As dozens of cities crawl from the wreckage of social media-generated rioting against supposedly pervasive white racism and police brutality, self-styled advocates for social justice are retooling a familiar campaign. They’re demanding financial reparations for slavery and its after-effects, payable from whites to blacks, in the trillions of dollars. This would promote equality, atonement and “healing.”
Don’t believe them. Calls for reparations go back many decades. The core assumption has been the same from the start: Living whites must make amends to living blacks by emptying their pockets, preferably with the federal government overseeing the transfers. That the actual slaves and slave owners are long deceased makes no difference. As advocates see it, all white wealth in this country, if indirectly, is morally tainted, a product of “white skin privilege.”
Reparations are a turbocharged hybrid of affirmative action and the welfare state. It’s a shakedown from any angle. Far from healing wounds, it will open them. But reparations one day may become law. A bill to that effect first introduced in Congress in 1989 (and reintroduced like clockwork thereafter) by the late Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., H.R. 40, is gradually gaining support. Virtually nobody on Capitol Hill has spoken out against it.
The National Legal and Policy Center recently published a 65-page monograph, “Slavery Reparations: Revival of a Bad Idea,” debunking the growing accepted wisdom. The report is a corrective to emotionally-charged cures prescribed by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Al Sharpton, The New York Times, the Democratic Party and sympathetic corporate executives.
Such moral paladins, however, are ignoring a host of realities about slavery and the accompanying slave trade, both here and abroad. Consider:
Less than four percent of all African slaves transported across the Atlantic to the New World wound up in Mainland North America; far more were brought to the Caribbean and Brazil.
- Most slaves in the American colonies in the 17th century were whites.
- Many blacks and Indian tribes in America were slave owners.
- Virtually all blacks forcibly brought here from Africa already were tribal slaves.
- To the extent slavery is practiced today, it prevails most of all in Africa.
Undaunted, advocates of mandatory reparations are pressing on. They are demanding trillions, not billions, of dollars. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or N’COBRA, estimates the white “debt” at $8 trillion. An aging Los Angeles-based black lawyer, Robert Brock, wants anywhere from $10 trillion to $15 trillion, and over the years has filed (unsuccessful) lawsuits toward that end.
Arguably more pernicious are academic supporters whose research lends a measure of credibility to the proceedings. Back in 1990, James Marketti put the tab at somewhere between $3 trillion and $5 trillion. Much more recently, Thomas Craemer, expressing existing reparations as expected future income, estimated white America’s debt at anywhere from $5.9 trillion to $14.2 trillion. The most influential among these excuses for economists is Duke University’s William Darity Jr. Basing his estimates on mean rather than median household wealth, he is calling for whites to pay a combined roughly $13 trillion to blacks.
The latest and most publicized entry into this racket is a wealthy black businessman, Robert L. Johnson, principal founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and former majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats. Amid the recent rioting, he called for $14 trillion in reparations. “Now is the time to go big,” he told CNBC on June 1. Such compensation would reflect “damages that are owed” for the unequal playing field created by slavery and ensuing arrangements. Johnson, who started up BET four decades ago thanks in large measure to a $500,000 check from white cable executive John Malone, might as well have plucked that figure out of a hat.
Calls for reparations are bound to escalate. It is imperative that we understand that this gambit must be stopped cold. Their supporters are nothing short of relentless.
A program of slavery reparations would be economically predatory, historically blind, politically divisive, legally unconstitutional and morally repellent. Far from bringing our nation together, it would tear us apart. We meet the demands of these racial provocateurs at our own peril.
Carl F. Horowitz is senior fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center, a Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit group dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in American public life.