Is reflecting on history through today's lens reasonable?
Are we responsible for the past sins of our fathers?
These are interesting questions because they form a basis for much of the discussion about reparations for slavery, taking lands from the indigenous people, and wrongfully imprisoned people.
Reparation is the payment for harm or damage. reparations make sense in the case of a person wrongly imprisoned for several years. But does it make sense in the cases of slavery and the taking of the indigenous peoples' land?
The ICTJ states that reparations are to acknowledge and repair the causes and consequences of human rights violations and inequality. This is a very broad definition and takes a much more comprehensive approach than most states or the federal government.
The case here is not as straightforward because the lens of right and wrong changes over time. Therefore, considering what our ancestor was doing with today’s lens of right or wrong can result in a different answer than if we look at it from their time and perspective.
Should reparations be time-bound?
Thinking of the concept of reparations in the context of time helps me clarify when they are appropriate. Reparations would make sense if the harm were recent. However, the further you go back in time, the less suitable they seem. In this case, a clear connection exists between the event and the person receiving the reparations. As you consider things that happened further in time, the relationship becomes tenuous.
In an Atlantic article, the case is made for reparations for Black families because of the criminal taking of their land. In this case, where crimes were committed according to the laws then in place, it is my belief reparations are appropriate.
Defining Past Actions as Crimes
Past actions become crimes when seen through the laws in place. However, they are not necessarily crimes just because they would be crimes today. This brings us back to the question are we responsible for redefining the actions of our fathers as sins that require us to pay reparations. Payment is made not to the ones that were wronged but to their descendants to mollify the guilt we feel today when we apply the lens of today to the actions of the past.
Should we pay reparations?
The answer is yes in some situations. But in other cases, the answer isn’t clear. You should consider this issue because laws are being passed in California and possibly by Congress that address this issue.