Table of Contents
Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Are a Bad Idea
David Horowitz is president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a conservative think tank in Los Angeles, California. He is the author of Uncivil Wars: The Controversy over Reparations for Slavery, the source of the following viewpoint, and Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes.
Summary: Claims for slavery reparations are founded on racist ideas that are inconsistent with America’s democratic principles and institutions. Singling out only white Americans as those responsible for paying reparations to the descendants of slaves is unfair since Africans were involved in the slave trade as well. Moreover, targeting all white Americans is wrong because only a tiny minority of whites ever owned slaves and many emigrants to America arrived long after slavery had ended. Trillions of dollars in reparations payments have already been paid to blacks in the form of welfare benefits and other racial preferences. In fact, African Americans owe a debt to America, since they now enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world.
I. There is no single group 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 [era prior to the Civil War] United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too? There were white slaves in colonial...
(The entire section is 1554 words.)
Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Are a Good Idea
Ernest Allen Jr., a frequent contributor to the Black Scholar, is a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Robert Chrisman is editor in chief of the quarterly journal Black Scholar, which focuses on black issues.
Summary: David Horowitz’s 2001 article on why reparations for slavery is a bad idea is an ill-informed, racist polemic against African Americans. Contrary to Horowitz’s assertion that no single group can be held responsible for slavery, white Americans and their governmental institutions were the principal forces behind the transatlantic slave trade; as such, white Americans clearly benefitted most from slavery and should be charged with compensating the descendants of slaves. Moreover, welfare benefits and affirmative action programs do not count as reparations since more whites than blacks receive welfare, and affirmative action programs were put into place only after blacks sued white businesses and governments. History shows that African Americans had to fight for their freedom and owe no debt to America.
David Horowitz’s article, “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea and Racist Too,” achieved circulation [in the spring of 2001] in a handful of college newspapers throughout the United States as a paid advertisement sponsored by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture [a conservative research group]. Since then...
(The entire section is 3891 words.)
Americans Must Honor Their Debt to African Americans
Christopher Hitchens, who wrote for the Nation, a liberal political journal, from 1982 to 2002, is a columnist at Vanity Fair magazine. In addition to his work as a journalist, he is a professor of liberal studies at the New School in New York City.
Summary: Advertisements for runaway slaves carried in U.S. newspapers during the nineteenth century demonstrate that slavery was entrenched in the nation’s economy. African Americans were also denied voting rights and access to property ownership until the mid-1960s. Angered by the injustice of slavery, activists are demanding that the U.S. government pay reparations—either directly or through a housing and job-training trust fund—to African Americans. The main arguments against reparations are misguided and ignore the contributions that African Americans have made to the wealth and prosperity of the United States. The country should pay reparations and be rid of the undeniable debt that is owed to African Americans.
Afew years ago, I was engaged in writing an introduction to the Modern Library edition of American Notes: the most conservative book written by [nineteenth-century British novelist] Charles Dickens, and the only boring one. I was having a hard time with it until I came to a heartfreezing passage on slavery. Dickens in 1842 had the inspired idea of quoting directly from the “Lost and Found” classified ads of the press in the Old...
(The entire section is 3363 words.)
Americans Have Paid Their Debt to African Americans
Karl Zinsmeister is the J.B. Fuqua Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. He is also the editor in chief of AEI’s monthly magazine, the American Enterprise.
Summary: The campaign seeking the payment of slavery reparations to the descendants of African American slaves is gaining momentum through the involvement of prominent lawyers, activists, and the public. While reparations should have been paid immediately following the Civil War, identifying who should pay and receive reparations is now impossible. After all, the majority of Americans living today have ancestors who were neither slaves nor slave masters or have members of both groups in their family trees. Most important, America has already paid for the sin of slavery; more than 620,000 Americans died in the struggle to end slavery during the Civil War, and the country has since provided income support, education, and special programs to African Americans.
The activist campaign demanding payment of “slavery reparations” to today’s black Americans probably strikes some readers as too farfetched to take seriously. Better stop and look afresh. I myself realized that the concept had moved beyond faculty lounges, radical salons, and afrocentric pamphlets and into the realm of serious political struggle when I looked over the roster of a legal group convened to plot practical...
(The entire section is 2778 words.)
Reparations Should Be Paid to Help Reduce African American Poverty
Randall Robinson is the author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, a widely read book on the issue of slavery reparations, and the source of the following viewpoint. From 1979 to 2001 he served as founder and president of TransAfrica, a research group that analyzes U.S. policy in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Summary: African Americans must be compensated by the U.S. government for the centuries of unpaid labor they gave the nation and for the human rights crimes that were perpetrated upon them during and after slavery. Ex-slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War were left destitute and at the mercy of white Southerners, who, for decades, denied blacks the right to own land, vote, and receive an adequate education. As a result, educational failure and poverty has become a vicious cycle within the African American community, as successive generations of African Americans struggle to succeed. Black males are now far more likely than whites to be unemployed or incarcerated— a direct legacy of the 246-year practice of slavery.
America should admit its role in the tragic condition of today’s African American community.
In the early 1970s Boris Bittker, a Yale Law School professor, wrote a book, The Case for Black Reparations, which made the argument that slavery, Jim Crow [laws and codes that enforced segregation and denied...
(The entire section is 4512 words.)
Reparations Are Not Necessary to Encourage African Americans’ Economic Progress
John McWhorter is the author of Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America and a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Summary: Proponents of slavery reparations contend that the legacy of slavery has forced modern-day African Americans to live in an enduring cycle of poverty. However, the activists’ argument for reparations relies on the inaccurate stereotype that “black” most often means “poor” in the United States; in fact, the majority of blacks are enjoying economic success and have entered the middle class. Moreover, since the 1960s, reparations have been provided in the form of welfare and affirmative-action programs. Further handouts will not encourage initiative—the necessary attribute for lasting success—among those blacks who are still struggling below the poverty line.
My childhood was a typical one for a black American in his mid-thirties. I grew up middle class in a quiet, safe neighborhood in Philadelphia. I still miss living at the top of the tidy little cul-de-sac known as Marion Lane, and to this day there are few things more soothing to me than a walk through Carpenter’s Woods across the street.
I didn’t grow up in a segregated world. My parents didn’t live “just enough for the city,” as the old Stevie Wonder song goes; my mother taught social work at Temple University and my father...
(The entire section is 2968 words.)
African American Poverty Should Be Addressed Without Resorting to Reparations
Wendy Kaminer is a senior correspondent for the liberal political magazine the American Prospect and is a contributing editor at the Atlantic Monthly. She also serves on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union, a legal organization that defends free speech and individual rights.
Summary: Calls for slavery reparations are based on the assertion that the institution of slavery and the era of racism that followed it have led to widespread African American poverty. The problem with the appeal for reparations is that it relies on a belief in the justice of inherited guilt—that in order to achieve equality in the present, Americans whose families had nothing to do with slavery should pay for the sins of centuries-dead slaveholders. Equality for African Americans should not be justified by appeals to right past wrongs nor should it be “purchased” with the sufferings of one’s ancestors. The inherited poverty of African Americans should be remedied directly through public education, health care, and transportation programs. Such programs should be pursued not in the spirit of righting past wrongs but in paving the way for the future.
Self invention has always been an American ideal. We’re supposed to enjoy opportunities to make our own fortunes and control our own fates, in this world and the next. The Calvinism of seventeenth-century colonials proved less quintessentially...
(The entire section is 1688 words.)
Reparations Lawsuits Will Rectify the Injustice of Slavery
Vincene Verdun is an associate professor of law and African American studies at Ohio State University in Columbus.
Summary: Lawsuits filed in 2002 are seeking damages from corporations who profited from slavery in the United States. Critics of these suits argue that too many years have passed since the end of slavery and therefore these suits should be barred by the statute of limitations. Resistance to such lawsuits also centers around the fact that no slaves are alive to compensate. However, corporations, abetted by the federal government, contributed to African American poverty by openly practicing racial discrimination for decades after the end of slavery. Therefore, it is reasonable to hold corporations liable for reparations, and the statute of limitations should not apply.
Lawsuits were filed [in March 2002] in federal district courts in New York and New Jersey on behalf of [attorney and prominent reparations activist] Deadria Farmer-Paellman and Richard E. Barber as representatives of slave descendants against corporations involved in slavery. The suits seek an accounting of slavery-related profits and damages based on unjust enrichment.
Bypassing the statute of limitations
It is hard to argue that profits derived from slavery were not unjustly earned, or that it is inappropriate to have these corporations share in repairing the broken lives of those who suffer...
(The entire section is 893 words.)
Reparations Lawsuits Face Numerous Legal Hurdles
Allen C. Guelzo is dean of the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania, and is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President.
Summary: Reparations payments made to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and to Japanese Americans for their internment during World War II are cited as legal precedents by proponents of slavery reparations for African Americans. The federal government, however, cannot be held liable for slavery because slavery was legalized by state, not federal, statutes. In addition, too many years have passed to hold corporations involved in the slave trade accountable. Identifying who should receive reparations would be even more difficult since much racial mixing has occured since the Civil War. The Civil War itself should be considered the ultimate “mechanism of justice” paid to African Americans for slavery.
On May 4, 1969, James Forman rose to interrupt the Sunday morning services at New York City’s Riverside Church to read aloud a “Black Manifesto.” The Manifesto was an explosive declaration of independence by a new generation of young black activists who had grown impatient with the slow-moving, nonviolent tactics that had prevailed in the Civil Rights Movement. It was intended to shock, and shock it did, not least because, among its other features, it demanded $500 million as reparations “due us as a people who have been...
(The entire section is 4014 words.)