A March Won’t Convince Americans Reparations Isn’t A Terrible Idea

On a recent radio talk show a caller told anti-reparations crusader David Horowitz that reparations advocates didn’t give a hang what Horowitz thought about reparations. He assured listeners that reparations advocates would force America to own up to its nightmarish slave past and compensate blacks for their suffering. Horowitz shrugged off the criticism, insisted that most Americans still think that reparations for slavery is a terrible idea, and defiantly announced that he would take his anti-reparations road show back to colleges in the Fall to prove it.

Horowitz and the caller are right and wrong on reparations. Once a fringe issue touted by a motley mix of black separatists, zealots, and crackpots, and shunned like the plague by respected mainstream civil rights leaders, reparations has now been rammed onto the nation’s public policy plate. The NAACP, Urban League, and Congressional Black Caucus leaders all agree that reparations has some merit. Outside of President Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, no other prominent black dares to publicly denounce reparations. Even some top white politicians such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley have given passing nod to reparations as valid for consideration.

The Washington, D.C. reparations march aimed to put pressure on Congress and the Bush administration to soften their Formica-like resistance to reparations. But a march, no matter how great the noise and numbers, won’t make Bush any more willing to embrace reparations. The reason is simple. Bush reads the opinion polls and they show that the overwhelming majority of whites, non-blacks, and even many blacks, think that reparations is a bad idea. And the numbers aren’t close. A CNN/USA Today poll taken after blacks filed two well-publicized reparations lawsuit last February found that seventy-five percent of Americans said that corporations should not pay reparations for slavery, and a whopping ninety percent said the government should not pay reparations.

Reparations advocates have grabbed at every argument in the book to dent the wall of public resistance to reparations. They assure that black billionaires, corporate presidents, superstar athletes and entertainers won’t get a dime of reparations money, that it will go to programs to aid the black poor, that it won’t guilt trip all whites, and that Japanese-Americans and Holocaust survivors have gotten reparations for the atrocities against them. These arguments still fall on deaf ears. The reparations movement can’t shake the deep public tag that it is a movement exclusively of, by, and for blacks.

Despite countless speeches pleading for racial brotherhood and interracial cooperation by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders, that same tag was imprinted on the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. It took national shock and revulsion over Southern mobs beating, maiming, and killing white civil rights workers, and the massive presence of thousands of white students in Southern backwater towns to shake the “for blacks only” tag from the civil rights movement. Only then did it gain widespread public and political acceptance as an authentic movement to change laws and public policy that would benefit labor, women, minorities, and even whites.

The reparations movement does not possess the inherent racial egalitarianism of the civil rights movement. It is ensnared by its racial isolationism. The focus is solely to compensate the descendants of black slaves for the wrong of slavery, and whipsaw whites for present-day racism. Most whites almost certainly applaud the fight to improve failing inner city public schools, health care, provide better housing and health care, and to battle drugs and the near pandemic scourge HIV/AIDS affliction among blacks. But they also believe that these are social ills that slam other minorities, the poor, and marginally employed working class whites nearly as hard. Reparations advocates make no mention of this.

As a consequence, reparations come off as a hustle and scam that would flush their hard earned tax dollars down a black hole with nothing in return for them. In a time of soaring budget deficits, corporate meltdowns, the stock downslide, and the looming peril of massive layoffs that batter middle-class workers, reparations seems like a frivolous issue that is politically divisive and racially polarizing.

Despite the colossal resistance to reparations, a compelling argument can still be made that it’s in the interest of government and business to pump more funds into specific projects such as AIDS/HIV education and prevention, remedial education, job skills and training, drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, computer access and literacy training programs. They would boost the black poor, not gut public revenues, and most importantly, not finger all whites as culpable for slavery.

The fact that thousands were willing to march for reparations guarantees that the issue won’t go away. But as long as most Americans are convinced that reparations is a terrible idea, a march won’t do much to change their thinking.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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