This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK Day - Reflections on Reparations

I have written on Reparations on my web page at

I posited that the federal government's responsibility for reparations was limited, the debt for slavery being cancelled by the blood of the dead in the Civil War - although reparations are needed for the Jim Crow policies begun by President Wilson and lasting for half a century until the civil rights movement. Of course, for those the Democratic Party should apologize. The case is somewhat different for state governments, especially to the extent that some of its citizens are unrepentent racists.

That was then. I now have something new to say on the matter. The reason for reparations is quite simple, it is so that the crime never happens again. The reparations for the Japanese served the purpose of invalidating the Supreme Court ruling allowing the internments. The reason Arabs cannot be rounded up in the same way is that for all intents and purposes the Congress has said that the internment of the Japanese was wrong. If it had not been for reparations we might be seeing a repeat of the 1940's. If something disasterous happens in Washington this week, Ashcroft or Gonzalez cannot simply round up an entire ethnic population citing Korimatsu. If it attempts to, the Arab community can point to reparations as an invalidation of that sad precident.

What has this to do with reparations for slavery? Two things: prison labor and peonage. While post-incarceration slavery is constitutional, and is in fact practiced at the state and local level, it remains wrong, especially given the energetic efforts on the part of some prosecutors to enforce African-American drug users and dealers.

Peonage is a major problem, present in not only the African American but also in the Latino community. Many workers are kept in virtual bondage, either through company store policies or as the result of trafficing deaths. The occurance of these conditions is not trivial, especially in the South. Peonage often occurs with the assistance of the local sherrif and the negligent enforcement of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The bottom line is, reparations are necessary not so much to repair the prior evil but to stop the current evils of prison labor and peonage. Given this purpose, the much needed apology demanded for slavery seems not so extreme. In fact, it is an essential first step down a road which leads to repeal of our draconian drug laws and the restrictions against giving decent behavior to the recently released, the ending of those provisions in TANF which continue to break up families (its time to give benefits to fathers) and enforcement of those provisions of law which are supposed to prevent working conditions more familiar in the third world or the nineteenth century.

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