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A Point-by-Point Refutation of David Horowitz's "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Ide By: Tom Gorman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 03, 2001


One: There Is No Single Group Clearly 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 ante-bellum United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too?

The reparations called for by activists will be taken from the general revenue of the United States government. Everyone, regardless of ethnicity, who pays taxes, would therefore share the responsibility for reparations payments. Horowitz gives the impression that reparations would be some sort of "tax on white people," but since the country as a whole benefited from the labor extracted from slaves, all would share the burden of payment. As for "Black Africans and Arabs being responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African-Americans," while slavery had existed long before the Atlantic slave trade started, most of this "intra-African" slavery consisted of soldiers captured in wars, and these "slaves" were, after a time, accepted into the tribes of their conquerors, and suffered nowhere near the level of degradation and brutality that Africans brought to the Americas were subjected to. Furthermore, this "intra-African" slave trade became a much more lucrative endeavor by the demand of European slave traders in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Two: There is No One Group That Benefited Exclusively From Its Fruits

The claim for reparations is premised on the false assumption that only whites have benefited from slavery. If slave labor 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 is so large that it makes the African-American community the 10th 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.

It is true that all Americans have benefited from slavery, which is why all Americans will pay reparations through the general revenue of the United States. Even though the GNP of black America is "so large" that it would be the tenth largest economy, this still puts the African American community far behind white America. Median household income in 1999 was 58% higher for white, non-Hispanic households than for black households--$44,366 compared to $27,910 (US Census Bureau). Horowitz states that "American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes" far greater than blacks in Africa, apparently forgetting that "per capita" means "on average"-but I digress. While American blacks certainly do have higher income levels than black Africans, this is not a measure of the economic success of black America, as much as it is an indictment of the European colonization and labor extraction that resulted in the impoverishment of the African continent. Had Africa not been so pillaged it is doubtful that Africa would be as poor as it is, or that the West would be as wealthy as it is.

Three Only A Tiny Minority Of White Americans Ever Owned Slaves, And 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 ante-bellum 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 possible moral principle would ask them to pay (through their descendants) again?

As already stated, all Americans (white or black, rich or poor, descendants of slaves or descendants of slave owners) owe the debt of slavery. And to say that "350,000 Union soldiers died to free the slaves" is a gross oversimplification worthy of a third-grade social studies class. In his first Inaugural Address (at which point several states had already seceded and were forming the Confederate government), Abraham Lincoln stated explicitly that he had no interest in ending slavery. "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so," Lincoln said. He also explained that as surely as he would preserve the Constitution from those states wanting to secede, he would also defend those parts of the Constitution which defended slavery, namely, that he would return runaway slaves to their owners.

Lincoln's goal was the preservation of the Union. In August of 1862, Lincoln was sharply criticized by newspaper publisher Horace Greeley for not enforcing a law passed by Congress that called for the confiscation of any property captured by Union forces, including the freeing of any slaves. Lincoln ordered his generals not to "confiscate" (i.e. free) slaves, not wanting to antagonize any Unionist slaveholders in the Confederate states. Lincoln wrote to Greeley, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."

The Emancipation Proclamation was first announced in September of 1862, set to take effect the next January. It freed slaves only in the Confederate states that were in rebellion at the time, giving the southern states a chance to rejoin the Union without losing their slaves. As late as February 1865, Lincoln was still willing to allow a "phase-out" of slavery in the Confederate states. At the Hampton Roads Conference, where he met with Confederate leaders to negotiate a settlement, Lincoln discussed not only allowing slavery to continue, but he also offered compensation to slave owners when emancipation did come.

Lincoln discussed the idea of an African colony with black leaders at a White House meeting in August 1862 and advised "but even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race." Even Lincoln knew that freedom would only be a start for African American equality; he likely would have supported some form of reparations as well.

Four America Today Is A Multi-Ethnic Nation and Most Americans Have No Connection (Direct Or Indirect) To Slavery

The two great waves of American immigration occurred after 1880 and then after 1960. What rationale would require Vietnamese boat people, Russian refuseniks, Iranian refugees, and Armenian victims of the Turkish persecution, Jews, Mexicans Greeks, or Polish, Hungarian, Cambodian and Korean victims of Communism, to pay reparations to American blacks?

Anyone who decides to live in America does have a direct connection to slavery. Except for African slaves, all other immigrants come here of their own volition, and must accept all the liabilities of this society along with its benefits. Some benefits are freedom and economic advantage. However, these benefits were "purchased," in part, by the forced extraction of labor from Africans. In other words, this country wouldn't be such a magnet for so many immigrants if slaves had not been exploited-and perhaps the United States would not even exist had society not had the "free-ride" of African labor. Much like a stockholder buying into a company, if the company is sued, the stockholder has to pay, even though the stock was purchased after the injury alleged in the suit. When you buy into a company (or join a new nation), you incur responsibilities. An immigrant to the US is required to pay taxes, serve on jury duty, submit to military draft, send their kids to school, and yes, help pay for reparations to African Americans, because that's the deal when you come here.

Five: 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. As has already been pointed out, during the slavery era, many blacks were free men or slave-owners themselves, yet the reparations claimants make no distinction between the roles blacks actually played in the injustice itself. Randall Robinson's book on reparations, The Debt, which is the manifesto of the reparations movement is pointedly sub-titled "What America Owes To Blacks." If this is not racism, what is?

There are precedents for slavery reparations. The nation of Germany (most of whose current taxpayers were not around during the Holocaust, or who were not active participants in the Holocaust, or who may have even helped Jews escape) has paid reparations to the nation of Israel (many of whose citizens were not victims of the Holocaust). Furthermore, this payment is based on "race"-Germany paid Israel because it is a Jewish state. So the precedent of a nation paying reparations based on race is there. But even if this precedent were not there, it would not matter. Regardless of any precedent, slavery reparations are simply the right thing to do. (After all, Brown v. Board of Education had no precedent, but it was the right thing to do.) Moreover, slavery reparations would not be based solely on race. Randall Robinson has stated that reparations are not for African Americans of his economic status, but would rather be used to help the disproportionate number of blacks who still struggle economically.

Horowitz asks if Randall Robinson's subtitle is racist. Since racism is the use of perceived differences in groups of people to enforce a power structure, I would say no, because Robinson is attempting not to enforce a power structure, but to dismantle one. And there is a difference between the experience of the average African American and the average so-called white American. As the comedian Chris Rock says, "If white people think blacks have it so great, how many of you would want to trade places with me right now? None-and I'm rich!"

Six: The Reparations Argument Is Based On The Unfounded Claim That All African-American Descendants of Slaves Suffer From The Economic Consequences Of Slavery And Discrimination

No evidence-based attempt has been made to prove that living individuals have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended over 150 years ago. But there is plenty of evidence the hardships that occurred 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. Does its existence not suggest that economic adversity is the result of failures of individual character rather than the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination and 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% 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 - and yet so critical - to the case?

No such argument is asserted. As Randall Robinson has said repeatedly, African Americans of his status do not need reparations. Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey will not be getting a check under proposed reparations.

Horowitz should check his math. Slavery was outlawed in December 1865, with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That's 135 years, not "over 150 years ago." And, of course, Horowitz ignores the compromise of 1877, whereby the Republican Hayes was given the Presidency in exchange for Federal troops being pulled from the South, effectively abandoning freed African Americans and wiping out the gains they had made in the previous decade. It wasn't until 1965, 100 years after slavery ended, that the Voting Rights Act brought the power of the federal government back to the defense of black Americans who wanted to exercise their most fundamental right. (And from the "irregularities" at the Florida polls last year, it appears that the struggle continues.)

Horowitz ignores the intervening century of neo-slavery, discrimination and segregation.

There are as many poor blacks as middle-class blacks? Well break out the party hats. Fact is, 24 percent of black families are poor, while only 10 percent of white families live in poverty. Horowitz would have us think that because blacks have progressed some, equality is upon us. As improved as the fortunes of many African Americans may be, black families are still 2.5 times as likely to be poor as white families (US Census Bureau). Horowitz cites individual initiative for the existence of the black middle class. Precisely. The black middle-class exists despite the racism and discrimination in society. But the fact that many have been able to overcome racism does not mean that the over-represented rate of blacks in poverty is a sign of laziness or lack of motivation on the part of poor blacks.

West Indian immigrants have many advantages to African Americans. Immigrants tend to have a stronger family structure upon which to depend, as well as an immigrant community. African slave families in this country were broken up, women were raped, community was shattered. Also, the West Indians who did not immigrate to the United States have suffered unspeakable poverty, often as a result of US policy, so it can be assumed that those who have immigrated were more likely to be educated or business people who would make them more attractive candidates for citizenship. West Indians also had the example of Haiti, a country populated by slaves that won its independence from France in 1804. (Jefferson, fearing the inspiration this might provide American slaves, worked with Napoleon to recapture Haiti). West Indians have a better sense of identity and nationhood than blacks in the US have been allowed.

As for the government "deciding such a subjective issue," well, the government does that all the time. Who to tax and how much; how to spend the money; when to send troops somewhere and when not to; whether or not to fund religious institutions for social programs. All of these decisions have potential benefits and pitfalls, but that's no reason not to try; it's the only way anything would ever be done.

Seven: The Reparations Claim Is One More Attempt To Turn African-Americans Into Victims. It Sends A Damaging Message To The African-American Community.

The renewed sense of grievance -- which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create -- is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities and to others. To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans may have done to their ancestors fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victim-hood. How are the millions of refugees from tyranny and genocide who are now living in America going to receive these claims, moreover, except as demands for special treatment, an extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others -- many less privileged than themselves?

A favorite tactic of those who decry affirmative action and similar programs is to demonize the term "victim." It's bad to be a victim (unless you are a victim of street crime, in which case your victimhood is a cause to demand more prisons, executions, three-strikes laws, etc.). In this theory, because blacks haven't been victimized and if they see themselves as victims, they will be "crippled by their victimhood." Nonsense. African Americans are victims-and there is no shame in that fact. The shame comes when someone denies the crime that's been done to another and disparages any notion of restitution for the wrong committed. Even our new Attorney General, John Ashcroft, is asking Congress for funding to compile statistics on racial profiling-an experience almost every African American man has suffered at some time or another. And the statistics surrounding African America do not lie. A non-Hispanic white is twice as likely to possess a Bachelor's degree (or higher) than a black. Black-owned firms are 3.6 percent of all firms in the US, and their income is a scant 1 percent of all business income in the US. African Americans are 12 percent of the US population, but there is not a single black person in the US Senate (US Census Bureau).

The fact that many blacks "can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others" is a testament to the limitations of racism in America. Just because racism does not work perfectly all the time to oppress black people does not mean it doesn't have an effect some or most of the time. And just because some blacks are allowed to advance in society does not mean that many others are not still victims (oh, there's that word again!) of discrimination.

Eight: 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) for African-Americans is not enough to achieve a "healing," what will?

What's needed to achieve healing, first and foremost, is the truth. Welfare benefits were not paid "under the rationale of redressing historic racial grievances." Welfare benefits were paid to help people suffering under crushing poverty, regardless of ethnicity. No racial healing occurred from welfare because none was intended. And, in case Horowitz has forgotten, welfare was ended "as we know it" in 1996. Furthermore, Horowitz repeats the myth that affirmative action is meant to redress past racism. Affirmative action is meant to counter racism that is going on right now. If a school (or an employer or contractor) has proportional numbers of minorities, then affirmative action isn't needed. Equal opportunity programs are only needed for those organizations that discriminate, whether intentionally or not, right now.

Nine: What About The Debt Blacks Owe To America?

Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade was born, and in all societies. But in the thousand years of its existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians – Englishmen and Americans -- created one. If not for the anti-slavery attitudes 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 gratitude of black America and its leaders for those gifts?

So, slaves wouldn't be free if there wasn't a "white Christian" anti-slavery movement? Guess what-slaves wouldn't need an anti-slavery movement if there wasn't slavery. While there were Christians who opposed slavery (principally Quakers, who are still at the forefront of social justice movements), slavery apologists used the Bible to justify the practice. And I'm not sure about the suggestion that white Christians "created" the antislavery movement. I seem to remember something about this guy Spartacus and an army of slaves attacking Rome. And then there was Moses (whose wife was a black African), with walls of water crashing down on Pharaoh and his troops-now that's an anti-slavery movement.

The notion that Lincoln was "a white American president who gave his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation" is even chronologically absurd. Lincoln signed the Proclamation on January 1, 1863. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865-over two years later. Horowitz would have us believe that without the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks would still be slaves. But, as already stated, the Proclamation was actually a device meant to allow states to keep their slaves as an incentive to re-enter the Union. (Slavery was not even outlawed until December 1865, with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which, by the way, was not even ratified by Mississippi until 1995.) After the Proclamation was issued, draft riots broke out in New York. Irish immigrants, who were now subject to a draft, lynched dozens of blacks, whom they blamed for the war.

The freedom and economic prosperity that this nation enjoys is not a gift bestowed by the nation on its citizens. Those liberties gained by the American Revolution were helped in large part by the enslavement of Africans. If not for their forced labor, would America have had the breadth of leisured intellectuals who led the Revolution? Would America have economically prospered in its first decades without this extraction of wealth from blacks?

 

Ten: 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 even further 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 their 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 Americans – especially 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 this idea that led to the principles and institutions that have set African-Americans - and all of us -- free.

The title to this "reason" sounds like it came from a Klan website. To refer to America as "the nation that gave blacks their freedom," is a cruel twisting of words that captures the essence of the problem with Horowitz's tirade. He wants to deny not only the truth, but even any fair attempt at a discussion of the truth. America did not "give" blacks freedom. Black people often had to claim it for themselves-before and after the Civil War, and suffered and died in the attempt. How many African bodies lay at the bottom of the Atlantic? How many people simply could not stand the horror of the middle passage-lying for weeks in the urine, feces, menstruation of other captives, and just died? How many African men dropped dead of exhaustion at the ripe old age of 40 after spending 35 of those years picking cotton? How many African women killed themselves because they couldn't stand the degradation of another "visit" from their master? How many slaves were shot escaping, or were returned after running away only to be hung as an example to others? Where the hell is their "freedom," Mr. Horowitz?

The first step in the reparations debate is actually to have a productive discussion. Therefore, I am calling upon Congress to form a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to, before all else, educate America-black, white, Latino, male and female-about this country's true history as regards slavery and neo-slavery. I offer the following account for any that might still think such a Committee is unnecessary:

Sam and Norfolk spent part of their childhood on the plantation of "Big Jim" [McClain] who was very cruel; often he would whip his slaves into insensibility for minor offences. He sometimes hung them up by their thumbs whenever they were caught attempting to escape-"er fer no reason atall."

On this plantation were more than 100 slaves who were mated indiscriminately and without any regard for family unions. If their master thought that a certain man and woman might have strong, healthy offspring, he forced them to have sexual relation, even though they were married to other slaves. If there seemed to be any slight reluctance on the part of either of the unfortunate ones "Big Jim" would make them consummate this relationship in his presence. He used the same procedure if he thought a certain couple was not producing children fast enough. He enjoyed these orgies very much and often entertained his friends in this manner; quite often he and his guests would engage in these debaucheries, choosing for themselves the prettiest of the young women. Sometimes they forced the unhappy husbands and lovers of their victims to look on.

Louisa [Norfolk] and Sam were married in a very revolting manner. To quote the woman: "Marce Jim called me and Sam ter him and ordered Sam to pull off his shirt-that was all the McClain niggers wore-and he said to me: Nor, 'do you think you can stand this big nigger?' He had that old bull whip flung acrost his shoulder, and Lawd, that man could hit so hard! So I jes said 'yassur, I guess so,' and tried to hide my face so I couldn't see Sam's nakedness, but he made me look at him anyhow.

"Well he told us what we must git busy and do in his presence, and we had to do it. After that we were considered man and wife.."

--From an interview with former slaves Sam and Louisa Everett, October 8,

1936 by Pearl Randolph of the Federal Writers' Project.

This is the horror of slavery that America-all of America-needs to face up to, for a nation that does not know itself can never be whole.

Tom Gorman can be reached at tgorman222@aol.com.




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