Many have argued that human dignity and suffering can garner no price. And they’re right.
Since 1980, Sioux tribes have continually rejected reimbursements from the United States, even as the offer hovered around $1.3 billion. But no cash amount, in their mind, can compensate for their loss of sovereignty and land and the life they’ve endured.
Similarly in 1988, all surviving Japanese-Americans who had been forced into the country’s World War II internment process were given $20,000 from the federal government as a form of apology. Yet one former internee lamented: “[the money] could not begin to compensate a person for his or her lost freedom, property, livelihood or for the stigma of disloyalty.”
We have continually heard, from those who have suffered and received, that reparations are a small gesture for the unrestrained misery this country has caused.
While the meager price of these condolences suggest that they are an afterthought altogether, they also suggest that we do not respect those who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the federal government.
Reparations are not a form of revenge. It is not an eye-for-an-eye system that seeks retribution from people who happened to be born as descendants from former slave owners, colonists or others. Nobody blames the atrocities of the past on the children of those responsible.
Reparations are, rather, a ballast which recognizes that the injustices done by U.S. did not suddenly vanish after the events subsided and seeks to right these wrongs.
It is difficult to quantify the wealth gained from slavery and other forms of exploitations allowed by this country.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, whose family owned up to 250 slaves, is one of the most recognized faces of cinema and played a role in the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave to try to atone for his family’s past.
It was a nice gesture, sure, but considering Mr. Cumberbatch was raised attending a private school that cost over $40,000 a year and would arguably not even have his career if not for his family’s wealth, it will take more than a few roles to repay the fortune he inherited from slavery.
There is not nearly enough time or money to begin listing off the millions of people who have been wronged by this country.
Reparations, however, were never about that. It is about more than forming a list of all oppressed groups and buying our way into forgiveness.
Reparations are a monetary form of affirmative action which levels out the disadvantages that are long overdue of a solution.
Austin Graves is a history major from Sioux Falls, S.D.