Reparations or Inheritance?

This question came to me after a little family history research (and months of working at a legal firm). I learned that on my mother’s side, I come from both a slave and a slave owner.

My idea is for a lawsuit, either class action or a small collection of individuals, seeking to lay lost inheritance claims against families or entities that a) actively benefit from a foundation in slave labor (founded pre 1850) and b) are blood relatives of the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs, of course, would have to be blood relatives of the defendants.

My first question is around statute of limitations. There is legal precedent for statutes to be waived for Native Americans, but a court must find that those who were originally wronged did not have the means to bring suit on their own.

Descendants of slaves in the U.S. did not have full voting rights until 1965, so it stands to reason that they were systemically barred from obtaining wealth in the most American way (real estate) well into this century. Descendants of slaves were barred from wealth, barred from housing, barred from education, and barred from the kind of legal representation required for individuals to lay claim to anything.

I am an advocate for reparations, especially considering the U.S. has given reparations before. We need a conversation in this country about how we got here. The population of descendants of slaves is fairly low (I’d guess 8% or less of the total U.S. population), so it seems doable to create a federal fund people can’t touch until they are 18. In a perfect world there would be financial services attached to that to address the centuries of financial wisdom we did not receive.

The amount of public money used should be limited for this hypothetical trust, both for practical and PR purposes. In 2005 there was a suit (thrown out in district court) that found a number of companies (Aetna and JP Morgan, for example) had ties to slavery, and still benefit from those profits. The suit was a restitution claim, and was pretty good, but it was the mid 2000s which is likely why it didn’t get much traction. There are more companies and families/funds like that, and a new tax on them for this purpose is where I think the money should come from. Taxpayers who say “but we weren’t even here during slavery” are right. There are so many people who immigrated post slavery, and plenty of poor white people who also definitely did not benefit from slavery. Their money should not be used for this.

From what I can tell, wealth (not income) equals freedom in 21st century America. It is what gives people access to the structures-that-be, and it is the language of capitalist America.





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