Congress and the Ugly Business of Slavery Reparations

By John “John the CEO” Conley

So Senator Mitch McConnel says America does not owe anything for slavery. Interesting. very interesting. Something tells me he is going to be sorry he let those words come out of his mouth.

This week, several notable black voices made some excellent rebukes to Senator Mitch McConnell and other politicians who are quite dismissive of addressing reparations and the shackling legacy of racism that still affects the black community to this day. Boyce Watkins (who’s been instrumental in having Dr. Claud Anderson on his show regularly), DL Hughly, Willie D and the African Diaspora News Channel, among others, have provided excellent commentary on this topic. As you can now see, people in both parties don’t really give a damn about black political and economic interests. The Democrats want our votes and support for general causes for others, but when we simply bring this topic up, we get brushed aside. And we already know how Republicans tend to think, as Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader (“block all bills I don’t like) for the Republicans, has arrogantly shown.

For those who didn’t hear McConnell confidently dismiss the idea of reparations, he basically said we should be satisfied with having had Obama in office, that it would be tough to figure out who should get paid, that the Civil War was how America addressed reparations and that no one alive today benefitted from slavery. As of this writing, not one major Democratic leader publicly criticized McConnell. So after all the one-sided support the Black community has given the Democrats over six decades, we only get silence and crickets? Even if you’re a brotha or sista that does not believe in reparations, you should still feel slapped in the face by that.

The real beneficiaries of American slavery

To address one of McConnell’s beliefs, that white people alive today did not own slaves and are thus not responsible: He’s partly right, but not the way he thinks. Owning slaves, particularly during the era of cotton plantations, was not cheap. Most whites during the 1800s could not afford slaves. One can argue they indirectly benefited from the slavery economy in varying ways, but the institutional business and politics of slavery reparations does not necessarily fall on their shoulders. It does, however, fall on the shoulders of: (continue after image)

  1. Every local, state and federal government that sanctioned slavery with the force of law and enforcement. All states in existence at the time of the American Revolution practiced slavery. Though some states in the north would abolish it later, their institutions still profited from it, most notably Wall Street. Some states, including Texas, had put it in their constitutions that blacks were inferior to whites. The US Constitution itself for a while enforced the idea that blacks were not fully human, and it only gave them “partial credit” for being human so that the slave states could use that “credit” for congressional representation when it came to voting. Had it not been for that, they would not have viewed blacks as human at all.
  2. Every university, including Thomas Jefferson’s favorite University of Virginia, that institutionalized racism by teaching the baseless notion that blacks were genetically inferior to whites. Jefferson especially reiterated this after being alarmed that Haiti defeated the French in 1803.
  3. Every insurance company and their successors that paid life insurance benefits to slaveowners when their slaves died, even when the slaveowner killed the slave as an act of fraud. I’ve read all the “receipts” on this directly from the slavery-era sources. So a slave master can work a slave to death, stealing all that labor capital, and then once dead, the death check goes to the slave owner but not the dead slave’s children. Does that sound fair? Has not wealth been handed down by American families in more fair ways till this day?
  4. Every insurance company and their successors that paid property loss benefits to slaveowners when slaves ran away or were stolen by other slaver owners
  5. Every bank and investment house, including Wall Street firms, which directly financed various slavery capitalists and their customers and vendors (including slave traffickers), with a money trail that goes back to the early days of Wall Street in the 1700s. Wall Street was mainly focused on profiting from slavery back then.
  6. Every news media outlet who profited from fugitive slave and slave buy/sell advertisements taken out by slavery profiteers, and those newspapers who later purposely spread fake news about black men to start race riots and lynchings. More recently, these same news media conditioned in the minds of the public that blacks were inferior, lazy, and only wanted government handouts. This was particularly true of the media in the 1970s and 80s.
  7. The governmental and business partners of American slavery businesses outside the US, including:
    1. Britain in the 1600s through most of the 1700s. After Britain abolished slavery, it has been shown that Britain, still reeling from losses from the American Revolution and the War of 1812, financed the South in part as retaliation. Many confederate leaders fled to Britain after the Civil War, taking their slavery gold and profits with them
    2. The Dutch and Portuguese were very active in the America slave trade before the US Constitution was ratified in 1789. This ratification year is important in the reparations discussion because that’s when this nation became the legal entity that exists today. Thus, every benefit from slavery and its aftermath can be legally enforced, whereas the profits from slavery before 1789 were repatriated to the European colonizers, mostly the British, but also the Dutch, Portuguese, and a few others in Europe.
    3. Certain West African countries. Despite what many white supremacists love to claim, those West African countries that were “complicit” in trading African captives for guns and relatively useless products were often either (a) forced into trading by threat of the gun and canon, or (b) were cheated. European slave traders, who held the belief that Africans were genetically inferior to Europeans, did not always bother to get permission from African tribal leaders to kidnap slaves. Think about it: if you’re a thief, wouldn’t you at some point cut out the middleman and just get the product cheaper? The European slave traders initially traded with the tribes only enough to learn where they were getting their captives from, and then they proceeded to cut the middle man out. Nevertheless, out of fairness, these West African countries, and their interior African trading partners, have to be called to account, too. The only problem is that European colonialism had so devastated the legal heritage of these nations through conquest and dividing along changing border lines, that it is legally challenging to hold the current West African nations responsible in a tangible way. Blame colonialism for this.
    4. All the major hospitals and healthcare insurance companies that benefited from various medical experiments performed on slaves, including the so called “Father of the OB-GYN” practice who bought female slaves to perfect his painful procedures that are still used today. These women were never compensated, and some died from the torture or could not have children afterwards.

What Senator McConnell failed to realize is that these institutions, unlike humans, don’t die. The US government is still in existence today. All local and state governments are still here. Last time I checked, Alabama is still called Alabama. Georgia is still Georgia. Mississippi, which was the richest of all slave states, is still the same legal-political entity. Maryland, which started the dark side of racism with their 1638 Doctrine of Exclusion, is still around. New York is still New York. Florida and the Carolinas are still there. All the states that profited from slavery via taxes and other means, and used the force of law to keep blacks in their place, are still in existence, with investments that still make dividends annually that go all the way back to free labor capital.

And as with all companies that get bought out by others, the companies that benefitted are still around. For instance, Lehman Brothers, a now defunct Wall Street firm that very richly benefited from slavery (I worked on a technology project in 2009 related to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy), went out of business with the Great Recession of 2008 and was later bought out by Barclays of London. Should Barclays not be held to account? Compare that to when Bayer of Germany bought out the American “Roundup Weed” giant Monsanto. Did not Bayer inherit the numerous legal and financial liabilities against Monsanto (where lawsuits claimed its products caused cancer)? Likewise, those companies that buy out institutional slavery entities are also on the hook for reparations.

The US Government we know today legally came into existence when the Constitution was ratified in 1789

Starting with this article, I am writing a series on the business of slavery reparations that will focus more on the money trail and less on the emotional aspects. Many reparations articles and books have done a good job detailing the emotional horror around slavery and the need for reparations from that angle. I want to use my business/financial industry background to focus on the business aspects of this pernicious topic of slavery reparations, broken down into the following eras of America’s economic evolution from a brand new country into the world’s biggest economy:

  1. 1619-1788
  2. 1789-1865
  3. 1866-1964
  4. 1965-Present

By breaking up the slavery reparations model into four distinct eras, we can get away from the emotional argument on both sides and clearly show that blacks in America, generally speaking, have not had a fair chance to pursue the FULL benefits of American citizenship until recently (and even now that is probably arguable). As stated, every time we engineered a major movement towards being economically independent and viable, deadly acts of institutional supremacy destroyed our gains. But by this point, everyone else had a bigger head start because we were forced to start so far behind, as this series will objectively show.

And just to state it in more obvious terms: This series in NO way is an attempt to emotionally demonize those whose forefathers did not directly participate in slavery. My purpose here is to stick to the facts objectively, without emotion, and focus the narrative around those institutions that have been enriched by slavery and the benefits of slave capitalism, the tentacles of which reach down to their LEGAL successors in business, banking and government today. Capitalism is all about profiting from units of labor, and free labor means free capital, which America was founded on.

This series will present a practical, fair approach to processing and distributing reparation benefits in the form of either partnerships or limited liability companies set up in each state, and at the county level, where every beneficiary would have a vote, and the most skilled among us would be elected to serve on committees to manage the reparation programs (with checks and balances to minimize and prosecute abuses). So NO, racially insensitive ones, reparations is not about simply handing out checks, but using economic, financial strategies similar to “quantitative easing”–which has essentially given free money to big banks even after being directly bailed out “reparations” style–and others to create trust accounts to then circulate wealth responsibly to legal entities. These LLPs or LLCs would have proper oversight, to ensure black micro economies can be seeded and grow effectively for our communities. We’ve been trying to do this since the 1870s, but we all know how that turned out (just ask Black Wall Street survivors).

Be sure to follow this site and on Instagram (@AffluentBlacks) so that you don’t miss subsequent posts.

Sources:

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