Ten Reasons for Reparations
Conservative muckraker David Horowitz has been verbally mugged for peddling an ad to college newspapers giving ten reasons why reparations are racist. But the name callers have done little more than canonize Horowitz as a martyr for truth and free speech. Even worse, they've failed miserably to tell why reparations merit a serious look. There are ten compelling reasons it does.
1. The U.S. government, not long dead Southern planters, bears the blame for slavery. It encoded it in the Constitution in article one. This designated a black slave as three-fifths of a person for tax and political representation purposes. It protected and nourished it in article four by mandating that all escaped slaves found anywhere in the nation be returned to their masters. In the Dred Scott decision in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that slaves remained slaves no matter where they were taken in the United States.
2. Major institutions profited from slavery. In October, the California state legislature passed a bill requiring insurance companies to disclose whether they wrote policies insuring slaves. This was recognition that insurance companies made profits insuring slaves as property. The insurance industry was not the only culprit. Banks, shipping companies, and investment houses also made enormous profits from financing slave purchases, investments in Southern land and products, and the transport, and sale of slaves.
3. Slavery ended in 1865 but the legacy of slavery still remains. A report by the National Conference for Community and Justice, a Washington D.C. public policy group in 2000, found that blacks are still the major economic and social victims of racial discrimination. They are far more likely to live in underserved segregated neighborhoods, be refused business and housing loans, be denied promotions in corporations and attend cash starved, failing public schools than whites.
4. There's a direct cost for slavery's legacy. Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Andrew Brimmer estimates that discrimination costs blacks $10 billion yearly through the black-white wage gap, denial of capital access, inadequate public services, and reduced social security and other government benefits. This has been called the "black tax."
5. The U.S. government has shelled out billions since the 1960s to pay for resettlement, job training, education, and health programs for refugees fleeing Communist repression. Politicians and the majority of the public enthusiastically backed these payments as the morally and legally right thing to do.
6. The reparations issue will not fuel more hatred of blacks. Most Americans admit that slavery was a morally monstrous system that wreaked severe pain and suffering on America. City councils in Chicago, Dallas, Oakland, and Los Angeles, and other cities in the past year have passed resolutions supporting a federal commission to study reparations. Also, there was no national outcry when the U.S. government made special indemnity payments, provided land and social service benefits to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, Native-Americans for the theft of lands and mineral rights, and Philippine veterans who fought with the American army during World War II.
7. No legislation has been proposed that mandates taxpayers pay billions to blacks. A bill by Michigan Democrat John Conyers that has languished in Congress since 1993 simply establishes a commission to study the effects of slavery. The estimated cost is less than $10 million.
8. There is a precedent for paying blacks for past legal and moral wrongs. In 1997 Clinton apologized and the U.S. government paid $10 million to the black survivors and family members victimized by the syphilis experiment conducted in the 1930's by the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1994, the Florida legislature agreed to make payments to the survivors and relatives of those who lost their lives and property when a white mob destroyed the all-black town of Rosewood in 1923. The carnage was tacitly condoned by public officials and law enforcement officers. The Oklahoma state legislature is currently considering reparations payments to the survivors and their descendants of the destruction of black neighborhoods in Tulsa by white mobs in 1921.
9. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan and other mega-rich blacks will not receive a penny in reparations. Any tax money to redress black suffering should go into a fund to bolster funding for AIDS/HIV education and prevention, underfinanced inner-city public schools, to expand job skills and training, drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, computer access and literacy training programs, and to improve public services for the estimated one in four blacks still trapped in poverty.
10. Thirty years ago a writer passionately argued that the U.S. government has kept the "black ghettos in a colonial status since Reconstruction" and refused to meet the "most basic political and economic demands of the black movement." That writer was David Horowitz. He made the argument in his book, Empire and Revolution, a blistering indictment of the U.S. government. Radical hyperbole notwithstanding, Horowitz recognized then that America owed a debt to black America for past and present sins. It still does.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the President of The National Alliance for Positive Action and the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership (Middle Passage Press).