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THE CONTROVERSY OVER REPARATIONS FOR SLAVERY
By DAVID HOROWITZ
ENCOUNTER BOOKS THE AD
Copyright © 2002 David Horowitz.
All rights reserved.
The ad I decided to place in a series of college papers in the spring of 2001 gave "Ten Reasons" why reparations for slavery was a bad idea. It was a position that 75 percent of Americans shared according to current public opinion polls. An accurate parsing of its text was provided by a reporter for the Los Angeles Times:
The gist of the 10 points in Horowitz's ad was that the Civil War is long over, African Americans are prospering today, and the families of most of today's Americans bear no responsibility for slavery or the Jim Crow laws that followed anyway. Why, he asked, should a struggling recent immigrant have to pay for injustices that happened in another time.
The formal title of my ad was "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Ideaand Racist Too," and it was eventually sent to seventy-one college papers nationwide. Forty-three of these papers rejected it outright, many conceding that their objection was to the ideas it expressed. In other words, the college editors who rejected the ad wanted to prevent the most educated people in America from being exposed to what it said.
When the ad was actually printed, things got even worse. There were protest demonstrations, demands for resignations of the editors and even thefts of whole press runs.This was in stark contrast to what had happened when I published the same ideas in a column for the Internet journal Salon.com nine months earlier. The title of the column I wrote was identical except for three words. In Salon, I wrote that reparations were a bad idea "for black people," a phrase I later thought might be considered presumptuous and possibly "insensitive" in the politically correct campus environment. In writing the ad, I dropped the phrase to avoid provoking a reaction.
When the campuses reacted anyway, my Salon editor, Joan Walsh, recalled with some bewilderment the response to the original column. In an article called "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Horowitz?" Walsh wrote: "We received hundreds of letters about the column, most but not all of them critical. We ran a rejoinder by a regular Salon contributor, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, supporting reparations. We got even more letters, as Horowitz supporters slammed Hutchinson. The debate was lively, arguments on all sides got thoroughly aired, and a good time was had by all. Nobody picketed our offices. Nobody came to Salon with a list of grievances to be addressed. Nobody sought or was given an apology. Nobody called us racist."
I had written the column in response to a news report about a vote in the city of Chicago. Its council had passed a resolution favoring reparations for slavery by a margin of 46 to 1. Until then, I had always regarded the reparations movement as an obscure fringe cause. The lopsided vote was a sign to me that something was changing.
In the news story, Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman was identified as the sponsor of the council resolution. She was quoted as saying, "America owes blacks a debt because ... we built this country on free labor, and wealth was handed down to the white community." The lone "no" vote had been cast by Alderman Brian Doherty, the council's only Republican. Doherty described slavery as "a horrible crime," but said, "the constituents of [my] Northwest Side ward are, by and large, the descendants of people who immigrated to the United States after slavery had ended. They should not be forced to pay for wrongs committed by others." This seemed a reasonable position, which suggested to me that the unanimous vote of Democrats on the council might be attributed to an atmosphere of intimidation that made some of them reluctant to challenge the resolution out of fear of being charged with "racism."
After the vote was taken, Mayor Richard Daley made a public apology for slavery. This also caught my attention. After all, Illinois was a free state before the Civil War. Its men had spilled their blood in this great conflict, and its present-day citizens were usually proud of their anti-slavery heritage, emblazoning their license plates with the motto "Land of Lincoln." This practice had even made them targets of segregationist attacks when they traveled to the South during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s. What had an Illinois native like Mayor Daley to apologize for when it came to slavery?
Such were the sentiments the Chicago vote provoked in me, as I noted in my Salon column. Then, nine months later, I came across an Internet notice announcing a conference on reparations at the University of Chicago. The conference was scheduled for February 9, 2001, in the middle of Black History Month. A "Reparations Rally" was also scheduled for February 6 at California State University, Northridge. Other campuses were promoting "Reparations Awareness" days to mobilize support for the new cause. A feature of all these collegiate events was that only one side of the reparations argument would be represented. This was the fruit of nearly two decades of activists' efforts to make universities reflect their political agendas under the imperative of being "politically correct."
It seemed to me that one-party politics were not appropriate for academic institutions or healthy for the democracy these institutions were supposed to serve. If universities could not be counted on to support more than one side of a question, what institutions could? Such thoughts prompted a hasty decision to cut the Salon article to the length of a newspaper page and place it as an ad in the Chicago Maroon and Cal State Northridge's Sun Dial so that the students attending these events would be able to see another side of the issue. I included a coupon at the end of the ad, which itself became a subject of controversy:
* * *
Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Ideaand Racist Too.
There Is No Single Group Responsible for the Crime of Slavery.
Black Africans and Arabs were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African-Americans. There were 3,000 black slave-owners in the antebellum United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too? There were white slaves in colonial America. Are their descendents going to receive payments?
There Is No Single Group That Benefited Exclusively from Slavery.
The claim for reparations is premised on the false assumption that only whites have benefited from slavery. If slave labor has created wealth for Americans, then obviously it has created wealth for black Americans as well, including the descendants of slaves. The GNP of black America makes the African-American community the tenth most prosperous "nation" in the world. American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes in the range of twenty to fifty times that of blacks living in any of the African nations from which they were kidnapped.
Only a Minority of White Americans Owned Slaves, While Others Gave Their Lives to Free Them.
Only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves. This is true even for those who lived in the antebellum South where only one white in five was a slaveholder. Why should their descendants owe a debt? What about the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves? They gave their lives. What morality would ask their descendants to pay again? If paying reparations on the basis of skin color is not racism, what is?
Most Living Americans Have No Connection (Direct or Indirect) to Slavery.
The two great waves of American immigration occurred after 1880 and then after 1960. What logic would require Vietnamese boat people, Russian refuseniks, Iranian refugees, Armenian victims of the Turkish persecution, Jews, Mexicans Greeks, or Polish, Hungarian, Cambodian and Korean victims of Communism, to pay reparations to American blacks?
The Historical Precedents Used to Justify the Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, and the Claim Itself Is Based on Race Not Injury.
The historical precedents generally invoked to justify the reparations claim are payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Japanese-Americans and African-American victims of racial experiments in Tuskegee, or racial outrages in Rosewood and Oklahoma City. But in each case, the recipients of reparations were the direct victims of the injustice or their immediate families. This would be the only case of reparations to people who were not immediately affected and whose sole qualification to receive reparations would be racial. During the slavery era, many blacks were free men or slave-owners themselves, yet the reparations claimants make no attempt to take this fact into account. If this is not racism, what is?
The Reparations Argument Is Based on the Unsubstantiated Claim That All African-Americans Suffer from the Economic Consequences of Slavery and Discrimination.
No scientific attempt has been made to prove that living individuals have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended nearly 150 years ago. But there is plenty of evidence that the hardships of slavery were hardships that individuals could and did overcome. The black middle class in America is a prosperous community that is now larger in absolute terms than the black underclass. Its existence suggests that present economic adversity is the result of failures of individual character rather than the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination or a slave system that ceased to exist well over a century ago. West Indian blacks in America are also descended from slaves but their average incomes are equivalent to the average incomes of whites (and nearly 25 percent higher than the average incomes of American-born blacks). How is it that slavery adversely affected one large group of descendants but not the other? How can government be expected to decide an issue that is so subjective?
The Reparations Claim Is One More Attempt to Turn African-Americans into Victims. It Sends a Damaging Message to the African-American Community and to Others.
The renewed sense of grievancewhich is what the claim for reparations will inevitably createis not a constructive or helpful message for black leaders to send to their communities and to others. To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some other Americans may have done to their ancestors 50 or 150 years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victimhood. How are the millions of non-black refugees from tyranny and genocide who are now living in America going to receive these claims, moreover, except as demands for special treatmentan extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others, many of whom are less privileged than themselves?
Reparations to African-Americans Have Already Been Paid.
Since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and the advent of the Great Society in 1965, trillions of dollars in transfer payments have been made to African-Americans in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences (in contracts, job placements and educational admissions)all under the rationale of redressing historic racial grievances. It is said that reparations are necessary to achieve a healing between African-Americans and other Americans. If trillion-dollar restitutions and a wholesale rewriting of American law (in order to accommodate racial preferences) is not enough to achieve a "healing," what is?
What about the Debt Blacks Owe to America?
Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade, and in all societies. But in the thousand years of slavery's existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Anglo-Saxon Christians created one. If not for the antislavery beliefs and military power of white Englishmen and Americans, the slave trade would not have been brought to an end. If not for the sacrifices of white soldiers and a white American president who gave his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in America would still be slaves. If not for the dedication of Americans of all ethnicities and colors to a society based on the principle that all men are created equal, blacks in America would not enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world, and indeed one of the highest standards of living of any people in the world. They would not enjoy the greatest freedoms and the most thoroughly protected individual rights anywhere. Where is the acknowledgment of black America and its leaders for those gifts?
The Reparations Claim Is a Separatist Idea That Sets African-Americans against the Nation That Gave Them Freedom.
Blacks were here before the Mayflower. Who is more American than the descendants of African slaves? For the African-American community to isolate itself from America is to embark on a course whose implications are troubling. Yet the African-American community has had a long-running flirtation with separatists, nationalists and the political left, who want African-Americans to be no part of America's social contract. African-Americans should reject this temptation.
For all America's faults, African-Americans have an enormous stake in this country and its heritage. It is this heritage that is really under attack by the reparations movement. The reparations claim is one more assault on America, conducted by racial separatists and the political left. It is an attack not only on white Americans, but on all Americansespecially African-Americans.
America's African-American citizens are the richest and most privileged black people alive, a bounty that is a direct result of the heritage that is under assault. The American idea needs the support of its African-American citizens. But African-Americans also need the support of the American idea. For it is the American idea that led to the principles and created the institutions that have set African-Americansand all of usfree.
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The Chicago Maroon printed the ad as written, but the Northridge Sun Dial said no. I decided to try placing it in ten more schools, including my alma maters Columbia and UC Berkeley. I hoped that an ad in the Harvard Crimson might provoke a debate in the backyard of Afro-American Studies Department chairman Henry Louis Gates Jr. and black law professor Charles Ogletree, who were the most prestigious academic figures lending their names and support to the reparations cause.
The rejections came swiftly: American University, Penn, Columbia, Virginia, Harvard, Notre Dame and the University of Washington. If the pattern had continued, I would at least have had the satisfaction of knowing that another side of the issue had been aired in three schools, even if there was no wider result. But at two of the schools that published the ad, the editors had second thoughts. It was their reactionsand the response of one editor at Berkeley in particularthat triggered the events that followed.
Excerpted from UNCIVIL WARS by DAVID HOROWITZ. Copyright © 2002 by David Horowitz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.