Anne Bailey has researched slavery for the past three decades and has concluded that there are many rationales for reparations.
For one, Bailey wrote, “There has never been a leveling of the playing field, or payments for the debt of unpaid labor over 250 years of slavery.”
Furthermore, she explained, Black contribution to the wealth of America has not been acknowledged or given its due.
“Paying reparations to Americans of African descent could help the U.S. reclaim some moral leadership on the global stage,” Bailey wrote. “The U.S. is not the only country in the world with human rights abuses then or now, but it can be one of the few countries in the world that truly addresses these wrongs.”
In other words, Bailey concluded, the U.S. can lead by example.
As a professor of public policy who has studied reparations, Thomas Craemer estimates the losses from unpaid wages and lost inheritances to Black descendants of the enslaved in America at around US$20 trillion in 2021 dollars.
“But what often gets forgotten by those who oppose reparations is that payouts for slavery have been made before,” Craemer wrote . “But those payments went to former slave owners and their descendants, not the enslaved or their legal heirs.”
A prominent example is the so-called “Haitian Independence Debt” that burdened an independent Haiti with reparation payments to former slave owners in France. Another was the British government, which paid reparations totaling the equivalent of about $429 billion in 2021 to slave owners when it abolished slavery in 1833.
In the U.S., President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the “Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor within the District of Columbia” on April 16, 1862.