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Reparations For Slavery
Friday, May 12, 2006   By: Mahone Dunbar

Democrats plan for taking back Congress

 Suspecting that the members of the Reparations Committee have engaged in a bit of semantic trickery, Representative John Conyers is the first to receive slavery reparations: forty aces and a rule.

A compilation of grievances by various racial, social, cultural, religious and political groups who have suffered some form of discrimination would fill a history book. In fact, they do! That’s what history books are. As Edward Gibbon said in The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, "History. . . is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind."

The Civil Rights movement that swept through America during the sixties - led largely by Republicans, you might note - did so by riding on an idea that appeals to all fair-minded Americans: That idea is, equality under the law for all citizens. Logically, this means the withdrawal of any law that divides by race or that caters to any one race, religion, or ethnicity. And this is still a good idea. Unfortunately, the idea, as embodied in the phrase of the sixties by black Americans "equal opportunity," soon gave way to ‘equal results’ and such things as affirmative action (discrimination in favor of black Americans). Thus, the noble and just aims of the Civil Rights movement were subverted to the political ends of politicians, community leaders, and activists. Perhaps the worse aspect of all is the idea of racial reparations.

Representative John Conyers, of Michigan, wants to hold congressional hearings on whether the government should pay black Americans reparations for slavery. Conyers, who has been advocating reparations since 1989, when he first introduced legislation to establish what he calls "The Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African American Act" (H.R. 40) stands in line to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee if the Democrats win back Congress in November. The "40" in the name of the bill cutely refers to the supposed promise by the government to give each freed slave forty acres and a mule.

Either Rep. Conyers is a sensitive human being who feels deeply aggrieved on behalf of black Americans - an aggrievement that money can at least partially assuage - or he is another political huckster who works under the principle that stirring up a little anti-white sentiment (combined with the promise of money) certainly can't hurt a black politician at the polls.

The reparations argument is an ethical one, and proceeds from a rigid moral basis which assumes that both guilt and responsibility are collective things that can be inherited by victims and transgressors. If the idea that collective guilt can be passed on to succeeding generations is scary for students of history, then the idea that governments can objectively assess and address group victimization and group penalties is positively terrifying. The only result of politicians playing at "leveling karma" will be the creation of a different set of victims and the expansion of group animosity.

And if the progeny of the victims in the case of slavery proceed by strict application of a rigid moral code - the very code, coincidentally, which permeates the society they blame for their victim-hood and upon which the first movements of justice were made on their behalf - then they should expect the code to be applied retrospectively to the collective wrongs done to other groups of victims - particularly victims with temporal priority.

If justice is what Conyers really seeks, then perhaps he should consider the legal doctrine known as "unclean hands" (a legal doctrine that states that a party asking for a civil judgment cannot be helped by the court if he or she has done anything unethical in relation to the subject of the lawsuit. It can be morally argued that anything white America has today is the product of criminal acts against the original inhabitants of America - thus, anything taken from white America and given to black America is the product of malfeasance - and you cannot pay off your mortgage with the proceeds from a bank robbery; it can also be argued that all post-slavery participation by black Americans in the society and the economy have tainted their hands. Either way, tainted proceeds of tainted hands, if white America gives a reparation check to a black American, then the black American like Rep. John Conyers (who is operating under the same moral correctness under which he expects reparations in the first place), he should immediately endorse the back of the check and hand it over to the nearest Indian. He would be broke then, but at least he would possess an immense amount of moral credibility.

Of course if we take such a pious attitude and resultant extreme moral position - and I for one certainly don't - then perhaps we should scour the jungles of the world for the lone surviving Neanderthal, since, as the progeny of Cro-Magnon man, we are responsible for his losing his hereditary hunting grounds and the demise of his tribe, we need to cede Europe back to him and all of us homo sapiens (including Europeans) move back to Africa.

The idea of reparations for collective guilt entails a god-like theory, which is that governments, composed of mere men and women, are wise enough, just enough, and so free from cultural, racial, and ethnic prejudice, that they can form a committee which will level the karma of events that happened generations before under completely different social and political circumstances than exist today. If history is any judge of circumstances, even God doesn't play that game too well.

In the case of reparations for slavery, completely overlooked is the fact the moral injustice has already been addressed in the context of the times - such as The Civil War, The Civil Rights Movement, The Great Society, Affirmative Action, etc. In this case, the reparations requested are not for the actual victims, mind you, but their great great great-grand children. But as the gradient of misery for the aggrieved group moves toward the positive, a sad but true psychological fact of human nature becomes apparent: for those with a collective grudge on their shoulders, no amount of compensation will ever be as satisfying as revenge on the group they perceive as their historic nemesis. (For example: In the metro Atlanta area, right now, there are two different cases under investigation where black political hierarchies in local governments have been caught (in at least one instance on tape) openly talking about employing racial discrimination against white employees. Be assured by human nature that this is not atypical behavior. What is atypical is when a society willingly gives up power in an attempt to right past injustices.

As long as there is power in being a class-victim, victimology will proliferate. It's proponents, having a single-minded intensity, will stumble right along, their tunnel-vision making them oblivious to improvement in condition as they blindly seek the nectar of grievance like hogs rooting in the mud. The central paradox of reparations-victimology is this: all that is wrong in my life is the result of a particular political/social force which is beyond my control, yet, I look to this same unjust political/social force to restore me and make me whole.

Of course anyone with a lick of sense knows this ain't so; no one will claim that reparation money has soothed their sense of aggrievement. It will merely be another payment in a continuing game of moral blackmail.


An Unwelcome Perspective On Reparations, Logic, & Fairness

Now, in the interest of justice, I would like to make some suggestions and comments on the logical implications of reparations based on one's racial status.

Firstly, the reparations are supposed to be paid only to black Americans; hence, your right to benefit from reparations is directly linked to your racial purity as is, conversely, your obligation to pay. Therefore, persons who are of mixed black/white ancestry have to be assessed in a pro-rated manner; for example, if you are 50% black and 50% white, you owe as much due to your white ancestry as you expect to receive from having black ancestry. Therefore, your reparations should balance out and you should get nothing. Since all reparation payments are inversely proportional to the amount of European blood one has, DNA testing will be required before payment. The phrase, "Is that black enough for you," will take on a practical meaning.

Since reparations are intended in part to compensate for lack of economic progress for the targeted group due to prior discrimination, and such nebulous things as industrial racism and embedded racism, if a black citizen makes one dollar over the median income for Americans he has overcome such impediments and gets nothing.

Since black Americans living below the poverty level are already supported by the government, should they be ineligible for reparation payments - or at least have the money that has been spent on them for housing, food and various educational and jobs programs subtracted from the amount the reparations?

The total cost of the Great Society . . . billions of dollars . . . should be subtracted from the total amount of the reparations.

Since the reparations are tied to African-Americans who were disenfranchised from their homeland, should the sum total of America's financial contributions to the anti-Aids programs, the industrial assistance programs, the various save-the-starving-Africans food programs, and so on, that have been given to Africa by the United States, be considered moral payment and subtracted from the total amount of reparations paid to black Americans?

Ditto the cost of men, arms, and lives lost in the Civil War.

If you are a black American and have spent years in incarceration for violent crimes, or crimes against property, should the cost of your incarceration be subtracted from your reparation since your existence as been a negative drain on American society already?

Does Jesse Jackson really need any more money?

If you are black and your family came here after slavery ended, do you still get money?

If you are black but it can be proven one of your ancestors–in America or Africa–was involved in the slave trade, do you still get money?

If you are white, and can show you had a relative who either fought or died in the Civil War on the Union side, are you exempt from paying for slavery reparations? (fair's fair, and they paid with blood).

If you are Southern, and white, and can prove your family did not historically hold slaves, or that they didn't fight on the southern side in the Civil War, do they still have to pay?

Should Hispanic Americans, Oriental Americans, etc., be expected to pay for slavery?

If you are black and your family has been historically living on welfare, should such things as the annual cost of food, logging, or the amount of EITC you've received, be deducted from your reparations as already paid?

Should non-black Americans be allowed to revise the meaning of words, as liberals have done with the term "racism", so that slavery can be said to never have existed? Instead, can it be maintained that the United States had an intensive and open immigration program with select African countries, and through deals with the tribal leaders of those countries, transported select unemployed African citizens to America and placed them in non-remunerative labor-intensive agricultural and domestic-assistance jobs skills training programs?

Should any group - Irish, or the Chinese, for example, - who can show that for a period in America their ancestors were kept in conditional-poverty for a generation or more also have appeal to reparations?

Since slavery was legal until the Civil War, should reparations only be paid to individuals who can show their ancestors were held in slavery only after that date?

If you are a black American, of sound mind and body, and have been provided with a primary education, and are unemployed due to claims of racial discrimination, should you have to prove that you have made every effort to find work and take advantage of the benefits of education before receiving reparations?

Are the living descendants of slave traders in Africa, including the descendants of the tribal chiefs who captured and sold them, going to be billed for a percentage of the reparation payments?

Since anthropologists maintain that scientific proof - in the form of mitochondrial DNA - demonstrates that we all came from Africa, isn't the whole idea of racial reparations silly?

As an alternative to lump sum reparation payments, how about instituting a program along the following lines: For every black America who throws out an illegal immigrant - captures him or her, ties them up and drives them to the Mexican-American border and ejects them on the Mexican side, they get a bonus consisting of the amount of money the INS charges per capita for the same service: and, as an extra incentive, the black American gets to take the job of the illegal alien. Such a program would provide a nice incentive to black Americans to assist their fellow Americans. It would also give them a lot of positive press exposure. In areas like LA, where both intensive illegal immigration and wide spread gang-affiliation exist side by side, the program would provide black-gangs with a positive way to channel their adolescent aggression, and provide then an alternate means of making money other than through the drug trade and rap music; in addition, it would give them a vast-improvement of their self-esteem and they would incur the gratitude of European-Americans, Oriental-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans who are legal residents.


I might agree to reparations along these lines: if you are black, and can prove you have absolutely no European, Hispanic or Oriental blood in your genealogical line, are of sound mind and body, have taken advantage of free educational opportunities and can show that you have been turned down on every job you applied for (where the employer was of European, Oriental or Hispanic descent), and that in the past members of your family were kept in conditions of forced servitude after it was deemed illegal by the government, then, you will be eligible for a reparation payment . . . minus any amount of money the government has spent on welfare support for your immediate family, minus any costs incurred by the public for your incarceration, and minus your reparation payments to your victims.


(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren