Updated: Jun 4, 2022
Reparations for the slavery is not a new idea. Before the Civil War ended, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued an order in South Carolina. He wanted 40 acres and the loan of an Army mule set aside for each former slave family.
This order was never carried out. After the war, Republicans in Congress passed laws requiring confiscation of former-Confederate property to provide the ex-slaves with "40 acres and a mule." In 1866, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the legislation. Here are ten reasons why reparations for blacks, now supported by the Democratic Party, is a bad idea and racist too.
1. 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 antebellum United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too?
2. 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 Gross National Product (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.
3. 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?
4. 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 (Jews in the former Soviet Union who were denied permission to emigrate to Israel), 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?
5. The historical precedents used to justify the reparations claim do not apply, and the claim itself ls 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?
6. The reparations argument as 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?
7. The reparations claim ls 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?
8. 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 trillions of dollars of refunds 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?
9. 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?
10. 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.
Related article: Reparations - Who Should Pay?