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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: Why reparations? Because slaves built a ‘great’ country for white people

Reparations hearing
Activists wait to enter a House committee hearing on reparations for the descendants of slaves on June 19.
(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP-Getty Images)

To the editor: As an African American, I am not at all surprised that only 16% of white Americans support paying reparations directly to the descendants of slaves. After all, white people are victims of a culture in which virtually every major institution, including the all-pervasive media, regularly vilifies black people.

In spite of this, I invite my white countrymen and women to consider the words of historian Edward E. Baptist in his book, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism":

“The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African-Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.... Enslaved African Americans built the modern United States, and indeed the entire modern world, in ways both obvious and hidden.”

In other words, it was the enslavement of African Americans that largely “made America great” in the first place.

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Legrand H. Clegg II, Compton

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To the editor: I am not categorically against compensating the descendants of slaves. However, I have several questions.

Has anyone polled the descendants of slaves to see how, when or if they want compensation? According to this article, there are some who take offense to the offer of money.

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If the descendants of slaves deserve reparations for the crimes committed against their ancestors, then it follows that the descendants of those who committed those crimes must participate by contributing money. This seems perfectly reasonable.

If African American descendants of slaves are compensated, are not Native Americans also deserving of compensation? Their ancestors too were abused, killed or relegated to second-class citizenship.

Chinese immigrants were mistreated during the construction of the railroads and other infrastructure systems in the United States. Summarily “interned” Japanese Americans suffered dearly during World War II.

Where does it stop? When does it begin?

John Gambardella, Hemet

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To the editor: Researcher Vennie Deas Moore is on the right track for reparations: They should not be in the form of checks written to the descendants of slaves, but rather free education.

That would give them the opportunity to achieve wealth that would have been their legacy had their ancestors been free immigrants to this country. The states should provide free college in public universities to those who show they are descended from slaves.

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Harriet P. Epstein, Santa Monica

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To the editor: All racism is wrong, but how our society can change its mentality is the real issue. Reparations are not the answer; rather, we have to change the way we see ourselves.

Our past should not define us; we should learn from mistakes and move forward.

A white person might say, “I didn’t own slaves, so why should I be responsible?” An African American might say that it’s easy for a white person to want to move on, because that person has never walked in my shoes.

We create change by how we perceive who we are. If I perceive myself as a victim, I will remain a victim, and if I see myself as superior because of my skin color, then I too remain a victim of a false identity.

Leslee Owens, Ventura


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