NY Times Article: 272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does it Owe Their Descendants?
My first thought, is that the capital accrued into families, companies, or universities will all have some stain. Stain in the sense that when we use today’s standards and life experiences to judge behaviors in the past, we are bound to condemn many actions and decisions. And, once stained where do you stop labeling the influence.
Is the Georgetown endowment stained, what about all the people who have been paid salaries by Georgetown–is that money stained as well. What of the educations received by Georgetown alumni, are their degrees and behaviors somehow lessened because they were taught by an institution that participated in slavery.
Two extremes help me form a view to address, the “what does Georgetown owe” question. One construct is war. Does the winner of a war, owe anything to the loser? And surely, the winner of a war always takes something, a resource, lives, an opportunity–you don’t win a war without destroying something of value for the loser. Even if the war was started for unethical reasons, does it matter?
My thought is no, the winner of war owes the loser nothing. The other extreme–the con man. The con man, by definition, takes gains, profits, property and whatever other capital they can lay their hands on by illicit means. And, in every sense of society I can think of, it is just and right for the con man to lose the illicit gains and return the capital it acquired with false means. Clearly the con man should not keep their profits, just because they now possess them. But, what is the difference between the winner of war, and the con man? Both have taken, with full intent, the property of others.
I suggest the difference lies solely in how the intent is judge by those who surrounded you at the time of the events. The reasons countries declare war, and announce it to friendly countries, is in part for license to fight, and if you win, keep what you take. The con man’s actions are never accepted by the greater society, well not civil society, because it is readily recognized that if everyone adopted the con man’s actions, there would be no civility.
Therefore, I find it foolish to rationalize a payment of money, capital, for a wrong judges by today’s values applied to a time in history. If any web of Georgetown is forced to give up money, then the same web for the United States of America must give up money for the wars won.
Of far more concern to me, is the go forward way of life. What is it that Georgetown should do tomorrow, by living up to today’s ethical standards, given what ever motivation they choose (guilt, pride, equality). Going backward and changing standards just does not add much value. Committing to go forward, learning from the lessons of the past, that’s a place where energy is better utilized.
Update April 12, 2019
News story of Georgetown actions https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/apr/12/georgetown-students-vote-for-slavery-reparations-t/ shows that students have voted for tuition hike. Well that is one way to go forward. However, to make the hike into reparations seems like guilt relief rather than sincere help for descendants. How about, scholarship, or educational support services for identified descendants. It will go a lot further than cash.