TO THE EDITOR:
Thanks to the DTH editorial board for sparking discussion on the reparations issue. Let me first say that I support the concept of reparations to descendants of African-American slaves. To effectively address the continued consequences of slavery, reparations must be paid for uncompensated labor and enslavement.
In the Nov. 8 editorial, two primary reasons for opposing reparations were put forth: The living descendants of slaves are centuries removed from slavery, and the move to provide reparations will divide the country. It is important to clarify that the transition from slavery to freedom has been more of a gradual one following the abolition of slavery, through the Jim Crow era and Civil Rights era, and continuing today. The barrier to inherited wealth, the high rate of African-American poverty, and the income gap between black and white households have all survived as current-day legacies of slavery.
Reparations are certainly not a new idea. Indeed, there are many examples of compensation paid by governments and private companies. The U.S. government is preparing to pay reparations to Japanese Americans held in internment camps during World War II. Several German companies paid reparations to Holocaust victims for forced labor. Native Americans have received compensation, though minimal, for past injustices. Although never realized, let us not forget the "40 acres and a mule" bill put forth and rescinded after the Civil War.
The U.S. government bears responsibility for protecting and encouraging the slave trade, slavery and segregation in law and deed. Therefore, the U.S. government is the focus of many efforts to obtain reparations. The type of reparations that I support would be paid by the U.S. government taking the form of educational trusts, interest-free loans and other targeted economic development remedies. This is the only way for the U.S. government to fully acknowledge and take responsibility for its role in slavery.
An argument that the struggle for reparations will divide the country is a weak one. The road to justice is often difficult, as our history has demonstrated many times. The point is not to "rehash animosities," but rather to seek justice.
It's not too late for justice. Lawsuits might be a way to address the issue; however, there needs to be a forum on the issue in the legislative and executive levels of government. More importantly in my mind is the need for people to begin talking about the continued legacy of slavery and "the problem of the color line, and not continue as if it doesn't exist." As a descendant of a Southern slave owner, I recognize the need for justice and for healing; thus my support goes to paying down the nation's debt - the debt owed to the descendants of African-American slaves.
Joseph T. Kennedy
Environmental Sciences and Engineering