As an immigrant who was born and raised in Ghana, I propagate the idea of reparations for slavery. For almost 250 years, my country was the center of the British slave trade. During the years of slavery, western traders arrived in ships loaded with manufactured goods to barter or trade for slaves. My people were captured in tribal warfare or kidnapped to sell to European slave traders. Many slaves had their origins on what was initially called Ghana, the “Slave Coast”. In addition to many years of hardship, African Americans suffered ninety years of Jim Crow Laws. After years of being beaten, killed, abused, and enduring injustice, America is obligated to provide some form of compensation for the descendants of slaves from the Atlantic slave trade.
Reparations, defined as a way to compensate or make amends for one’s wrongdoings by, for example, paying money, is a very questionable and complicated topic to discuss, especially with regards to slavery in the current era of U.S. history. Not enough money can be given for the many years of injustice my people suffered through. The history and legacy of slavery is now known worldwide and also taught in many schools. Though they are many controversies and oppositions around whether reparations for slavery should be given, there is still no guaranteed way of how the U.S. will address this atrocity which affected many people. However there are other groups who have been given some form of compensation for their sufferings as people, so why shouldn’t slavery be similarly compensated as well?
In the years between 1501 to 1505, the first groups of African slaves from various countries were forcibly brought to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese settlers. The act of holding humans as properties were inhumane and were one of the biggest injustices in U.S. history. Reparations do not have to be given necessarily in the form of money. One such way can even be in the form of health care. According to Jason Silverstein in a 2019 VICE magazine, racial health disparities had been around “from slavery through Jim Crow until today, which has cost African Americans a significant amount of money in health care expenses and lost wages, and should be paid back by the United States.” Since the time of slavery, African Americans in the U.S. have been overexposed to health risks while also being deprived of healthcare. This causes suffering, death, and loss of wealth due to the high costs of health care to many low-income families. During the Atlantic Slave Trade, high mortality rates, on average 15%, killed up to a third of African captives. Often the ships carried hundreds of slaves, who were chained tightly to plank beds. Some diseases among slaves included tetanus, high infant mortality rates, worms, diphtheria, whooping cough, cholera, and typhoid. Reparations for slavery through health care will indeed help many African Americans today.
During slavery, many Africans provided Europeans with free labor, which they had to do forcibly. According to the American Humanist Association in a 2008 article, the author stated that if slaves had been allowed to keep the profits of their worked labor, they would have tremendously profited from monetary wealth. Africans who were freed from slavery did not receive any compensation for the many years they served their masters. However, when slavery was abolished, slave owners received a compensated emancipation on April 16, 1862, in which the government paid $300 to some slave owners to make up for the loss of each human property they owned. It is very unfair that owners of slaves received compensation rather than the people who actually suffered injustice from slavery. Due to situations such as this, reparations would be beneficial as a way to help solve some economic challenges we currently face. Unpaid slave labor significantly helped build the economy of America, which created plenty of wealth, benefitting Europeans rather than African-Americans. In a book by John Locke published in 1689, “Second Treatise,” he states that “by our unpaid labor and suffering, we have earned the right to the soil, many times over and over, and now we are determined to have it.”
Reparations should be given for slavery just as it has been given to other minority groups. For example, in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, President Ronald Reagan in an effort to make amends to the Japanese Americans for their internment during World War II, gave $20,000 to each survivor. In 1971, a settlement was also given to native Alaskans to compensate them. According to the Tulsa History Magazine on “June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history”. Reparations do not only occur in the U.S., but it has also happened in other countries that have provided a form of compensation for the Holocaust, the Kingdom of Hawaii, and the agreement between Israel and West Germany.
In conclusion, the government of the United States should not back off from the idea of reparations, but instead, acknowledge its part and responsibility in slavery. This argument should be brought to the forefront of the U.S. government issues and debates so the detrimental effects of this evil can be understood and dealt with correctly and fairly. If the federal government has given reparations to other minority groups in the past, slavery should also be likewise compensated.
Writer - Janice Bortey (Featured)
Editor - Vaishnavi Bhojane
Illustrator - Lily Tan
Graphics - Althea Ocomen