Scripps-Howard News Service 8.14.02
For a number of years, it seemed that reparations for slavery was
something of a wild card used by the likes of Jesse Jackson if their
names were absent from the papers for a few weeks. Since the proposition
was devoid of moral or intellectual merit, I thought it would never
be taken seriously.
But now it's upon us and a demonstration has been scheduled for
August 17 in the nation's capital, making the demand official. We
had better take it seriously.
I respectfully make the identical recommendation to advocates of
Whereas the rule of law outside most of the English-speaking world
has been the dream of a few, The Founding Fathers made it reality
in America. A major component of this success has been the vesting
of rights in individuals - as opposed to groups - with corresponding
individual responsibility. The ancient aspiration of equality before
the law was thus placed within the grasp of all who were to come
Unless I am mistaken, the thrust of the Civil Rights movement as
articulated by Martin Luther King was a similar aspiration. Focusing
on the "content of character" as opposed to "color
of skin" can mean only that people of African ancestry should
be treated as individuals.
A great deal of effort has gone into making the foregoing reality
- effort, and money. By definition, the effort had to be made by
white Americans, always assuming the agreement and full cooperation
of black Americans. The millions who used the opportunity to get
ahead by honest work have done just that. Black leaders, by and
large, decided that real money came from ignoring the historic experiment
of creating a truly integrated society, and embarked on a never-ending
litany of past and present injuries. Over the decades since passage
of the civil rights legislation, they succeeded in building an army
of people whose primary emotion is resentment of white America.
Of course, it is a lie. Blacks love "racist" white America,
and wouldn't dream of living anywhere else, least of all in Africa.
Were that not so, we would have witnessed a vast stream of migration
to the black continent. There is not even a trickle.
But ultimately the future depends on the emergence of a long-overdue
"Civil Responsibilities" movement. There must be plenty
of dark-skinned fellow-citizens who think and act as Americans.
Alas, most of those we get to see on television - including elective
office holders - are "professionally" black. In other
words, they have rejected both Martin Luther King's call and white
America's effort to look upon everyone as an individual.
And therein lies the real danger of embarking on the reparations
debate in earnest. It will put the clock back several decades in
that it will unavoidably pit black against white and vice versa.
It will not only consolidate the influence of the enemies of integration
on both sides, but drive wedges between people who today are working
together in true harmony.
Early on, I mentioned the absence of any moral or intellectual
merit. Though obvious, a point or two may be worth recalling. Since
the past cannot be changed, there is no such thing as "righting
a historic wrong." If people come to believe that injustice
is being committed, they can change the terms for the future. Significantly,
in the present case, those who were wronged, and those who wronged
them, are long dead. Consequently, extorting money from people who
have done nothing wrong for people who have not been wronged is
possible only by invoking collective responsibility.
Ay, there's the rub, Shakespeare would say.
Hand in hand with collective responsibility goes collective evaluation
of every kind. And it's not a one-sided game, nor is wishful thinking
of much practical value. Current example: the Arab/Muslim world
holds America responsible for all its woes, but protests erupt when
America holds the Arab/Muslim world responsible for terrorism committed
by some of its members. To no avail. It's either one way or the
Genuine, ongoing and lasting improvement for black Americans is
achievable only through individual effort, harvesting individual
appreciation. The interference by those who continue trading on
slavery has already slowed the benefits to all. If an additional
blow is now struck through the reparations demand, it may be fatal.
It took millennia for white people to establish individual rights.
It took centuries for black people to secure equal participation
in that rare blessing. If they throw it away, there may not be another
chance for some time.