Should Americans pay reparations for slavery?

Amongst other sins, slavery is one of the great blemishes on the history of the United States. Disgraceful, deplorable, reprehensible, and shameful, slavery was the greatest evil our nation harbored through the 19th century. Because of this great crime we perpetrated against our fellow human beings, we have spent the last 160 years attempting to distance ourselves from it, erasing any traces of systematic prejudice or discrimination to make this country as racially unbiased as possible.

And while any sort of changes that we make as a nation cannot undo the things of the past, the actions we take today should be oriented around creating a more harmonious world for tomorrow.

“We should always remember that stain on our American history so that it should never be repeated again,” began Patrick Madrid on a segment of The Patrick Madrid Show. “But does that mean that it would be truly equitable – in the true sense, not in the modern, ideological sense of the word – appropriate, or ethical to force you to pay reparations for things that took place 150 – 200 years ago? Is that really fair?”

The United States is not the only nation discussing this controversial topic as recently, island nations in the Caribbean have made claim to reparations based on the subjugation they faced at the hands of the British Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Rafe Heydel-Mankoo, a British historian, recently spoke on this topic at the Cambridge Union at Cambridge University and explained to the students around him why reparations for slavery would not be a good idea.

Heydel-Mankoo began by clarifying that if these claims were made in 1807 or 1833, he would have been on the other side of the aisle, aware that the victims of slavery would be present, alive and rightfully owed damages for their suffering.

“But it’s not 1807. It’s not 1907. It’s not even 2007. Over two centuries have passed since Britain led the world as the first empire in history to abolish slavery, and the rights of reparations died long ago, because reparations are fundamentally about matters of tort law.”

The idea of reparations is to restore the victims in question to the state in which they found themselves before the offense in question was committed against them. Reparations can only be provided to victims, not to the descendants of victims. The people separated from slavery by multiple generations cannot effectively be considered victims of slavery.

Who would pay these hypothetical reparations? According to Caricom (Caribbean Community organization), the British taxpayers should be paying these reparations.

But why? Out of the millions in Britain, there were just 3,000 slave owners. Why should the descendants of the citizens who grew up in abject poverty pay reparations? 16% of the British population is foreign-born. Why should they have to pay reparations? What about the descendants of African slaves living in Britain? Why should they pay reparations to people in Jamaica or Barbados? Why isn’t anybody asking the nations of Africa to pay for reparations? The slave dealers of Africa were not only cooperative but complicit in transporting slaves overseas, as well as practicing slavery in their own nations. What about the slavery perpetrated by the Muslims and Arabs who traded Africans for centuries? What about the slavery that still goes on today in Africa, where there are an estimated 10 million slaves?

“So where are the protests outside the Nigerian High Commission? Where are the protests outside of the embassy of Niger, which has 800,000 slaves today? What about Mali and Chad, Sudan, and Cameroon? It’s almost as if there is an ulterior motivation behind the call for apologies and reparations.”

The side of the argument that argues for reparations purposely oversimplifies the institution of slavery, asserting that it just comes down to skin color: White people benefited while black people suffered. But it ignores the fact that the people who might be asked to pay reparations are not the people culpable for these transgressions, regardless of whether they are benefiting from it hundreds of years later.

Reparations in America are not actually about requiring offenders to pay damages to victims. They’re about redefining “equity” in terms of racial differences to divide the American people and sew discord.

No, you should not be responsible for paying the damages of the past. Rather, repent for what sins you have committed, and let your actions of today create a more harmonious tomorrow.

“Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10)

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.