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20 Questions and Answers About Reparations for Colonialism

Autor:   •  October 16, 2018  •  Book/Movie Report  •  2,253 Words (10 Pages)  •  733 Views

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Book Report on Sandew Hira

In his work 20 Questions and Answers about Reparations for Colonialism, Sandew Hira identifies, and thus legitimizes, the most important arguments and aspects of the debate on reparations. From a non-financial perspective, the history of slavery and colonialism helps summarize the case for reparations. As Hira notes, the process of European colonialism resulted in “mass genocide, stolen goods” (Hira p.14) and the exploitation, brutalization, and oppression of people all over the world. In the Americas, colonialism began with the genocide of the indigenous people through guns, germs and steel. Then, colonizers built new societies fueled by slavery. The enslaved were horrifically exploited, losing their religion, language, culture, and rights over their own bodies. It is well documented how many millions of lives were lost through the process of slavery and the African Slave Trade, and how many more were exploited and enslaved throughout the world. By the mid nineteenth century, at least four million African Americans were enslaved (Small pp.4) and were transported from Virginia “down the river” to Louisiana. And any protest was met by torture and brutality, and entire generations of humans were humiliated and brutalized. In this historical sense, reparations means paying for the exploitation and compensation for human suffering.

Even worse, the victims of colonialism and slavery often had to pay the colonizers reparations. When Haiti declared its independence after mounting a victorious revolution against the French, the French returned with warships to coerce Haiti to pay one hundred and fifty million francs as reparations and recognition of Haiti as a free nation by France and other European nations. When slavery was legally abolished in the British Caribbean, British enslavers were provided twenty million British pounds for their “loss of capital”; Spanish, French, and Dutch enslavers were similarly compensated (Hira p.30). To this day, the ancestors of slave-owners benefit reparations established centuries ago, from the family of former British Prime Minister David Cameron to clergy members of the Anglican Church. In this historical sense, injustice has provided reparations to those responsible for horrific oppression.

In addition to mass genocide, theft of land and labor, and widespread oppression, colonialism has provided immeasurable material and immaterial benefits to the colonizer. Hira identifies several ways in which White people - no matter their class differences - have reaped social, political, and psychological benefits from the system of slavery and colonialism; for instance, none had “to work, cook, clean, or take care of Black people, lose their names nor their religions” and “were educated in a system that promoted their supremacy and superiority” (Hira p.18). Moreover, in the past colonizers reaped massive profit exploiting unpaid, or at the very least severely underpaid, labor and land rich with natural resources. We can even trace companies and organizations whose ancestors played a major role facilitating the slave trade; their ranks include JP Morgan Chase, Rothschilds, and many more. Moreover, Christianity - a faith largely practiced by Whites- handsomely benefited from colonialism. By forcibly indoctrinating million through colonialism, the faith has become the major world religion it is today. The current system, in other words, is a result of the colonizer’s heirs’ self-confidence, social mobility, and political, economic, and cultural power. And though Hira excellently concedes that there are major class and gender differences within the White community - in particular, the rich Whites have disproportionately benefitted from the legacy of slavery and colonialism - White people as a whole still benefited tremendously from the system.

Most importantly, however, Hira legitimizes the case for reparations by examining one of history’s most famous - and supported - example of reparations. The Jewish Holocaust, one of many horrific crimes against humanity, is also an example of a crime where reparations have been and paid and are still being paid to victims. Indeed, reparations for victims of the Holocaust were legitimized and established even though the same arguments against the above policy have been posed to reparations for the victims of slavery. For instance, Germany originally was to pay eight hundred and twenty two million US dollars in reparations; today it has paid more than seventy billion US dollars and continues to pay Jewish individuals and organizations. Reparations are being paid to individuals who never personally experienced the Holocaust; moreover, reparations are being paid to individuals whose ancestors never personally experienced the Holocaust either. However, the great injustice in the case of reparations for the Holocaust is how Germany has refused to pay reparations for victims of the German-initiated genocide of the Herero people of South-West Africa. Proclaiming an extermination order, German soldier executed more than one hundred thousand people, many of whom were women and children (Hira p.12). While reparations to Jewish victims were paid, the debate itself on reparations for the Herero people has been silenced and delegitimized. Notably, the Jews are White but the Herero people are Black. Consequently, Hira’s most important argument in 20 Questions and Answers about Reparations for Colonialism is how critical, and likely, it is to acknowledge past crimes and thus legitimize and openly discuss reparations for the victims of slavery and colonialism.

Meanwhile, through a financial lens, the costs incurred by paying reparations are extraordinarily staggering. When accounting for the costs of renting colonized land and water, unsettled consumption of goods and natural resources, exploitation of unpaid wages, and compensation for human suffering, the bill for reparations adds up to around ten trillion US dollars; moreover, when accounting for present value through modern interest rates the reparations grows to three hundred and twenty one quadrillion US dollars (Hira p.78). Simply put, the costs of paying reparations are staggering even with a minimum set of parameters. Such extraordinary financial data demonstrates the extent of damage caused by colonialism.

Naturally, such immense financial costs play a huge role in the debate reparations. Opponents seek to delegitimize discourse on reparations, highlighting the numbers and pointing out that the amount is so huge compensation is not even worth considering. However, Hira excellently notes that this argument was tailored in response to financial data provided by the African World Reparation and Repatriation Truth Commission (Hira p.34). The commission asked Western countries involved in the slave trade to pay seventy seven trillion US dollars within five years. Objectively speaking, such a transaction is economically prohibitive. However, rejecting reparations simply because one idea was financially infeasible is easily counterable; instead of rejecting the seventy trillion dollar price tag, Hira argues that Western and African countries should instead find a way to calculate a reasonable amount for reparations. Instead of debating how to finance reparations, countries should instead debate on the morality, legality, and practicality of reparations. Instead of delegitimizing reparations, countries and societies ought to engage in an open dialogue on reparations, past injustices, and how to best move forward towards a more free, equal, and just world.


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