Ladies and gentlemen; I don't believe that anyone in this chamber would move to disagree with the idea that slavery was an atrocity, committed from the depths of the darkest parts of the human sole. Africans were seized from their native land, and sold into lives of servitude into a foreign land. Indeed, it was a tragedy on such a scale that cannot be measured nor quantified. And it is this very notion of unquantifiable tragedy which speaks to the matter of reparations for slavery. To be quite blunt, reparations, even if they may be deserved, are not feasible under any system or economic tangent - indeed such an undertaking would only not remedy the situation, but it would sink Africa and her people deeper into the cycle of poverty and oppression that they have so struggled to free themselves. While the arguments against reparations may seem shallow or self-serving to advocates of such a system, upon examination, the logistics of what to give, and whom to distribute it to, preclude any potential benefits of such a system of indemnity and requite. The point of the follow critique is not to say that Africans were not mistreated, nor that they are not worthy of reparations, but that perhaps reparations are not an adequate solution to this situation, and indeed will only serve to worsen.
Africa is a continent in dire straits. European colonization and colonialism damaged the native structure and society - some might say that this simply proves that European man caused, and ought to pay for, the damages done to Africa and her people. However, I would argue that simply placing a 'band-aid' blanket over Africa, would serve only to mask their problems, and relieve us of our guilt. It was this same attitude that the early European missionaries took with Africa - that they are not capable of dealing with their own problems and situations. Authors suggest that reparations should take the form of capital transfers and African status in the International Monetary Fund (Mazuri, 22). Does this sound like mending the deep running wounds and damage done to Africa, or like a transfer of monetary funds in order to "fix" Africa? Indeed, this idea of presenting money to Africa in order to "apologize" for what we have done is nothing more than a quick fix solution - it is not a long-term remedy for the underlying structural damage. The very center of Africa has been changed, for better or for worse. Surface solutions, while some may claim they are "a good beginning" or perhaps just a token of our apologetic state, will only further social damage and entrench abusive African regimes. A cognate situation with African Americans is with that of Afrocentric history (Asante, 174); many suggest that perhaps we ought to provide black student with their own curriculum, such as to instill in them a sense of pride that will improve their education. The U.S. News and World Report comments:
"The Afrocentric curriculum is usually presented as an attempt to develop pride in black children by giving them a racial history. But what kind of pride and self-esteem is likely to grow from false history? And how much more cynical will black children be if they discover that they have been conned once again, only this time by Afrocentrists? . It is a sure-fire formula for separatism and endless racial animosity (Leo, 26)"
This author suggests that indeed, conferring upon youths of African descent their own "different" history will not only further the racial segregation, but also provide them with a false sense of history, fueling the animosity. If the rest of the world were to suddenly step down and bestow upon Africa special privileges and grants, it would only create a sense among the global village that Africans are 'different' and require some sort of special assistance in order to succeed. This type of compensatory system would not only be insufficient to ever repay blacks for the injustice to them, but also further the rigid separatism that plagues African Americans today - what they need is equality, not special programs catered to what guilty-feeling Europeans feel they "owe" them.
Aside from any philosophical or idea-based arguments against reparations, there exist a number of logistical barriers to repaying blacks for their suffering. Immediate questions arise in the realm of distribution - it is intuitive that such reparations would be difficult to distribute, much less to decide how much, or where to place the funds or assistance. The questions are impossible to answer: who was the most oppressed? Which family or group of people received the cruelest treatment - should they get the most money or assistance? Such questions cannot be decided, nor is it fair to quantify or compare the suffering of different people - if we started to hand out assistance, some would invariably demand more than others.
Some of African descent were never taken into slavery, nor were oppressed by whites - even if one believed they are deserved of reparations, it would be impossible for an international body to distinguish or properly disburse the requite among Africans of diverse backgrounds. Some Africans have indeed become wealthy within then white world and do not require assistance - yet it would be unfair to slight them their share - did they not also once suffer? It is equally impossible to prove whether or not someone actually was a slave, or how long they had been slaves; no records of such history were ever kept. Also worth of addressing is African involvement in slavery - it ought be decided whether those Africans deserve reparations. Some historians agree that many early slave traders justified their actions because of African involvement in the trade itself - these African kings were bought by guns and technology from the Europeans (M'Bokolo ??). By this logic, even if they were forced to sell these slaves, they did indeed contribute to the effort - are the nations which contain these former kingdoms today deserved of repayment? Indeed, it is unfeasible to say who did and who did not, as any logical observer would note. It is equally unworkable to decide whether or not they too were victims of the slave trade, the arguments either way would be morally irreparable - for are they responsible for the actions of their ancestors? In total, no governing body can be sure of who these reparations ought to be distributed to, nor what form they ought to take. One might argue that just general monetary grants should be given to African nations - but that leaves African Americans out of the process, who formerly suffered as Africans. While perhaps the ideas that Mazuri presents are perhaps worthy of noting or discussion, we find that there are many unanswered questions in the issue - the risks of the distribution process outweigh potential benefits.
The final case against the organized business of reparations for slaves is that the indemnifiers. the question of who ought to bear responsibility for repaying the slaves for their oppression and abuse. Is there a certain group of people that ought to be most responsible for the reparations - should the average citizen pay for slavery? Both are questions which cannot be sufficiently responded to. No single person ought to be paying more for slavery than another; in fact few people alive today has ever committed slavery or owned slaves; they ought not to be held responsible for the actions of their ancestors who perhaps once did have slaves. Also worth noting is the idea that those nations most responsible for slavery are unable to pay for it, such as Belgium and Portugal, while relatively benign countries like Great Britain are economic powers in Europe (Mazuri, 22). This makes the interesting point of such, and I feel that Britain does not have to pick up the slack and pay for what other nations did - it is equally unfair as giving reparations to Africans who were not slaves. One of the suggestions that is also raised (Mazuri, 22) is that of establishing an IMF fund for African nations. However, it is the tax money of average citizens paying for these reparations - no one say that these people were actually the ones who contributed to slavery. The hard earned taxes of the middle class should not go to foreign funds to deal with guilt for African tragedies, but to education for all people, without regard to race or discrimination. The point is, that all in all, those who did not contribute to slavery ought not pay for it - neighbors of criminals do no go to prison for being near the criminal, nor the children or grandchildren of criminals serve time to society.
I would, once again, like to make clear that I do not disagree that slavery was an act of near genocide, and ought never be forgotten nor trivialized - we owe the African of our day a great apology. Nor do I disagree that perhaps Africans contributed to global markets in the early days of European expansion (Miller, 71). However, I do not think it right that we bandage Africa in requital of our own guilt, thusly entrenching the very notion of segregation and discrimination that we are discussing here today. African peoples and nations may be deserved of recompense, but it will never truly be possible to requite the losses in any form of goods or services by a foreign power. If Africans need money, it need not be asked for under guise of slave reparations. We ought not bestow these requites of shallow money and assistance on Africa - it would distinguish them as something different, and entrench the mindset of racism, and the paradigm of separate treatment. Indeed, the point of this address was to display to the chamber the impracticality of providing such "quick-fix" solutions, and of ever hoping to properly distribute these funds within a reasonable timeframe of effectiveness. Indeed, I believe deeply that Africans have been abused and oppressed - yet we ought not buy the forgiveness of Africa, nor should Africa have to accept our payments. I urge you, to please have the foresight to not entrench the very notions of which it is so paramount that we battle, but to find an alternative solution to Africa's dilemma.