What America owes me

Posted: Jan 12, 2001 12:00 AM
O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran and friends want to file a big-bucks, class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for slavery. On what legal grounds, against whom, on behalf of whom, and in which court? The attorneys haven't figured out those pesky details yet. But not to worry: When it comes to cashing in on the shrunken glove of racial resentment, you can count on Cochran to make it fit. The reparations-seekers argue that America owes black citizens for the continued suffering they endure as a result of their ancestors being enslaved centuries ago. Martin Luther King Jr., the forward-looking civil rights leader whose holiday we celebrate next week, must be rolling in his grave. One legal activist, Robert Brock, has priced the pain at $500,000 in special tax rebates for every black American in the country. Others, inspired by Randall Robinson, author of a book titled "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks," have called for reparations of up to $8 trillion. Never mind that not all blacks are descendants of slaves. Never mind that many blacks traded and owned slaves. Never mind that countless white families died trying to free black slaves. And never mind that most of the taxpayers who would be forced to pony up for such a reparations scheme have no ancestral link to slavery whatsoever because their families didn't move to this country until after the Civil War. "We're glad to be in America," a black minister named Gary Grant told the Washington Post last month. "But the white man has been taking advantage of the black man all our lives. Now, we want to get paid." Hey, who doesn't? Maybe Cochran and Co. are onto something here. My ancestors from the Philippines were enslaved by Spain and forced to build and man the galleons that brought Hispanic explorers to America. During World War II, my relatives were subjected to extreme physical and economic oppression under Japanese occupation. During the 1920s, the states of California and Hawaii imported 50,000 laborers from my ancestral homeland to toil on American farms. Filipinos also worked on agricultural fields in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Montana. In addition, my people built levees in the San Joaquin Delta and slaved away in fisheries and lumber mills up and down the West Coast in horrid conditions. During that time of servitude, Filipinos faced rampant societal and governmental discrimination. They were barred from voting, owning land, or starting businesses of their own in California. Anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states kept my ancestors from legally marrying white women. Until 1947, it was illegal in California for Filipinos to marry whites. In Alaska, cannery workers from the Philippines were segregated and barred from many establishments that hung signs like "No dogs or Filipinos allowed." So, let's see. If my racial resentment calculator is correct, every American of Spanish descent owes me $514,000 plus compound interest. Adjusted for inflation, every fellow countryman of Japanese descent owes $750,222. California residents owe my family an even $300,000. Alaskans, Hawaiians, Oregonians, Washingtonians, Arizonans, and Montanans must pay $75,000 to atone. And anyone else -- white, black, or otherwise -- whose family members ingested Filipino-harvested asparagus, peas, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, grapes, or fish, or who burned Filipino-cut firewood, or who lived in homes built of Filipino-sawed lumber from 1923-1947, can settle their debt by sending me a check for $999.99. I'm still reeling from years -- no, centuries -- of crippling psychological damage caused by your ancestors' enslavement, colonization, occupation, and victimization of my ancestors. Your reparations will help pay for a new leather sofa, a personal masseuse, and a hot tub to melt away the chains of oppression. No apology necessary. Just fork over the money and let freedom ring. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.