Every legislative year since 1989, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has proposed the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, or, simply, H.R. 40. The act calls for congressional investigations into the impact African enslavement had on the American government.
The bill does not mention any form of reparation. Instead it merely suggests investigations from which remedies, if necessary, can be suggested.
And each year the House of Representatives tables the act, essentially killing it.
Though Congress does not wish to admit it, it is obviously the United States profited off slavery. To say otherwise is a gross disregard for history.
However, perhaps less obvious, the U.S. government’s endorsement of slavery was terrible for both the nation and slaves, as it undermined the young country’s economic credibility on the national stage and lead to the exploitation of millions of human beings.
But in righting this clear wrong, we have to consider if reparations are an effective apology, whether it disciplines those responsible and assists those damaged.
To begin, who will receive the reparations? Do we allow individuals to self-identify on a census form as descendants of slaves without actual evidence of ancestry? Or do we research each person to determine their eligibility?
Both notions are flawed, as self-identification could allow those not hurt to receive repayments, and ancestry investigations would likely be expensive in sheer dollars and time.
And if one group of people wronged by their governments are receiving payment, what of the others who were also wronged? Do ancestors of Chinese and Japanese immigrants exploited during the Gold Rush qualify? How about indentured servants abused during this nation’s infancy? Are their sufferings not valid? The government was in no hurry to protect these groups either.
Many suggest the federal budget as the source of payment, but if we use tax dollars to fund these programs, this does not target those who committed and benefitted from the insidious acts in the first place.
Yes, the American government profited off slavery. That much is true. But forcing that burden onto civilians who have no ancestral ties to slavery for being born to a country that does is unjustifiable.
The U.S. should repay its debts, but payments are more complicated than first assumed. It will be expensive for our government to right its wrongs, but this expense cannot come from the American people. It must come from the offenders.
Jacob Knutson is a sophomore journalism and political science major from Rapid City, S.D.