March 25, 2007

Dopey WNJ Letter of the Week

The issue of an apology for slavery here in Delaware has been debated the last few weeks in the News Journal and in local blogs. I've already addressed one WNJ letter writer's point about an apology and reparations; now we have Wilmington's Waldron H. Giles opining on the matter tossing some dubious figures around:

An apology would be a simple price to pay for a national debt of some $21 trillion owed for 400 years of free labor and 12 to 16 million deaths.

With $580,000 owed to each descendant of slaves; every black child could get a quality private education; parents could begin to believe that democracy and capitalism meet their legal and fiscal responsibilities.

I'm not sure from where Mr. Giles gets his information, but just a cursory review of it makes it appear dubious. But, first, 12-16 million deaths is probably an under estimate. 20 million deaths due to the entire Atlantic slave trade is probably more accurate. However, approximately half that number is due to wars and the trafficking of slaves in Africa itself. (According to David Stannard's American Holocaust, noted here on Wikipedia's entry.) Further, North America (where the United States eventually came into existence) accounted for "only" 500,000 of the slaves imported from Africa. The overwhelming majority of slaves ended up in in the Caribbean and Brazil -- over 4 million slaves respectively.

As for the $21 trillion figure, after quite a bit of searching (Googling, actually), I could not discover any source to back up this claim. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations (N'COBRA) has assessed the figure at "a mere" $8 trillion, substantially less than Giles' claim. This pro-reparations article cites an upper figure of $4.7 trillion. Dalton Conley, associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for Advanced Social Science Research at New York University, has more on the costs associated with slavery and reparations in this 2003 NY Times op-ed.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Giles is referring to the entirety of slavery in the Americas, but this is unlikely. Notice:

The huge burden of national guilt would be lifted off the shoulders of all of those many American citizens who reaped the benefits of the $21 trillion of capital that fueled the industrial revolution which subsequently employed the immigrants who flocked to American shores.

You see, "American shores" surely could imply the American continents; however, the use of "industrial revolution" and "American citizens" does away with that supposition. So, Mr. Giles, I'd ask from you garner the figures you cite in your letter. Picking artificial figures based on sketchy evidence does nothing to advance the case for reparations.

Colossus' Felix cites several reasons why reparations are a bad idea, while on the other side Delaware Watch's Dana Garrett opines that Delaware apologizing for slavery is really no big deal:

I am one of the people who believes Delaware (and the federal government as well) should apologize for slavery because it feels scandalous and scummy to me that we have never officially set the record straight that slavery was a great evil that should not have been legal. I canít imagine how it must feel to some people who are actual descendants of slaves. Since this legislation will cause no harm, their feelings should be determinative. Itís that simple.
Posted by Hube at March 25, 2007 02:06 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

When do the Irish get their apology? Oh, and the Indians, Italians, Chinese and hispanics? Whom do we hand over the money too? Will there be a racial compostion test and will you have to prove you descend from slaves? Or will dark skin be enough? Reparations from a generation of people who have possibly been the most color-blind in the history of the world to a generation that was not a victim of the horrible crime that the money is supposed to repair; Ridiculous!

Posted by: jef at March 25, 2007 04:10 PM

Actually, we did acknowledge the wrong and act to correct it -- I believe the documents in question were called the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

And as a Yankee born and bred, whose ancestors fought for the Union and whose Republican Party is and always has been the Party of Emancipation, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights, I don't feel I owe anyone a single apology or a penny of reparations.

However, if some African Americans would like to sue the DNC for its history of supporting slavery, Jim Crow, the Klan, I'll gladly send them a contribution for their effort against that Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organization.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at March 25, 2007 07:42 PM

"Whom do we hand over the money too?"

To me, that's not nearly as important a question to answer as "From whom do we take the money?" I've never owned a slave, and if even if I should be held responsible for the crimes of my ancestors, well, they never owned slaves either.

Actually, the payment of the money would be interesting, too; with that much money on the line, I'd wager that significant numbers of dark-skinned people would claim slavery lineage, whether true or not.

Posted by: The Unabrewer at March 25, 2007 08:46 PM

Add to that do we give money to people like Oprah and Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Jay-Z, P Diddy, Russell Simmons et al?

As Unabrewer points out, where is this money coming from? There's only one answer: Taxpayers. If that is so, wouldn't you be drawing taxes from descendants of slaves only to repay them with the same money?

Would such a payment mean an end to programs like Affirmative Action which are seen as leveling the playing ground for vestiges of slavery?

What kind of market distortions would result from such a vast amount of cash being distributed in often highly localized populations?

Posted by: Duffy at March 26, 2007 09:28 AM