By Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann
Jewish survivors of the Holocaust have received reparations, but African descendants of victims of the slave trade have not — even though it’s a moral responsibility of the nations who benefited from slavery to provide them.
Some have pointed to Holocaust reparations as inspiration for those advocating the same for slavery descendants.
But in my book Reparations to Africa, I explain that one reason for the difference lies in the considerable obstacles confronting those of us calling for slave trade reparations.
My research for the book found it’s easier to obtain reparations when the event occurred within living historical memory. It’s also easier when there are only a few identifiable perpetrators. And it is still easier when there is a limited number of victims, and the event occurred within a short period of time.
What’s more, the monetary amount claimed must not seem unreasonable to the people expected to pay the reparations. Finally, the support of a powerful nation is helpful to those seeking reparations.
Within living memory
Much of this helped those seeking Holocaust reparations. Some survivors of the Holocaust are still alive, so the event is within living historical memory. The main perpetrator, Germany’s Nazi regime, is known. Approximately six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, which took place over a short period of time, between about 1933 and 1945. And after the Second World War, the United States pressured Germany to pay reparations.
By 2020, the German government had paid about $70 billion to people who suffered from the Holocaust.
By contrast, the claim for reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade is much more difficult. Approximately 12.5 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic over more than 300 years, of whom 10.7 million survived and actually landed in the Americas.
If you add people killed within Africa due to the slave trade, that figure could reach 30 million. And the number of descendants may well be in the hundreds of millions.
What’s more, none of the direct victims of the slave trade are still alive. Particularly for the descendants of the perpetrators of slavery, the historical memory is much more distant than the Holocaust.
Slave trade’s end
The legal and illegal trans-Atlantic slave trades lasted from the 15th to mid-19th centuries, ending about 150 years ago. The length of time since the trade ended makes it harder to persuade governments whose predecessors supported the trade that they should pay reparations to victims’ descendants.
There were many perpetrators of the slave trade. They included private slave traders and the governments of all the countries that both supported the slave trade and legally backed slavery. Some Africans were also implicated as sellers of slaves, attracted by payments offered by Western buyers. This makes it more difficult than it was for Jewish Holocaust victims to identify who should pay them reparations.
Finally, some activists claim as much as US$100 trillion dollars in reparations for the slave trade. This is a difficult figure for any government to accept. The United States GDP, for example, is currently at about US$21 trillion.
There’s also no world power agitating for reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Centuries of atrocities
An accurate comparison of crimes against Jews to crimes against Africans would have to cover eight centuries of European history. For example, Jews were expelled from Britain in 1290 and could not return until 1656. The mass murders of Jews, known as pogroms, were common in Russia and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The last pogrom took place in Kielce, Poland in 1946, after the Second World War, perpetrated by native Poles.
There’s little doubt the Jewish community would also experience great difficulty seeking reparations for all these atrocities over so many centuries by so many people; the Holocaust allowed them a specific focus.
Nonetheless, there have been some successful movements for reparations to Africans for crimes committed during the colonial period. The Herero are an ethnic group living in southwest Africa, now Namibia, which was once colonized by Germany. From 1904 to 1905, about 60,000 Herero were massacred by Germans who wanted their land. The German government apologized for this genocide in 2021 and agreed to fund $1.3 billion worth of reconstruction and development projects in Namibia.
The social movement for reparations in this instance succeeded because there were comparatively few Herero victims. When the campaign started, the massacre was still within living memory. There was one known perpetrator, the German government. And the massacre took place within a short period of time.
The Herero situation was also similar to the Holocaust. Having accepted responsibility for the Holocaust, Germany could hardly deny it for the Herero massacre.
The descendants of the African slave trade absolutely deserve reparations.
But there are major obstacles facing the social movement for reparations for the slave trade. Those reparations are a moral imperative, but politically, successfully obtaining them will be extremely difficult.
Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Why give reparations to a person who never was a slave? They were never a slave, their ancestors were. Smh 🙄
In This Together says
Because slavery paved the way for our nation to find it acceptable to segregate, disenfranchise, and thwart opportunities for their future generations.
Think of the housing opportunities created by FHA, and how it excluded black citizens. White families were able to purchase homes with longer mortgage terms and lower down payments, and the communities they left behind were redlined so that investments in the communities couldn’t happen.
We never thought about the impact of slavery and the future impact on families generationally, and we never, as a nation really made any attempt at correcting this travesty.
Here in Flagler County, schools were segregated into the 70’s, and Flagler Beach had a vulgar sign by the draw bridge telling black people not to pass.
You don’t think this had any effect on families generationally?
Frank W says
You are right. Holocaust survivors were the actual victims. Not so the African Americans in the US.
Were Holocaust victims of the USA or Germany?
You don’t get reparations because you are not now nor have you ever been a slave and I shouldn’t have to pay such nonsense because I’m not now nor have I ever owned a slave. Grow up get a job and make something of yourself and stop finding ways to mooch your way through life
Well, if there was actually a “slave ” still alive I might give them a few bucks. Personally, I nor my parents or grandparents ever OWNED a slave. You want reparations ? Go to Africa and get it from the real slave traders. They are still selling slaves to Muslim countries. Bet you didn’t know that !!!!
Bill C says
“Slave” in quotes? Give them a “few bucks”? “Go to Africa and get it from the real slave traders?” In your mind the trans-atlantic slave trade was not real? I’m tired of trying to present historical facts to uneducated morons like you.
Bill C says
PS just because you heard about the Dahomey Empire you think that negates the horrors of slavery? “Bet you didn’t know that!!!” just shows how limited your knowledge is.
R. S. says
There’s no point in telling this “Abdul” nitwit about advantages he’s had from a culture of continued systemic repression and “white” privilege either. You’re right, Bill C.
I think all the Affirmative Action programs that have been enacted were a pretty good start towards reparations. I am not saying that they have gone far enough to address all the inequities that continue to exist.
Weldon B. Ryan says
Great points in a valiant try but inequality is rampant even among the decendance of our Hispanic minorities and South Pacific Asians. Whiteness is prefered. For example. Asians get their specific hate bill pasted even with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, John Lewis and the other voting bill still wait. Where is the unity? Black Americans fight for all. I feel for everyone that experience hate but regardless of what Blacks have done for equality, helping every American we still are treated with distain. Blacks vote for the betterment of America but wait for our turn to get which seem to never come. Haiti is a wreck but the DR and Cubans of lighter persuation get America’s nod though they had whitewashed there African slave roots for favor. America owes Black Americans reparation. So does every European Nation owe people of African descent. Sins of White America is still smoldering. It’s not just cash that can be paid!
Quit begging for money. Tired of hearing way past history. Never owned a slave, you were never a slave. Get an education, get a job, and live the American dream, what’s left of it. Tired of hearing all the racist crap. Get a life and quit begging.
The title of the story says it all: “Holocaust Survivors Got Reparations. Why Not Slavery’s Descendants?” Reparations go to those who were directly harmed and are alive. The Confederacy was destroyed and the United States was reborn in the Civil War at the cost of 100,000 US soldiers. The blood spilled wiped the slate clean.
However, after the Civil War our newly reborn nation allowed Jim Crow persecution, discrimination and segregation. The survivors of which are entitled to compensation (reparations). To a large degree, the people deserving of compensation for Jim Crow and the failures of the United States are one and the same as the descendants of slavery.
We as a nation cannot make whole those who are dead, but we can compensate the living for the injustices they have suffered.
We must also ensure that history is not rewritten by apologists and deniers.
Not only Holocaust survivors, Natives, Japanese even Rebel Civil war descendants received monetary benefits from this country. The argument is that slavery ended x amount a years ago, my family didn’t own slaves, etc. The question is how did the foundation of America especially southern America benefit from slavery actually up to this day. Think about the land giveaways to White Americans as well as European immigrants while ex slaves were stripped of anything they had after slavery so-called ended.
There is a book called “Slavery By Another Name” as well as documentary on PBS by the same name. They both clearly show how the architects of slavery deliberately built a system of despair amongst the black community in order to keep them subjugated no matter how big they dreamed or tried to be successful and self reliant. It also, through interviews shows how many white dynasties achieved the wealth they flaunt today.
Since many like to quote Martin Luther King here’s something that echoes true today.
Sure the Holocaust. and slavery were horrid. Well what about the ( the individuals and family ) abused spouses, the abused children in this country, the homeless, the elderly that are stuck in a “home” with NO family, the victims of violence, be it due to war, or violence caused by a crime and the vet that the public has forgotten, be they black or white where are the reparations for these. And like noted ” major obstacles facing the social movement for reparations “. The world governments can’t pay out money for everything in this world that wasn’t right.
How many Holocaust survivors dependents received reparations? Are there any slaves are around today? Are Jewish decedents burning our cities down? Are Jews dependents a protected class? Have they received special treatment through Affirmative Action and other laws that give them special treatment over other people? Do we hire Jewish dependents based on quotas ahead of other races? Are Jewish dependents accepted over other qualified people into our colleges and universities. Are Jewish dependents promoted ahead of other qualified people. Are actual Jews who survived the holocaust even treated to these special programs? I’m sure with a little research I can come up with more “reparations” received by blacks that Jews aren’t.
R. S. says
There may be a few inaccuracies:
1. German reparations were in part paid to the State of Israel, so these reparations were not strictly only to people who suffered calamity from the holocaust directly. [Luxemburg Abkommen, 1952–Treaty of Luxemburg, 1952]
2. Germany apologized to the government of Namibia, a colonial establishment, and not directly to the Herero and Nama who had been seriously affected. This is also the reason why the deal was rejected by the Herero and Nama as being insufficient.
3. Reparations to Americans with African roots are not all that remote. As far as I know, no reparations have been made for Tulsa, the St. Louis riots, the countless eradications of entire communities–like Rosewood, and the forceful removal of ownership of land. From Wikipedia: What’s more, racial discrimination in agriculture has long locked African-American farmers out of the support they sorely need, contributing to the demise of Black-owned farms across the country. So, there are immediate descendants of those people who were wronged and could be rectified without problems of bureaucracy.
The White Man says
I’m a “slave”…….. Been one for the last 2 years because of those Covid-19 viruses . I expect “Reparations” from China. I want it NOW ! Make those slant eyed bastards “cough up ” about a million dollars for me . Hurry up, I don’t have much life left in me.
@Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Weldon B. Ryan, DaleL, Realist, and R. S. — you’re 100%.
Realist’s link deserves repeating:
To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace.
It belongs to human nature to hate those you have injured.
All descendents of african americans, some of which were probably slaves.: This is just a years salary. How much reparations should they get? Probability of making that much money in a lifetime, never mind in one year, if they had born in modern day Africa….pretty f’in slim. So these descendants and many more making millions, if not billions, from a society developed by us “privileged” white people
1 Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors $45,780,966
2 James Harden, SG Brooklyn Nets $44,310,840
3 John Wall, PG Houston Rockets $44,310,840
4 Russell Westbrook, PG Los Angeles Lakers $44,211,146
5 Kevin Durant, PF Brooklyn Nets $42,018,900
6 LeBron James, SF Los Angeles Lakers $41,180,544
8 Damian Lillard, PG Portland Trail Blazers $39,344,900
9 Paul George, SG LA Clippers $39,344,900
10 Klay Thompson, SG Golden State Warriors $37,980,720
11 Kemba Walker, PG New York Knicks $36,016,200
12 Jimmy Butler, SF Miami Heat $36,016,200
13 Kawhi Leonard, SF LA Clippers $36,016,200
14 Tobias Harris, PF Philadelphia 76ers $35,995,950
15 Khris Middleton, SF Milwaukee Bucks $35,500,000
16 Anthony Davis, PF Los Angeles Lakers $35,361,360
18 Kyrie Irving, PG Brooklyn Nets $35,328,700
19 Bradley Beal, SG Washington Wizards $33,724,200
20 Pascal Siakam, PF Toronto Raptors $33,003,936
This is just a years salary. How much reparations should they get? Probability of making that much money in a lifetime, never mind in one year, if they had born in modern day Africa….pretty f’in slim. So these descendants and many more making millions, if not billions, from a society developed by us “privileged” white people seem to be doing pretty well. If you think you can prosper more in your “homeland” by all means go for it! Also isn’t housing assistance, food stamps, welfare etc etc that blacks benefit from far greater than their percentage of our population reparations?
Weldon B. Ryan says
These ENTERTANERS you mention was so hungry to get out of the shit hole that America created for them institutionally that they found their vehicle using the tools they developed! The life they live outside of their money they earn, they are still treated with distain institutionally. As for homeland, you must be kidding!
African Americsns are doing o.k. in this country. Laws were passed to help African Americans out. A few Black Billionaires, Opra, Michael Jordan, Tyler Perry, to name a few. Millionaires the Williams Sisters, Shaquille O’Neal and many other Black Millionaires in this country. Now we can vote, live in nice places, own our own businesses, go and get high degrees. It is better for us now. This country still has a way of keeping people down. Red distracting, voter suppression, unarmed black men being killed by white cops, black patients being neglected at the hospitals. Black f getting little to no help from the government. The list go on and on. The common thread of human suffering come from the oppression of the so called White Man. Black need pay back from the white man. Global warming is from the white man. I can go on and on. White people say that was a long time ago, but the negative side affect still exist today. Suppose they were the oppressed, would they change their town about a long time ago, I think not. Black People, we went through hell from the white man and survived, I k on we can survive anything they throw against us. We are a proud successful people Don’t forget that.
They said we were dumb, watch the Movie Hidden Figures, what about the Tuskegee Airman, so much more accomplishments our people made for this country. We once called a third of a person, but a lot of Black Women, breast fed the white babies. I guess some white folk were a third of a person also. White men raped black women, but our women were called monkeys, along with black men. They said we could not learn, but we have high degrees, we were dumb so the white man say, we had perhaps the smartest President this country has ever had. Look at the landscape, we vote, we have businesses, homes, children that never went to jail, young black men raising their children from their wives. In my book the white race 8s the biggest looser of all times. Just saying.
Stephen J Smith says
I don’t believe monetary reparations are the way to go. Instead we should focus on ending the hidden and overt racisms still alive in the USA. Money would not change the way minorities are treated. It takes a change in the attitude of all of us to finally accept that we are all human beings. All of whom deserve the opportunity for a good education, access to jobs, housing and financing.
R. S. says
Counting all the Black millionaires and wealthy people, the average yearly income of a family identifying as Black is $30,134; the average income of a family identifying as White is $65,902. But don’t take my word for it; look it up. There’s a huge gap that lingers from slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing prejudices.
$30,134 sounds about right for the entitlements given away in snap Medicare child care housing assistance etc to support athe single parent family of 4 kids with 4 different fathers. Get a job closed your legs stop having kids and do better for yourself
Look up the percent of Black parents/ families married and white parents/ families married. 33% vs 73 so of course white families and every other ethnic group with a higher % of married families with 2 incomes instead of 1 are going to have higher incomes. Among ethnic groups black families have THE lowest % of parents that are married…..is that the white man’s fault? Let’s stop making the white man or any other ethnicity the scapegoat for peoples poor decisions.
“In 2016, the percentage of children living with married parents was highest for Asian children (84 percent), followed by White children (73 percent); children of Two of more races, Pacific Islander children, and Hispanic children (57 percent each); and American Indian/Alaska Native children (45 percent). The percentage was lowest for Black children (33 percent).”
Weldon B. Ryan says
The ignorance of the white contributors of this thread shows why we are were we are with racism in this country and world wide. The hate of dark pigment is overwhelming! As for America??? If you lose a finger it doesn’t grow back! You have to compensate for it until you are able to be somewhat whole. The injury of slavery hasn’t been compensated. Blacks people have lost so much because there has been little compensation for our loss so we can never be whole. It’s common sense to see these points but common sense isn’t common especially when hate gets in the way clouding the mind even more. Sugar, cotton, oil, land, minerals and soon to be water is all for the greed of whiteness. That’s why America and all it’s European counterparts are wealthy. It’s sugar and cotton primarily with free labor coming off the lives of Africans which propelled the US to wealth. It’s all through slavery!
Mark R Russell says
I actually appreciate the attempt by some to have a conversation. I am not sure attempting to use a relative comparison is a sound foundation for establishing validity for a claim, especially given the significant differences in the cases. Throughout all of humanity you can find periods of great atrocities, genocide and the practice of enslavement is among this. It wasn’t colonialists that introduced war and slavery to North American soil, it had been going strong for hundreds of years. So the merits for reparations for this particular period of enslavement is a difficult case to make given it was practiced across all time and humanity and somehow “normal, sane” people could reconcile and rationalize the relegation of a class of people to become untouchables (a reference to the Caste social system). You can even point to passages in the Old Testament and the Koran for “validation”. The greatness is coming to realize it was wrong, introducing laws to stop it and becoming leaders throughout the world in attempting to stamp it out. The case is often made that the reparations for US plantation slavery has already been provided. It was provided in the form of a pathway to citizenship, most certainly not equal in the beginning. It has not been smooth but ask those who would seek compensation for their ancestors enslavement if they are thankful for the sacrifice their ancestors made. The alternative would be to have remained, never to be captured, and as result enjoy the freedoms of current days as a US citizen. Reflecting provides a greater appreciation of the value of citizenship. The parallel would be the Maroons, and most notable, the migrant former slaves that made it all the way to Canada that would elect, post slavery, to return to their roots in Africa for a better life, in Freetown, Sierra Leone . The case being made to counter reparations is whose shoes would you rather be in? Those who remained in America and struggled or those who elected to retrace their roots in search of greener pastures. Slavery is a blight on all of humanity which we have a luxury of judging our ancestors through our modern day Nostredameic like lens. It’s this same lens that will be used by future descendants to judge our destruction of the environment, countless deaths due to wars and the financial ruin of our nations as we mortgage the future. Lets at least acknowledge the evolutionary triumph of humans was to recognize slavery was wrong.
I think this article really gives the insight on reparations and where the source should come from. With the holocaust, Germany is paying that. Likewise, Africa should be expected to pay for sourcing slave labor. It’s self inflicted in that regard. Nations like Ghana and any others that comprised the “Slave Coast” won’t own their share of the kidnapping, selling war & political captives of the era & region, who could ever hope to expect that the religiously persecuted colonists that never owned a plantation, therefore a slave to pay for reparations.. Reparations for the holocaust, quite a bit of that is also a recovery of family wealth that was stolen from the Jewish victims by the Germans. I don’t know so much that when the African tribes that sold off Africans as slaves, kept records of what personal property they stole from those slaves ?
“With some early exceptions, Europeans were not able to independently enter the West and Central African interior to capture Africans and force them onto ships to the Americas. Instead, European traders generally relied on a network of African rulers and traders to capture and bring enslaved Africans from various coastal and interior regions to slave castles on the West and Central African coast. Many of these traders acquired captives as a result of military and political conflict, but some also pursued slave trading for profit.”
In terms of numbers there are more of several races that live in poverty. Poverty rate of 10% of 256 million whites is 25.6 million in poverty. Just like 20% of 56 million is 11.2 million blacks. It’s really simple math, 14.4 million more whites live in poverty than blacks in the USA today. That’s a 2.3:1 ratio. So every black person you see that is perceived as poor, know that there are 2.3 white people that are just as poor. The poverty threshold is an income number that is the same regardless of your skin color, only changes due to family size, but it’s still basically # of household members x the single income amount. I’m sure those whites in poverty would want reparations for being kept down in poverty too ?
The truth of the matter is that if you’re a POC you’re not likely gonna get reparations because these systems are very racist, no matter how much people try and justify it and those in power just don’t really care. Hell, African Americans only got something remotely equivalent to equal rights in 1964 and have been disenfranchised economically and socially for a very long time before and after that. If you deny that, then there’s no point discussing this with you because of your cognitive dissonance. It’s clear as day!! Look at how long it took for Germany to pay the Herero reparations for their massacre….and yes it was in recent living historical memory but was only agreed to be paid in the last two years. Additionally, individual Herero families are not receiving financial reparations by the way, it’s infrastructure projects in the form of aid, lmao. If you know anything about aid in Africa this is laughable. So, the question then is why did it take that long to agree to this laughable reparations arrangement with Namibia when the linkage between that genocide and the Holocaust are known and obvious? Not to mention, heirs to Holocaust survivors also still receive reparations today, despite not actually being there during the Holocaust.
You are quite correct. Racism prevails. And Germany made a deal with Namibia, a structure that has been superimposed on Africa by the colonial powers. The Herero and Nama should have been approached directly. What has bothered me a bit is that William Edward Burkhardt DuBois [W.E.B. Dubois] has always held to a positive outlook on imperial Germany; I wonder how closely guarded a secret that holocaust had been then.
Yeah, Du Bois had a lot of contradictions. So did Lincoln, who freed the slaves but still felt they’d never be equal to white people. What is your point though
My point is that I think we tend to agree.
Concerned Citizen says
Lincoln freed the slaves as a pure political move. He was willing to keep slavery in order to preserve the union. Once the European powers started showing interest in the Confederate cause he needed something to mitigate that. Considering his personal views it wasn’t some noble cause.