I HAVE ADMIRED John Doggett since I first became aware of him during the Clarence Thomas hearings. He appeared as an impressive character witness for Thomas, and revealed himself to be articulate, intelligent and courageous as he narrowly escaped a drive-by character assassination at the hands of Senator Howard Metzenbaum -- one of the sleaziest public attempts to destroy another man’s reputation I have ever witnessed. I was so inspired by Doggett and the other young black professionals who came to Thomas’s defense that I allowed myself for a moment to dream that we were witnessing the emergence of a new leadership generation of blacks free from the strange hold of the destructive left. I underestimated the ability of that left (and the ineptitude of the right) that allowed it to smear Thomas so effectively that the emergence of a conservative black leadership has been indefinitely delayed.
For this reason I am saddened by Doggett’s full-bore attack on my critique of the left and its reparations claim in the name of black America. "Obscene" and "evil" are the intemperate terms that Doggett uses to describe my arguments. This reveals how charged with passion the reparations issue is for African Americans; it also explains, I think, how badly Doggett has misread my argument. I hope the following will remedy this situation.
Here are Doggett’s replies to my first 5 reasons, and my replies to his:
1. Doggett says my first reason for rejecting reparations – that no single group is responsible for slavery – is "false." Actually, he shows that it is true by naming six groups responsible for slavery, including Africans, the Spanish and Portuguese, the Dutch and Americans, etc. "To completely ignore the role of whites in the slave trade," writes Doggett, apparently commenting on my argument, "is journalistic irresponsibility of the highest and most evil level." Okay. But who ignored it? Obviously the single group that the reparations crowd wants to blame for slavery (and get reparations from) is whites. That was understood.
2. Doggett says my second reason -- that there is no one group that benefited exclusively from the fruits – is also "false." But again Doggett misreads what I wrote. "David claims that blacks were the primary beneficiaries of our slavery" and then says "to claim that blacks were the primary beneficiaries of the slave trade is obscene and evil." I agree. But I made no such claim. I was replying to the reparations leftists who maintain that whites benefited from free black labor and should pay them back. Well, living whites aren’t slave-owners, and only a very small minority of Americans are even descended from slave-owners. Hence the reparations claim is based on the general state of the American economy as a result of slavery. In fact, the claim that slavery benefited the American economy, as opposed to being a drag on it, is a matter of contention among economic historians. But assume that the American economy as a whole benefited from slavery. Who then benefits from this economy in 2001? Everybody of course. Including African Americans. This can hardly be a controversial observation, let alone one that is "obscene and evil" as Doggett states.
In establishing that American blacks have indeed received economic benefits from living in America, I compared the incomes of Africans living today in the former African slave states to blacks in America descended from slaves. The income disparity is twenty to fifty times greater for black people lucky enough to be living in America today. (Talk about celebrating success!). Doggett doesn’t like this. He says: "David ignores the wealth blacks would have created if they had immigrated to America as free men." Well, actually, I didn’t ignore this wealth, since I included black freemen and black slave-owners. But how would this make a difference to my argument in any case? I never said that blacks wouldn’t have been richer if they had arrived here as freemen. But they didn’t. And it wasn’t Americans who enslaved them, as opposed to transporting them as slaves to these shores. Doggett also makes the claim that the slave trade was solely responsible for making Africa "such a mess" as it is today. I don’t think so. How would Doggett explain the mess of the East Coast of sub-Saharan Africa which did not provide slaves to America, or South Africa, which was not part of the Atlantic slave trade either?
3. Doggett agrees with my third point, so I’ll skip a reply.
4. Doggett says my claim that "most Americans have no connection (direct or indirect) to slavery is a "half-truth." The reason he gives is that "everyone who is in America today is a direct beneficiary" of slavery. But I already said that, only I included the descendants of slaves themselves. This takes us back to argument 2.
5. Doggett says that my argument that the Japanese reparations claims do not provide a precedent for the current reparations claims overlooks the fact that slavery still impacts blacks today. My argument was that the Japanese reparations claims were paid to immediate victims and their children, but that there are no slaves or children of slaves alive to receive such reparations. Doggett’s argument is that I didn’t take into account the "vestiges of slavery." In fact, he distorts my argument into the claim that "all vestiges of slavery disappeared 150 years ago." I made no such claim, nor would I. On the other hand, I don’t know how to assess the "vestiges of slavery" that impact African Americans today. Moreover, neither does he or anyone else. Virtually any of his complaints could be the complaints of other ethnic groups as well. Hispanic American conservatives are also stopped by police more than they should be. Discrimination against ethnic groups is widespread and cuts more than one way. Moreover, the positive side of the equation refutes his easy claims as well. West Indian born blacks have average incomes equal to whites. Yet West Indians are descendants of slaves. Native-born African-American women have incomes equal to white women. How does Doggett explain this if slavery is a scar that can’t be overcome?