Thomas Sowell

Old-time civil rights activist Bayard Rustin once said that blacks should issue a blanket amnesty to whites -- just so that guilty whites would not keep on doing counterproductive things in order to make up for the past. The proposal that Congress create a slave memorial on the Washington Mall is the latest, and perhaps most counterproductive, example of guilt gone awry.

One of the sponsors of the slave memorial proposal is Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida, who has said, "many of our ancestors are guilty." Even more of those ancestors are dead -- your ancestors, my ancestors and Congressman Stearns' ancestors. They took their sins and their sufferings to the grave with them.

We have all we can do to live our own lives the best way we can, treating our contemporaries with decency and justice. There is not a thing we can do about what other people did in times irretrievably past.

Even to try to apologize on their behalf is a fatuous exercise in collective guilt. Should I apologize to the Korean merchants who were killed in the Los Angeles riots because those who killed them bore a physical resemblance to me?

Murder is not something you can apologize for, in the first place. It is much too serious for an apology. So was slavery.

More than guilt is involved, however. Nothing that happens in Washington is without politics.

The slave memorial proposal has the support not only of liberal Democrats but also of Republicans, including some conservative Republicans who should know better. One of the Republicans' big problems is that the Democrats usually get 90 percent of the black vote. Voting for gimmicks like a slave memorial may seem like a cheap and easy way for Republicans to appeal to blacks.

Such short-sighted cluelessness is one reason the Democrats continue to get 90 percent of the black vote. For reasons unknown, when Republicans try to make inroads into the Democrats' virtual monopoly on the black vote, they try to do it by doing the kinds of things that Democrats do -- and do better than Republicans can.

If Republicans are going to make any inroads into the Democrats' lock on the black vote, it will not be by appealing to the kind of people who want a slave memorial. Those blacks whose views and values make them at least open to hearing what the Republicans have to say are more likely to be offended and repelled by a slave memorial.

Such blacks know that perpetuation of a sense of victimhood has been one of the biggest handicaps facing the younger generation of blacks, at a time when the opportunities open to them have never been greater.

A thousand disclaimers made -- or even believed -- by the supporters of the slavery memorial that this is not about victimhood will not make the slightest difference to the actual outcome. Race hustlers will make sure that it becomes a symbol of victimhood.

The Jesse Jacksons and the Al Sharptons will work tirelessly to make a slave memorial a symbol of victimhood and an argument for reparations, quotas and other handouts, long after those who created this memorial have moved on to other things. Meanwhile, the white backlash will grow, mocking all the pious talk about "healing" and "reconciliation."

Do people who make these kinds of proposals ever bother to look at what has actually happened? Racial polarization has already reached the point in our schools and colleges where there are now all-white proms and different college graduation parties for students of different races.

These are not hangovers from the past. These things -- not to mention "white studies" programs and skinheads -- are now being found in places where they didn't exist 20 or 30 years ago. These are backlashes like those in other countries where governments have singled out particular ethnic groups for special treatment.

We cannot just keep shutting our eyes to such things. Endlessly repeating the magic mantra of "diversity" will not make these realities go away. Building a government-sponsored source of racial divisiveness will only make matters worse.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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