The Cost of Freedom
Today in our modern society slavery is still both a controversial and sensitive issue to most Black Americans - The Cost of Freedom introduction. In addition to that, the discussion of reparations is often carefully disputed. The term “reparation” is derived from its Latin root word “repair”. Reparation is the act or process of making amends by means of compensation. The debate over reparations still stands because some people in this country believe that America owes African-Americans something – money – for the years of emotional rape, physical brutality and bondage that our ancestors experienced after being shipped to this land.
While this may be reasonable, others argue that this country owes Blacks more than money. Respect, dignity, equality and a sense of pride are all indebted to African-Americans, and are much more important to a culture that has been oppressed for so long. Those opposed to reparations believe that the United States government should not consider paying African-Americans reparations as an apology for slavery because it will not repair anything. In early 1860, the continent of Africa was bombarded and individuals were shackled and shipped to a frightening new world.
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In this new world, African descendents had no rights and were treated inhumanly. As slaves, Africans were the property of the Europeans who started this country, and they could not get married legally, own property, testify in court, or learn to read and write. All of these injustices continued until the North, who agreed to antislavery, and the South embarked on the Civil War, which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, the abolishment of slavery. Right now, in 2002, the subject of slavery reparations concerns both blacks and whites because money is something that we all share in this nation today.
The question is not whether this country stands divided because of the bondage and enslavement in the past, instead the question is whether or not these “debts” can ever be satisfied with money. In America, a country who’s means of stability and power is shown in dividends, the idea of distributing checks to resolve Black America’s lawsuit against society may seem reasonable and logical, but the principle behind using money to account for murder, injustice and inhuman treatment of an entire people who were sold, bought, kidnapped and stripped of their heritage is more questionable.
Today, the idea of Blacks accepting money as an apology is often heavily debated, and “one can only be left to wonder if money will be the thing that finally bring us all together, or finally tears us apart” (Daniel, 14). The controversy surrounding reparations is whether or not the government owns African-Americans who live in society today “something” for the oppression their culture has endured throughout this country’s history.
Reparations for slavery can be made available to Blacks if they can agree that it will benefit their culture. The main debate over reparations is whether or not Blacks should allow white America to place a value on slavery, a historic legacy. Some people, both Blacks and whites, believe that some of the problems in the black community can be relieved if Blacks had more money. On the other hand, some believe that reparations will bring more problems to the Black community, and that money from the government will not heal our past.
The subject of reparations brings so much controversy because it raises questions about the moral values in our nation; such as “should non-slaveowners be required to compensate non-slaves because of events that happened between their ancestors? “. And in addition to that; “will this increase or decrease the indifference between blacks and whites? ” Some people believe that the United States has a debt to African-Americans that can be satisfied with money.
Currently, in this country, African-Americans have the same rights and freedoms that other citizens have, however, they often struggle financially and lack the resources necessary for self-improvement, and this gives reasons for people to believe that receiving more money from the government will make things easier in our community. However, one of the main problems with African-Americans in today’s society is that they have dependent mentalities that are fixed on taking the easy route.
Instead of working with all the opportunities given to everyone in this country, some Blacks would rather sit and complain about what has been stolen from them and how much better they would feel about it if they “had a little bit more money” (Kennedy, 28). Blacks will no longer struggle with money when they realize that more and more of it will not guarantee a culture with no worries. Contrary to what some may believe, the mistreatment, discrimination and mental bondage against this culture will not change because of money.
First, reparations can be a form of justice used to restore a person’s financial health as if the wrongdoing had never occurred. In an article entitled “Rally For Reparations”, the author cites “We cannot put a value on freedom, but we can provide financial stability to those who need it, by means of fixed budgets and reparations” (Meadows 15). In short, this article states that Blacks may further advance if given more financial dependence on the government. Another article supporting a similar view says that “instead of just saying that slavery has oppressed Blacks, let’s offer them something solid that they can benefit from” (Henry 39).
Truly, this shows that some people believe that accepting reparations has nothing to do with principles or dignity, they only see reparations as a way to receive money from the government to achieve financial stability. Some of what the author has stated may be true, but before consenting to handouts Blacks must acknowledge what the acceptance of reparations for slavery means for the culture as a whole. Blacks may need financial assistance, but the question should be why?
Do Blacks really need financial aid because of the oppression that took place during slavery, or because of our own self-defeating attitude which still oppress us in society today. Likewise, “financial support” from the government could hurt our culture before it helps it. Some Blacks in this country have become more lazy and full of more excuses for generations and reparations may give those Blacks more reasons to make more excuses about why we have not helped ourselves advance. Second, reparations can benefit Black Americans in this country because it offers financial support from the government.
Some sources say that “the only argument about reparation should be how much money is enough” (Michelson 15). This quote takes the firm position that the United States government owes Blacks money for the past, but the debate should be focused on how much we are owed. Another quote supporting slavery reparations states that “it seems that it is time for America to offer an outright apology to our African descendents” (Brune 17). This article went on to interpret this “apology” as most modern-day Americans interpret best; with dollar signs.
Supporters of reparations may believe that reparations can benefit Blacks, but at what cost? This may be money that supporters feel is indebted to them, but we must remember that paying for the past will undoubtedly come with a price. Black Americans deserve respect, reverence and vindication for years of oppression, but the way to get it is not by accepting more handouts from the government. The second quote speaks about an apology to our African descendents, and those ancestors souls probably rest easier knowing that today Blacks have the freedoms that they were once denied.
This culture has stood up for our ancestors in the way that there are black inventors, black colleges and universities and even black mayors. There is still a long way to go to advance to the point where this culture is one that stands independently, but accepting reparations will definitely be a step back into the past. The discussion of reparations also raises an important question; “Is there really a price for pain? ” The answer is both easy and obvious, and the United States government needs to realize that slavery, like many other historical events, is an occurrence that has lasting effects that cannot be erased with money.
Reparations will not reduce the percentage of black children born to teenage mothers. Also, handing out reparations will not reduce the number of minority gangs in this nation, the minority violence, or the alarming rate at which our young black people are dying on the streets at the hands of their fellow brothers. More importantly, reparations will not improve the self-defeating mentalities that so many generations of blacks have. Although Americans believe that money talks, reparations for slavery in this country will be impossible because freedom today is priceless.
First, if individual reparations for slavery were made available to Blacks, no one would ever fully agree on who is “black enough” to receive these benefits. Not only will we stand divided in our opinions about the distribution of the money, we will probably never agree on “who’s who amongst African-Americans. ” To emphasize this point, “it should be said that America is a country filled with people who are biracial, and even people who are immigrants directly from countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Jamaica who are considered black in this country” (Parloff 18).
Right now, determining race in this country seems to be important because it is a part of the personal identity of an individual, and this is a country that has always stood divided along the color lines. Nevertheless, according to an article in Black Enterprise, one golden rule still stands, “one ounce of Black blood, and you’re a Negro… ” (Leonard 40). It is no doubt that Blacks who have been passing for white for years will eagerly check the “Black” box once the reparations start rolling out, and allowing this to happen will be the first step towards us belittling the past.
If reparations were offered the Black population will double overnight. “Hundreds of people in this country will suddenly rediscover their blackness in the interest of dollar signs” (Edwards 29). In addition to that, Edwards, author of “By Bread Alone? “, wrote about an experience he had shortly after moving into a white neighborhood. He was talking with his new neighbor, who he assumed to be Caucasian, and in the conversation, she revealed that she was actually Black, and that even her [white] husband knew nothing about it.
The author noted how if reparations for slavery were being handed out, people who denote their heritage today will suddenly find reason to reclaim their roots, and that is not fair to our ancestors. Stated differently, “those people will be free to spend money that they do not deserve because being Black in this country is still a daily struggle, and those who chose to belittle that struggle by living under the identity of other races, for whatever reason, are the kind of individuals the black community does not need, so why should they be entitled to reparations? (Sowell, 12).
Second, reparations for slavery could mean the end of government programs that are specifically designed for Blacks. Affirmative action, for example, is intended to assure that blacks have equal advancement in the profession world. This is something created for minorities because of the oppression we have suffered in the past. Without affirmative action being in place, the oppression against blacks will double and blacks will not see certain opportunities that are stepping stones to bigger opportunities.
Reparations will mean that white America has paid its debt to blacks, and “the hiring rate of blacks at predominantly white firms, and even the admission of black students to white institutions will dramatically decrease” (Edwards 28). There is no doubt that even as a united modern nation, segregation, which is still alive today, will increase. From the white perspective, reparations may seem like a pretty easy deal because it will mean the end of yearly funded government program, like minority scholarships and minority building contracts.
The injustice against blacks in this country will remain, but opportunities for change will rapidly diminish. “Blacks have fought for civil rights, advancements and the luxuries we have today. Accepting reparations from the government will make our entire struggle minute” (Johnson 29). Furthermore, what kind of message will blacks send to white America if we decide to close the chapter on slavery and live off of checks, freebies and handouts that are intended to “fix” injustice that is still alive today.
Third, there is no doubt that compensation for slavery will disrespect the struggle and legacy of our African-American ancestors, and it will not “repair” anything. Our ancestors were not sacrificing their lives for money, so why should we be eager to accept any now. Our ancestors crusade was against injustice. They wanted freedom, dignity, respect and an opportunity to advance themselves as human beings, and today that is what African-Americans have to take full advantage of. “Accepting reparations as free money, will indicate that struggles of the past were in vain” (Elder 10).
Moreover, the things that the black community need most cannot be bought and paid for, and neither can we as a people. According to an article in Human Events, “accepting reparations will do nothing but teach white America that black Americans will accept just about any mistreatment as long as they wave the right dollar sign” (Portman 58). Reparations will give white America a relief from the guilt of their ancestors, but it will also give non-slaveowners a license to forget the sins of the past in hope to repeat the same bondage; only this time the bondage would be mental and fed with money.
The fact that blacks survived and have advanced this far after slavery is a badge of honor and pride for the black culture, and placing a monetary value on that struggle demeans it” (Williamson 30). Blacks should not be eager to accept reparations because the problems in the black community will still continue to persist. The teenage pregnancy rate and the AIDS epidemic in our community, as well as the countless absentee fathers should be the main concerns for blacks today; not how much money the government can give us in order for us to erase the past.
The only thing that reparations would do is give every white person an opportunity to say “we paid you already, now shut up complaining” (Sims 9). Accordingly, white Americans should resolve to keep their money and blacks should keep their dignity. Although the debate concerning reparations can seem divided, there is no argument that all the pain that existed the day before the checks cleared would still be there the day after. White American will feel like their debt is paid, but we will still continue to be oppressed as long as our opportunities are undermined while we continue to be our own enemy.
Black Americans will also continue to oppress themselves by giving whites a reason to believe that money can mend anything. Slavery reparations may seem like an easy fix, but most easy fixes prove to be temporary. Blacks must first ask themselves if money is all that it takes to mend the past. Instead of handing out individual checks to bandage the past, the government should acknowledge and honor African-Americans with more federal funded minority programs.
The daily actions of society toward the advancement of Blacks should express American’s apology; not just government handouts. The government has the power to give blacks reparations in the form of more educational institutes, more minority scholarships, more national holidays in the interest of honoring blacks, higher job placements and even reconstruction in drug-infested low-income neighborhoods. The money the government would distributing to individuals can be used as a tool to uplift blacks.
The government can build new public schools in black suburbs and start housing complexes and fund school programs. Individual reparations for slavery will increase the chances of the money being wasted on things that will not enrich blacks. “Compensation for slavery will allow white America to place a monetary value on a struggle that they did not experience” (Stanley 18). Only our ancestors will ever truly know the cost of slavery, and most of them paid with their lives.
In 2002, imagine a young black American receiving a government check intended to apologize for the past, and almost immediately, you can imagine them spending it on tennis shoes, platinum jewelry and new sound systems to go into their cars. Certainly some people would use the money to advance the black culture, but there is no guarantee. Imagine the risk of place “free money” in the hands of a culture that is already suffering the consequences and drawbacks of their own greed and irresponsibility. Instead of handing out checks, the government should further honor the dignity, pride and legacy of black Americans.
Reparations for slavery in the form of checks dispersed from the government to the hands of each and every African-American citizen may sound catchy and ideal, especially to black Americans who struggle financially. But it must be remembered that everything has a cost, and contrary to what people may believe, accepting reparations from the United States government has far more drawbacks than advances. Before the past can heal, this country must figure out a solution that is both beneficial and dignified. Black Americans must be mindful of principles, morals and cultural values when it comes to accepting slavery reparations.