Yesterday, House Democrats held a hearing to discuss reparations. Actually, it was a hearing to discuss forming a commission to conduct a study to examine reparations. We may be far away from anything like a reparations system actually being enacted in this country, but we're closer than we were even a few years ago, when the leader of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, came out against the idea. Now, most mainstream Democrats, including presidential candidates like Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), favor it. As a noted progressive myself, I, too, support the policy. And I think I know how to make it work.
At the most basic level, reparations would involve the payment of a certain sum of cash to people whose ancestors six generations ago were slaves. It seems most reasonable to take this money from those whose ancestors six generations ago were slaveholders. Wealthy Hollywood actor Danny Glover was at the hearing because his great-great-great-grandmother was a slave. The fact that Glover is worth $40 million, and that most of the slaveholder descendants today are likely quite a bit poorer than him, does not matter. As it turns out, sometimes it's okay to take from the poor and give to the rich.
Now, a few questions must be addressed: Namely, how do we know who is descended from slaves and who is descended from slaveholders? Surely, a black person whose family arrived on these shores in 1970 can't claim any historical entitlement to slavery reparations. And a white person whose family came here after abolition — perhaps as Irish indentured servants — cannot be said to carry any guilt for North American slavery in his blood. It seems odd to think that anyone could carry the guilt for slavery in their blood, but that is the premise we must accept in order to get this ball rolling.