on a more stupid way of thinking, but the action resulting would be exactly the same. And I can’t imagine you would not call that racism. The real question comes when you have two candidates who are identically qualified. In that case, I would accept either taking the minority candidate or using any random selection process. The latter would be more “fair”, but the former would do more to fix the disparity between the races, without having to resort to racism to do it.

        Your last paragraph claims that affirmative action has “never” been used to admit “unqualified” people. You might want to check out some famous cases where less qualified people were admitted to meet “quotas” either as percentage or a set number.

        Let me suggest that by the time a person reaches college age, any damage which has been done to them has already been done. If you want to nip the disparity between the races in the bud, you have to start much earlier than that. Kindergarten is none to early, and by the way, white people aren’t the only ones causing the damage. .

      3. Assuming neither of us is racist, we should both be able to agree that, had Africans immigrated on their own as others nationals did, then they would be proportionately represented in our colleges and in the professions.

        The difference between this expected proportion and the actual proportion is a measure of the damage done to their opportunities by an extraordinary racial preference for whites over blacks.

        Therefore, the objective measure of our success in correcting this harm would be an annual increase in the number of qualified black applicants.

        But let’s get back to your point about correcting the problem earlier in childhood. A child’s achievement is directly influenced by the child’s aspirations and the teacher’s expectations. In the Prologue to Margot Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures” (it’s a movie now), she says this about the neighborhood she grew up in:

        “As a child, however, I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.”

        Every example of a black man or woman working as a successful professional inspires the black child to aspire to that level of achievement. And it inspires teachers of black children to expect excellence.

        This is why a prejudice that blacks are only capable of learning menial tasks is so damaging to opportunities. Low expectations and low aspirations lead to low achievement.

        So, the goal of affirmative action was to expedite the appearance of positive examples, because this was the most effective way to confront the prejudice of black inferiority, through examples of black excellence.

        Now, one may argue that we have plenty of those examples today. We’ve even had a black president. And this is why affirmative action is less important today.

        But I don’t think anyone can argue that affirmative action did not play an important role in expediting the process.

      4. “Assuming neither of us is racist, we should both be able to agree that, had Africans immigrated on their own as others nationals did, then they would be proportionately represented in our colleges and in the professions.”


        Eastern Europeans migrated here of their own volition and are not proportionately represented (so far as I can tell — but I don’t have actual stats to hand).

    2. One of the problems is while “affirmative action” has a fairly straightforward (and even laudable) goal, attempts to implement it have been flawed. The worst attempts were to require or pressure a percentage based choice. This means, for instance, that a medical school admissions board needs to admit some percentage or number of black students. If they don’t have enough qualified applicants, there is the risk they will admit unqualified applicants in order to meet the legal or appearance requirements. And this will lead to a decision between having the unqualified people failing disproportionately, which makes the admissions board “look bad”, or lowering the standards for success, which will affect everyone. On the other hand, without defined criteria, implementation is at the whim of those making the decisions, and measurement is limited to public perception, which is usually inaccurate.

      Furthermore, even if there is a valid implementation of affirmative action, it tends to not be applied until college entry or the workforce. Is not the real damage to a person’s capabilities done earlier, throughout their childhood?

      1. Again, that’s not how affirmative action works. You would never, under any circumstance, admit a student who had not demonstrated he was qualified.

        A child whose parents are doctors is more likely to see herself as a doctor, and more likely to have been exposed to medical facts, knowledge, terminology. This is likely to be the pattern for several generations in her family.

        Likewise, when the great-great grandparent was a slave, and forbidden an education, it is more likely that the great grandparent worked at menial tasks, and the grandparent’s education was interrupted when the public school system shut down to avoid integration, and the parent’s …

        Well, you get the picture. The damage done by racial slavery and racial prejudice continues to injure actual opportunities for success for generation after generation.

        What fixes this type of damage? Making sure that as many blacks as possible are given the opportunity to enter professional careers.

      2. I do get the picture, and you are absolutely right – about the cause. But the place to work on fixing the problem is not at the college level; by then it is way too late. You need to get the idea of equal potential instilled before the idea of lesser potential can sneak in. And avoid installing a “dependency” mentality while working on providing equal primary education. THEN minority people can compete on an equal footing without anyone having to play “feel good” games which support the very philosophies they claim to be fighting.

      3. We avoid dependency by only applying affirmative action to fully qualified students. Admitting students based on race without requiring achievement would not serve anyone’s interests.

      4. Having seen highly capable and highly qualified potential teachers turned down from a PGCE course (teacher training) in favour of both men and black people — many of whom then dropped out — I disagree that affirmative action helps the best person get the position.

        Not that this post was about affirmative action — it was about paying huge sums of money to other countries.

        That aside, there may be ways to inspiring children at school to reach their full potential and to train HR departments to evaluate content and avoid biases — without giving positions to people who barely meet the spec over people who look like they’d excel.

    3. The ‘you cannot break your competitor’s leg the day before the race and then insist it is unfair for him to use crutches’ is the very point I think is poorly thought out.
      The point is that I didn’t break my competitor’s leg; I didn’t do anything.
      A better analogy might be that my parents dropped agent orange on someone else of his generation, and now I’m objecting to having to race the off spring of that horror, where I have to run and they get a rocket car.
      I’m all for education regarding the horror of agent orange and I’m all for investing in ‘Victims of Agent Orange’ care and work places having to make adjustments for their disabilities. But I’m not all for giving them rocket cars in 100m races.

    4. Actually, Affirmative Action is not “how we repair the damage done by racial slavery”. It is, at best, a minute PART of how we repair that damage. There are about 325 million people in the U.S (May 2017) and about 13% of them are black (2010 census). What percentage of those people still have actual damage? You have to not count the doctors, lawyers, engineers, presidents and other public officials, sports and entertainment stars. Let us go long and say that 90% still have actual damage, which would be about 38 Million people. In order to qualify as having “actual” damage (being pissed about it doesn’t count), they would pretty much not be able to come close to meeting the qualifications to get into a prestigious major at any worthy institution, Some of the people who could meet the qualifications probably don’t need any help. And people who are not of “college age” mostly don’t count. So what number of people are we talking about benefiting from AA? Wouldn’t that be around 1/1000th of a percent of all black people, and how is that going to make a significant difference to the damage?

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