Read it here. I get it. Slavery was bad. It’s a blight on our heritage. Not because we alone in the world owned slaves. But because of the lofty principles upon which our country was founded. True, slavery was something we inherited from our mother country. True, not everyone – even from the beginning – supported slavery. Nonetheless, a blight on our history it remains.
As for reparations, I’m of two minds about that. Perhaps it’s because my wife proudly traces her lineage from two distinct sources. On one hand, she is part Native American. On the other hand, she is descended from Jenny Wiley, a hapless victim of Indian atrocities whose account of capture, murder and enslavement is an oft forgotten (deliberately or otherwise) part of the migration into the expanding United States.
Because she is proud of both sides, she sees the good and bad in both. While paying back for past wrongs could be a good thing, she wonders just who should pay and why. If she deserve reparations because of her genealogy, then which one and from who? Why not Jenny Wiley and the death of her family? Do they not matter? Is it because of their skin color? Was it because of where they were from? Was it because they were migrating into a land that wasn’t theirs? Careful on that last one.
But why would she only be given reparation from one side of her family tree and not the other? Shouldn’t Native Americans give her something as well? And then should Turkey pay up for that little city called Istanbul that used to be called Constantinople? Should Britain fork out some of the money since the slavery trade was its idea long before the Founding Fathers’ parents went on their first date? China for its past atrocities? Japan? Shouldn’t everyone give something back to Jewish communities? In other words, where does it stop?
Those are the question that come from giving preferential treatment. Naming a building here or there, or giving some scholarship in the name of someone representative of past suffering is fine. To a point, reparations of some type can be a very Christian ideal. Insofar as it doesn’t hinder or harm an innocent person based on something they have no control over.
Giving preferential treatment based on ethnicity or genealogy is saying you get to go to the font of the line because of factors that ultimately have nothing to do with you, but have to do with ethnicity or who your family is. By extension, it also says that based on ethnicity or family, you must move to the back of the line. Even if your ancestors had nothing to do with it. Which, if you think about it, was the problem in the first place. Name buildings and give scholarships based on this or that individual all you want. If they can give preferential treatment in such a way that doesn’t hinder anyone because of factors over which they have no control, fine. But at no point should reparations hurt, hinder, punish, or relegate to the back of a line anyone just because of the color of their skin or who their great, great, great, great, great grandparents happened to be or not be. At that point the action ceases to be a reparation, and simply becomes a new, modified form of Weregild.