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Reparations are overdue: "Confronting the truth" about slavery means paying for it

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19.03.2019

The topic of slavery reparations is finally trending again, nearly five years after Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay in The Atlantic making the case. Even 2020 presidential candidates are talking about it — or displaying creative ways to avoid the issue. But before we talk about why reparations are necessary, let’s knock out some light housekeeping.

What are slavery reparations? Reparations can be defined as the act of repairing something, or the making of amends — financially or otherwise — for a wrong done to another. Slavery reparations would be the U.S. government paying money to the descendants of African slaves.

Slavery was a long time ago, some might say, so why pay now? Skin color has prohibited African Americans from being complete Americans since our ancestors entered Jamestown back in 1619. African Americans have and continue to suffer from the long-term effects of slavery, more than 150 years after the 13th Amendment became law. The hundreds of years of bondage our ancestors endured before 1865 directly contributed to our collective inability to establish generational wealth, while the unfair housing practices that followed continue to result in underfunded schools, which lead to our children not being educated properly, which leads to the lopsided incarcerated rate, higher infant mortality rates, food deserts, police targeting, and health care discrepancies.

I see politicians on the left and the right bouncing around in the lead-up to the 2020 election, clenching their flags, screaming how America is the greatest country in the world, ignoring the fact that we don’t rank number one in healthcare — that’s the United Kingdom — or education, (Canada) or that you might have a better chance at climbing the economic ladder in Denmark. But still America is branded the best, and despite its shortcomings is recognized as the super power, especially for the influence it gained at such a young age.

How did America gain so much power in such a little amount of time? Tobacco was the cash crop in the 18th century, which created a strong demand for an enslaved workforce; however, picking the plant was labor intensive and eventually not worth the money; tobacco prices dropped and the monetary value of enslaved labor declined. Northerners and southern planters alike started imagining a country without slaves. Near the turn of the century, the textile industry started to boom but American planters couldn’t keep up with cotton orders; picking it and separating the seeds so that it could be made into fabric produced more work than running a tobacco farm. The average slave could only produce about a pound a day. This all changed in 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a contraption that quickly removes the cotton from the seeds.

Remember how I mentioned failing schools above? Here is a perfect example: I learned in middle school and high school that Eli Whitney was a freed slave whose cotton gin invention helped end slavery because the machine........

© Salon