History as a business expense?

In today's Inquirer, I stumbled onto a fascinating new development: city ordinances requiring companies to disclose past ties to slavery.

A bill up for consideration in City Council today would require firms with city contracts to research and disclose whether they garnered any profits in the past from slavery.

The bill, submitted by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, was approved by a City Council committee earlier this week. It is scheduled for a first reading today, and for final passage next week.

Reynolds-Brown said yesterday that she modeled the legislation after a similar measure in Chicago, and is seeking to force businesses to look into their pasts and own up to any history of profiting from slavery.

Under the bill, businesses would have to submit an affidavit within 90 days of receiving a city contract stating they have checked their records for evidence of any such profits. They would also have to disclose the names of slaves and slaveholders who were involved.

If the business does not submit the affidavit or turns over false information, it could lose its city contract.

"This is a chance to put in place an essential element - corporate disclosure and transparency," Reynolds Brown said at the hearing before Council's Finance Committee earlier this week, where the bill passed unanimously.

"We will arrive at a new era when corporations are able and willing to face their past and make proper amends, whatever they may be, for any egregious wrongdoings," she said.

Amends? For things that took place before anyone now living was born? Might as well ask me to make amends for something my great great grandfather did.

I'm wondering whether this is merely symbolic (in which case it's a waste of time), or whether it's a foot in the door for reparations.

Last month in New York, a similar bill was deliberately debated alongside a reparations resolution:

....[F]irms discovering their ties to slavery would not be barred from receiving municipal contracts; however, any company found falsifying its history would have its contracts voided. "This is about truth, enlightenment and accountability,” Perkins explained. “By exposing and confronting our past, no matter how painful, we can learn to combat prejudice and indifference now."

The committees also considered a resolution calling on Congress to hold fact finding hearings regarding reparations for descendents of Africans who were held in slavery in this country and its original colonies between 1619 and 1865, and a resolution urging the establishment of a reparations commission on slavery in New York City. “This is a very emotional issue for me, going far beyond any kind of legislation we can pass,” commented Council Member Charles Barron, the resolutions’ prime sponsor. “It's hard for me to get intellectual when we talk about murder, rape and robbery of a people, and the impact it’s had on us to this very day psychologically, sociologically and economically. I hope this hearing can bring some justice.”

Even the name of "New York" is suspect:
The hearing began with testimony from Dr. Howard Dodson, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He presented background on the development of slavery and the slave trade going back to 1625 when Dutch settlers brought the first enslaved Africans to the city to exploit as its labor force. He showed how conditions went from bad to worse for captive Africans after the British won control of New Amsterdam in 1664 and the city became an even more aggressive actor in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Duke of York – for whom the city was renamed – was a major shareholder in the firm that held the monopoly in the British slave trade. York granted port privileges to ships engaged in the slave trade and encouraged the city’s residents to become more actively involved in it. All the while, New York developed elaborate slave codes to control and restrict the behavior of enslaved Africans and to strip free and half-free Blacks of the rights and property they had held, however tenuously, under Dutch rule.
Does it even matter that the United States didn't exist at the time? No.

What matters is that New York will have to be renamed along with Washington.

I think this is all just a typical example of the politics of shame being used to bully and extort.

If the businesses had any balls, they'd refuse to go along with it.

posted by Eric on 03.03.05 at 11:50 AM


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Tracked on March 9, 2005 2:05 PM


If the citizens don't unelect these morons, they will get more of the inefficiency evidenced, which tends to serve only parasites.

J. Peden   ·  March 3, 2005 12:21 PM

"I'm wondering whether this is merely symbolic (in which case it's a waste of time), or whether it's a foot in the door for reparations."

Whaddaya mean "or?" It's both - not to mention a blatant abandonment of some of the core values of democracy and equal justice under law. Since when was it fair to judge each other by our ancestors' actions, rather than our own?

It's also divisive, as it focuses attention on past actions that can't be undone, rather than on what we, AS AMERICANS, must do IN THE PRESENT AND FUTURE to make our country a better place for ALL of its people.

(Full disclosure: one of my ancestors owned about 13 slaves, in NC, and specified in his will which of his kids got which slave when he died. Dunno what happened to all the profits he made from them (I didn't get any), or how well he treated them.)

I can see requiring full disclosure of profits made from the Holocaust: that is a far more recent and relevant event. But slavery in the US? That is so century-and-a-half-ago.

Raging Bee   ·  March 3, 2005 1:11 PM

The concept of reparations has an undelying assumption that the burden of slavery can be valued (in dollars). If so, then the price one would pay for freedom should exceed the cost of the burden. As my relatives fought and died to overturn slavery in the US, does that mean I can sue all blacks for past due freedom fees?

KH   ·  March 3, 2005 1:58 PM

The United States traces its roots to the British Empire and did directly benefit from the British colonization of the Americas.

My ancestors were driven off their lands in Ireland by that same British Empire several hundred years ago.

Justice demands restitution and the United States should be forced to carry its share of the burden for those actions from which it benefitted.

Pay me!

byrd   ·  March 3, 2005 2:00 PM

Yeah, sure, I'll pay you, as soon as the Queen pays ME for driving my Scottish ancestors to the New World (and forcing them to buy slaves to work the land).

Oops, we gotta wait till the English get reparations from the Romans and Vikings. This could take awhile...

Raging Bee   ·  March 3, 2005 2:40 PM

I love how city councils have nothing important to do but discuss businesses with past ties to slavery. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown must have already figured out a way to stop crime, improve the economy, and find the homeless jobs and housing.

Alexa   ·  March 3, 2005 6:27 PM

Any such disclosure will not suffice. No matter what is reported it will be found in "error" and "incomplete". The politicans will demand revisions to confess the real truth (which they know).

Once historical guilt is established special "historical remediation fees" can be collected. Heirs of company stock will be pressured to atone with "donations".

New agencies will afterwords monitor these loathsome businesses to insure they do not revive slavery or again sell shoddy blankets for the Bureau Of Indian Affairs.

Think I'm kidding? What happened when stores were accused of selling clothing made in foreign sweat-shops? Did it matter that they didn't make it? Or that the foreign government didn't care?

Ken   ·  March 3, 2005 6:36 PM

To carry this idiocy further, why don't they hit up Brazil, since many more Negro slaves were shipped there than to North America? And Brazil never fought a Civil War to end slavery.

I have had it with Political Correctness.

To carry it further satirically, and speaking of Classical Values, the ancient Romans, the patrician families, owned slaves. Are their modern Italian descendants going to be hit up for money? The word "slave" comes from "Slav", the Slavic peoples such as the Bulgarians (from whom also comes the word "bugger", "buggery"), the Poles, the Russians, the Ukrainians, etc.. They were made slaves in ancient times. Therefore, we (or somebody) owes them money. There are descendents of the ancient Assyrians today. The Assyrians were known in ancient times to be a very warlike, cruel people. Are their descendents going to be hit up for money? What about Negroes whose ancestors owned slaves in Africa? Native American tribes often waged war against one another and took captives. Will they be hit up? Is Outer Mongolia being billed for the actions of Ghengis Khan? Around and around it goes, where it stops nobody knows....

This moralistic shakedown is not even remotely justifiable unless the law contains an explicit blanket guarantee that NO PUNITIVE ACTION WHATSOEVER will be taken against companies that disclose a connection with slavery or other past atrocities. (And speaking of past atrocities, will there be a similar disclosure rule regarding displacing or killing Native Americans, religious wars, gangsters who go legit, arms dealers, people who resisted immigration by Jews fleeing the Nazis, people who profited from pogroms or McCarthyism or other hysteria, etc. etc. ad nauseam? Didn't think so.)

I can see the merit of some sort of Truth and Reconciliation process a la South Africa - but as in South Africa, there would have to be a promise that no punishment would result.

Raging Bee   ·  March 4, 2005 10:21 AM

Profited from McCarthyism? Hmmm.... Maybe I should go into business and sell buttons or bumper-stickers or T-shirts or whatever glorifying Tail-Gunner Joe.

By the same token, all Communists, Communist fronters, sympsthizers, fellow travellers, apologists, etc., should be made to apologize or pay reparations for the crimes of Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev, Mao, Pol Pot, Mengistu, Mugabe, Castro, etc.. Hmmm....

Don't forget the Arab Muslim slave trade, which was at least as large as the Western slave trade. The traditional routes across Africa are paved with the bones of the slaves who died on the way. Throw in a requirement that Arab and Muslim businesses acknowledge the evil nature of Koranic justifications for slavery and you'll see PC hypocrites soiling their pants from coast to coast.

pst314   ·  March 4, 2005 10:33 PM

But this is a good thing. This began a decade or so ago in New England, with old-time institutions like Brown University and the Hartford Courant making public hand-wringing confessions that their old money was tainted by slavery. Before long you realize that everything in the North that existed before 1860 has slave blood on its hands.

Maybe now we can start to realize slavery as a national issue, not a Southern one. Finally, we'll stop scapegoating one third of the states for something that all participated in.

If you will allow a link, I've been beating the drum about Northern slavery for a while. Believe me, the "truth" that this will reveal will put a cork in a lot of loudmouth Red-State-bashers.

It also will quell any serious talk about reparations.

Callimachus   ·  March 5, 2005 12:51 AM

I wonder how many firms are even around today that existed before 1865. My guess would be a couple banks, and not much else.

Beck   ·  March 5, 2005 9:20 AM

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