Walter E. Williams

Last month, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 26 "Apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans." The resolution ends with: "Disclaimer. -- Nothing in this resolution (a) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or (b) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States." That means Congress apologizes but is not going to pay reparations, as least for now.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed concerns about the disclaimer, thinking that it's an attempt to stave off reparations claims from the descendants of slaves. Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said her organization is studying the language of the resolution and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, said "putting in a disclaimer takes away from the meaning of an apology. A number of us are prepared to vote against it in its present form. There are several members of the Progressive Caucus who feel the same way."

It goes without saying that slavery was a gross violation of human rights. Justice would demand that all the perpetrators -- that includes slave owners, and African and Arab slave sellers -- make compensatory reparation payments to victims. Since slaves, slave owners and slave sellers are no longer with us, such compensation is beyond our reach and a matter to be settled in the world beyond.

Absent from the reparations debate is: Who pays? Don't say the government because the government doesn't have any money that it doesn't first take from some American. So which Americans owe black people what? Reparations advocates don't want that question asked but let's you and I.

Are the millions of Europeans, Asians, and Latin Americans who immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century responsible for slavery and should they be forced to cough up reparations money? What about descendants of Northern whites who fought and died in the name of freeing slaves? Should they cough up reparations money for black Americans? What about non-slave-owning Southern whites, a majority of whites; should they be made to pay reparations? And, by the way, would President Obama, whose father is Kenyan and mother white, be eligible for a reparations payment?


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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