Reparations for slavery

Letter to The Times

The proposal by Cambridge University to devote resources neither to teaching nor to research, but to virtue signalling over slavery is not only questionable for a charity, but also an endorsement of notions of hereditary guilt. Leaving aside the prevalence of coercive labour systems across much of the world, including Africa, throughout much of history, and the major role of African polities in the enslavement and sale of people, there is a preference for beating up on the past rather than addressing slavery in the world today. Public slavery in the shape of those oppressed under totalitarian rule, for example in North Korea, is particularly serious.

With the Left unable to use the Holocaust as a key signifier in historical consciousness, it has focused on the slave trade as an alternative and equivalent – inaccurately so, for the purpose of slavery was not to kill slaves.

Reparation for a distant and very widespread practice is absurd, both practically and philosophically. That the idea is gaining traction is an instance of the strange politics of these times.  (Jeremy Black, professor of history, Exeter University, pub. in The Week. 10 May 2019)

While I sympathise with the African American community in the  United States, I think reparations, as an idea, are inappropriate and would achieve nothing.  If you distribute a couple of thousand dollars, say, to every African American, as with most human beings , it would be a case of “come today, gone tomorrow”,  Money by itself cannot erase an historical problem or a folk memory. The best things you can do is to give minorities a good education, a good start in life , and finally prepare them for challenging and well- paid jobs in the modern economy, on the basis of racial equality.  (Problem – far too few youngsters of all backgrounds are getting a good education, except for a minority of well- to- do families).  The second thing I would do is to radically reduce the incidence of black incarceration, but this requires reform of the policing and legal system.  First, though, reform education, give it more resources and attract good teachers .

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