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Robert L. Reece

Research Findings

The past is the past? How slavery still benefits white Americans

October 10, 2019

Arguments against racial reparations in the United States often lean on the assertions that slavery was “a long time ago,” that no one alive today suffered as a slave in the United States, and that no one alive today owned any slaves in the United States (at least not legally; we know human trafficking remains a major problem). The argument generally proceeds that therefore no one suffered from slavery and no one benefitted so no one deserves reparations.

“The past is the past,” they say.

Sociologists and other social scientists disagree. The past may be the past but it continues to have a measurable influence on contemporary social outcomes, and “legacy of slavery” research shows that chattel slavery is directly related to a wide variety of phenomena in the United States: violent crime rates, black election turnout, executions, educational inequality, economic inequality, school segregation. And internationally, researchers find that the slave trade significantly stunted the economic development of places in Africa where slaves were stolen and places where slavery was more widespread historically, with the exception of the United States.

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