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Reparations would mean putting a price tag on the lives that were stolen through slavery.

Although the U.S. may be facing a new era of social and racial unrest, the answer to this volatile issue will never be reparations. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, America erupted into a new age of race riots and equality-driven protests. Now, a political concept known as ‘reparations’ has resurfaced. This involves the government, through social programs and taxes, paying a monetary price to descendants of slaves in the U.S. to ‘repair’ the damage done by slavery and racial inequality.

Slavery took the lives of millions, stole culture and heritage, and abused men, women and children for generations, forcing them to live and work solely for the needs of someone who had complete ownership of them. In the U.S. African Americans were bought and sold for a monetary price as if paper money could ever be of equal value to human lives. 

This debt we have as a country to those sold into slavery is unpayable. There’s no amount of money that could fix or even begin to repair the inhumanity known as slavery. The notion that a check to descendants could fix the racial turmoil that’s plagued our country is deeply disrespectful and reverts to the inhumane notion that a person’s life has a price.

Since slavery’s time in the U.S., there have been countless continuations of racial inequality like Jim Crow laws, segregation, racially motivated police brutality, the economic inequality that minorities face as well as the cycle of minorities stuck in low-income communities plagued with drugs and crime. 

No one argues that there’s an issue in the U.S., but it’s citizens today have the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments as well as numerous court cases that provide precedent for the continuance of equal rights. These federal laws obviously haven’t completely solved the issue, but the problems of today are nothing compared to the millions who had their entire lives taken and were forced into hard labor, abused, starved, ripped from their families, all while being forced to serve someone else. Most people today will never fully understand living the life of a slave, so paying them doesn’t repair anything at all. Not to mention that the money is coming from many people, some of whom are probably immigrants themselves and are far removed from the initial issue. 

The U.S. has come a long way since slavery. Although the issues of today are rooted in the past, they still aren’t comparable to actual slavery.

Former President Obama spoke about reparations in an interview in 2016, saying, “If you look at countries like South Africa, where you had a black majority, there have been efforts to tax and help that black majority, but it hasn’t come in the form of a formal reparations program … countries like India that have tried to help untouchables, with essentially affirmative-action programs, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the structure of their societies.” The New York Times quoted him, saying “he considered the idea impractical.”

It’s difficult to change society, and one of the most amazing things about the U.S. is that from coast to coast in every city, state or town, every “society” is a little different. Obviously, some of them may include prejudices, stereotypes and overall exclusive and divisive ways of thinking, which we should all work to mend and change. A huge overall societal paradigm shift isn’t going to happen overnight, especially with a diverse group of people, but a blind check written to people generations away from the initial problem sounds like rushing to put a band-aid over a bullet wound. 

Rebecca Cutsinger is sophomore media arts and design major. Contact her at cutsinrj@dukes.jmu.edu