White Woman Embraces Black Reparations, Part One

White Woman Embraces Black Reparations

by Marie Roberts
February/March 2001

Part One

Increasingly, the subject of reparations to African Americans is in the news and, as a white American woman, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Black History Month than to express my own personal, deeply felt views on this extremely important matter. In short, I support them passionately and wish to say why.


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To make clear at the outset exactly what I believe we owe reparations to African Americans for, I see them as due not only for what we did under the enslavement, but for what has followed since.

For 250 years we robbed millions of enslaved Africans of the wealth their labor created. The wealth that was rightfully theirs, which they should have been able to pass down to their descendants, went instead into our pockets to be passed down generation after generation to our heirs, doubling and tripling in value all the way. That is the root cause of the huge economic disparity between blacks and whites that exists in our country today.

We also committed indescribable mental, physical, and spiritual brutality against these enslaved Africans in order to coerce them into submitting to our exploitation. We robbed them of their identity as a people as we stripped from them their mother tongues, their traditional religions and original cultures, and forced upon them instead European language, religion and culture. We destabilized their social structures, relations between men and women, the family, and did everything we could to break their spirit, set one against another, and demoralize them as human beings. The heart-wrenching, far-reaching results of this, too, are very much with us now.

Then, far from apologizing and making restitution for what we’d done during the enslavement–including robbing millions upon millions of African persons of their very lives–we followed it up with another crime: institutionalized racism which is still alive and current in our country even now, 136 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This is because the mind-set slavery was based on–the belief that a person of African descent is less than a white person–has not changed centrally. Yes, laws have been passed that have forced people to refrain from some of the most flagrant racist practices that took place in the South under Jim Crow. For example, Black men no longer live in fear of being torn from their families in the middle of the night to be brutally lynched and their bodies mutilated. But, as every honest person will admit, there has been and still is a colossal amount of discrimination, both blatant and subtle, carried out violently or with a velvet glove, that permeates every aspect of American life–in education and housing, in the job market and finance, as to medical care, in relation to police profiling and the prison industrial complex, and much more–all causing tremendous suffering to African Americans, as well as making it just about impossible for most to achieve financial parity with whites.

Am I Not A Man

What this all means is that there has been one long, unbroken line of economic exploitation and racial injustice (the two are inextricably related) that has lasted from 1607 when the first captive Africans were brought in chains to these shores, to the present. Therefore, I believe we owe trillions of dollars in reparations for the wrongs committed throughout that entire span of time, not just up to 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified, officially ending slavery. And reparations will have to be the real thing, not just a few token social programs put in place to make it appear as though we’re doing something serious when we’re really just dropping a few crumbs from our table.

Reparations will also have to take in much more than money: it will have to include as a central feature the restoration of all human rights to the descendants of enslaved persons. They must have their identity as a people restored and recognized throughout the world with all the human rights attached to it. This restoration of identity is crucial: any offer of reparations that does not include that is totally inadequate.


An apology for slavery is an absolute must. I would like to see it written right into our Constitution, for I believe that is the only way to cleanse this document of the stench of once having contained the Constitutional Compromise which so hideously counted a person of African descent as a mere 3/5th of a human being.

However this must be followed up with reparations–which means to repair the damage–for without that, an apology is nothing more than hollow words. As we each know from our own life’s experience, when we sincerely regret something we did, we are impelled not only to apologize, but to do everything in our power to make amends in every way possible for the harm we brought about. Any apology not accompanied by the willingness to make restitution is a fake.



I am aware, nonetheless, that with all the well-documented horrors of the enslavement, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the question of whether reparations are owed or not, and, if so, how they should be paid and to whom. Some frequent arguments against reparations put forth by European Americans are that slavery took place too long ago for us to do anything about it now and, “Why should we, who never enslaved anyone, be held responsible for what some of our ancestors did?” or “My ancestors got here long after slavery ended–why should I have to pay?”

My response is that slavery has left its lingering effects. These ravages of slavery, both economic and spiritual, are very much alive and current in our nation now. African American persons are still seen and dealt with in a way that is very far from what they deserve. European American persons still receive a subtle white privilege in every area of life. All other ethnicities and immigrants, including even African immigrants, are more respected as human beings than the descendants of persons enslaved in America.

As to what one’s own ancestors did or did not do, the truth is that the early American economy, in the North as well as the South, was based on revenues generated by the institution of slavery. Not only slaveowners but practically every white citizen reaped the rewards of it in some way. Even those who seemed to have nothing at all to do with slavery benefitted from the taxes on cotton that poured into government coffers. And, as I said earlier, the wealth created by enslaved labor has come down through the generations in such a way that each of us European Americans continue to benefit from it even now.

As to the final question, every immigrant who has come here came because they hoped to participate in the wealth of America–usually without knowing that this wealth has its origins in enslaved labor. They should not expect to share in what really amounts to ill-gotten gains without also having to share in making amends for the unjust way it came to be in the first place.

Protest Against Jim Crow Policies

Reparations is a well established principle in law and in international law which the US has supported over and over. Our government was instrumental in obtaining reparations for the victims of the Jewish holocaust. It currently backs reparations for the victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The US government has recognized the need to pay for violating the treaty rights of the indigenous peoples of this land, and they also awarded reparations to Japanese Americans for our country’s inhumane detention of them during World War II.

In the face of every argument any person can make against reparations, heart and soul I feel it was a crime of such monstrous proportions that a way must be found to make restitution–and, to use the old cliche, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Any injustice, personal or international, which has been committed against anyone must be seen for what it is and regretted. It cannot be lied about, smoothed over, or swept under the rug as though it’s no longer important–whether it happened three days ago, three years ago, or three centuries ago. If it was wrong, it is wrong, and it still must be looked at honestly and sincerely revoked! That’s the only way we will ever put an end to the brutal and insidious institutionalized racism–the aftermath of slavery–that continues to plague our country even now at the beginning of the 21st century.

You can contact Marie Roberts at mrobertsusa@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2001 Marie Roberts and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.


  1. Date: Fri, 09 Mar 2001 11:11:16 +0000
    From: “Major Michael Kelley, CSA”
    Subject: Regarding Marie Roberts’ article on “Black reparations”…

    …as expressed at “The Multiracial Activist” web site (“White Woman Embraces Black Reparations” – https://www.multiracial.com/readers/roberts.html), the examples of U.S.-supported reparations you cited all have one common thread that negates your use of them as supporting any sort of precedent. All of the incidents of reparations you cite are those reparations paid to _living victims_ of acts against them. There is no precedent in history for reparations being paid to the _descendants_ of victims.

    Do you passionately support reparations for Native Americans from ALL non-Native peoples who have benefited from the wholesale theft of a country and the attempted racial genocide? Black Americans have received recognition and honor for their role as “Buffalo Soldiers” in helping in this thievery and attempted genocide and, therefore, must share in this financial burden.

    I am 1/32nd Seminole and Federally-classified as a Native American…what share will I receive? My sons are half Filipino…whom do they pay and who pays them?

    What share will Black Americans descended from Black slave owners have to pay? What about those Black Americans who are multiracial and part caucasian? Will the descendants of African empires, the Arabs, the Portugese, and the Dutch also throw money into the pot for reparations, since they not only owned African slaves but also participated deeply in creating and supplying the American slave trade? Will descendants of New England slaveship owners pay more heavily for being responsible for the deaths of a million or more Africans who died or were killed during the Atlantic passages on those ships?

    Do you support the payment of reparations to the descendants of the Southern victims of the unconstitutional war waged against the civilian population of the South and the ensuing economic devastation of that region as perpetrated under the Federal Reconstruction Act from 1865 to 1877?

    Do you support reparations for the descendants of the Irish, Welsh, Scots, African slaves and citizens of former nations of the British Empire from the English? For the descendants of Biblical Jews from the descendants of the Egyptian Empire? For descendants of numerous enslaved nations from the descendants of the Roman Empire? All of these nations and empires benefited from the servitude of other populations…these are all claims which are at least as supportable and legitimate as the concept of reparations for Black Americans.

    Additionally, you are fundamentally misinformed about the arrival date and status of those Africans who originally arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. Jamestown was first _settled_ in 1607 and the first Africans arrived in 1619. I offer you the following quote of properly-researched _history_ as performed under the Federal WPA Act of Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

    Virginia, Guide to The Old Dominion, WPA Writers’ Program, Oxford University Press, NY, 1940, p. 378

    “In 1650 there were only 300 negroes in Virginia, about one percent of the population. They weren’t slaves any more than the approximately 4,000 white indentured servants working out their loans for passage money to Virginia, and who were granted 50 acres each when freed from their indentures, so they could raise their own tobacco.

    Slavery was established in 1654 when Anthony Johnson, Northampton County, convinced the court that he was entitled to the lifetime services of John Casor, a negro. This was the first judicial approval of life servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

    But who was Anthony Johnson, winner of this epoch-making decision? Anthony Johnson was a negro himself, one of the original 20 brought to Jamestown (1619) and ‘sold’ to the colonists. By 1623 he had earned his freedom and by 1651, was prosperous enough to import five ‘servants’ of his own, for which he received a grant of 250 acres as ‘headrights.’

    Anthony Johnson ought to be in a ‘Book of Firsts.’ As the most ambitious of the first 20, he could have been the first negro to set foot on Virginia soil. He was Virginia’s first free negro and first to establish a negro community, first negro landowner, first negro slave owner and as the first, white or black, to secure slave status for a servant, he was actually the founder of slavery in Virginia.

    A remarkable man.”

    Good intentions are commendable, but according to an old axiom they also pave the road to Hell.

    Think before you speak and research before you write.

    Your Obedient Servant,

    Major Michael Kelley, CSA
    Commanding, 37th Texas Cavalry (Terrell’s)
    “We are a band of brothers!”

    “I feel that you are free men, I am a free man, and we can do as we please. I came here as a friend and whenever I can serve any of you I will do so…therefore, let us stand together. Although we differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment.” – Confederate General N.B. Forrest, Memphis, Tennessee – July, 1875

    “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.” – Robert E. Lee (December 27, 1856)

  2. Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 21:23:00 -0800 (PST)
    From: “Jon Wu”
    Subject: Letter to the Editor

    On the reparations issue and some other stuff:

    If this is approved, then the government would be paying, yes? I pay taxes to the government, so some of that money would come from me, no? How about we have a big checklist (like Lewontin’s from “Evolutionary Biology” or somesuch) and I can truly check off “all that apply”. The bigger the checklist the better, so we can make a fair appraisal of how reparations are to be distributed, including racial, societal, cultural, what have you, parameters.

    I’m 1/2 Chinese (7/16 Han & 1/16 Mongolian), 1/4 Swedish, 1/8 German, 1/16 Irish & 1/16 Scots. Irish & Scots came to America (Michigan) in the late 1800’s, married and had a daughter, who married the freshly immigrated German and had a daughter, who married my grandfather, who had just immigrated from Sweden. Their daughter married my father when he immigrated from China.

    Let’s see. I’ll owe a certain amount of reparations to decendants of slaves, though I wonder if I can get a 50% reduction on this payment for my Chinese side…maybe not, as my father came to the US and worked his way through college and medical school in a society that hadn’t yet paid reparations. The reparations my Chinese side deserves due to exploitation of Asian labor in railroad building and the like is evenly offset by those same due from my white side.

    Those due from the English for past treatment of my Scots and Irish ancestors are offset by what my German eighth did to them (or did Weimar set a bad precedent for demanding reparations from Germans?). My Japanese wife is gonna owe me for what her people did to the Chinese, but she doesn’t have to file an American return. Gonna have to designate part to native Americans, too, unhelped, as they were, by my ancestors. We’re going to need a big computer.

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