Calls for reparations payments for the descendants of slaves and colonized peoples, the “latest obsession of the radical left,” as The Hill puts it, are currently growing, as is the tab. For example, San Francisco is proposing paying $5 million to each black resident, along with a guaranteed income of $97,000 for 250 years, and a home for a dollar. California is proposing cash payments of up to $1.2 million at a cost of $800 billion–three times the state’s annual budget. Not to be left out of the bidding, the Feds are asking for $14 trillion. But sponsor Rep. Cori Bush claims that is nowhere near the $97 trillion owed to blacks for slavery and Jim Crow.
This combination of obsession and grift also has infected England. On the eve of his coronation, Charles III was served a statement from the “commonwealth indigenous leaders.” They called on the new king “to acknowledge the horrific impacts on and legacy of genocide and colonization,” and to “redistribute the wealth that underpins the crown back to the peoples from whom it was stolen.” Given the extent and duration of the British Empire, that tab will no doubt be astronomical.
The rationale for this prohibitively expensive largess is a crude, Orwellian politicized history of the sort the left is famous for. The current proposals are unlikely to happen, but they are nonetheless racist and divisive, a testimony to how badly we are teaching history and civics––despite how dangerous to the public weal such neglect can be.
In practical terms, these schemes have numerous problems. How will eligibility be determined? Will state and federal governments investigate the genealogy of every American to determine if their ancestors were slave-owners? And what about the multiple millions of descendants of immigrants, including ethnic Africans, who came after the Civil War? Just in California there are more than 15 million ethnic Hispanics guiltless of American slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
Other questions abound. Will foreign-born blacks or their descendants be eligible? How about mixed-race Americans? Will the payments be means-tested? Or will the programs rely on “systemic racism” rhetorical sleight-of-hand to avoid these complications? In that view, given that all blacks have suffered, and given that all so-called “white people,” no matter how poor, are born with “white privilege,” all people of pallor should pay. And since tax-revenues will be used to fund the payments, all ethnicities, with their own histories of oppression and injustice, will have to pay their fellow citizens who never suffered slavery.
More important, this fetishizing of American slavery as a unique evil willfully ignores the larger history of slavery. Most pertinent is the question raised by “Royal Watcher” Hilary Fordwich: who supplied the Africans that were sold? As my professor of black history at UCLA said, Europeans didn’t drop from helicopters to snatch up Africans from their homes. Africans and Arabs rounded up the inventory and sold them into slavery. The African king of Dahomey, one of the biggest suppliers of slaves for the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, supposedly said that “the slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and wealth. Their songs celebrate their victories and the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery.”
Indeed, as Ghanaian professor John Azumah points out, while an estimated 11 million Africans crossed the Atlantic, “a minimum of 28 million Africans were enslaved in the Muslim Middle East. Since at least 80% of those captured by the Muslim slave traders were calculated to have died before reaching the slave markets, it is believed that the death toll from 1,400 years of Arab and Muslim slave raids into Africa could have been as high as 112 million.” Since without the African and Muslim participation in the slave trade it most likely wouldn’t have grown into a global business, why aren’t their descendants responsible for reparations to their enslaved offspring?
The demand for reparations for colonialism is equally flawed by bad history. To hear the left and its current “woke” iteration, only the West, and especially the U.S., are guilty of colonialism. Yet one of the greatest and most successful colonial empires ever was created by Muslims starting in the 7th century A.D., eventually conquering and inhabiting the great Byzantine and Persian empires. Muslim armies at one point occupied and exploited two-thirds of the Roman Empire. And as Middle East historian Efraim Karsh writes, Muslim conquerors “acted in a typical imperialist fashion from the start, subjugating indigenous populations, colonizing their lands, and expropriating their wealth and resources.”
Even more shameless, leftists have never acknowledged or demand accountability from the communist Soviet Union for its colonial empire. When the Bolsheviks overthrew the tsarist’s regime in 1917, they kept the central Asian territories that the tsars had conquered and incorporated into the Russian empire. The communists perfumed these colonies as “Soviet Republics.” After World War II, their colonial empire was expanded by adding the eastern European nations that were occupied and exploited as virtual colonies of the USSR. They were rechristened as “Warsaw Pact nations.”
And unlike the West, neither Islam nor Russia decolonize by choice. Though driven from Europe, Islam still occupies North Africa, the Middle East, and Anatolia, once the possessions of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. And Russia’s central Asian colonies gained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union engineered by the West and lead by Ronald Reagan. These historical facts undercut the clichéd leftist arguments about the West’s “essential evil,” as philosopher Pascal Bruckner put it, of which “every Westerner is presumed guilty until proven innocent,” and which “must be relentlessly atoned for.” This malign sensibility is one of the driving forces behind reparations.
And not just for colonialism. The Soviet Union’s postwar influence on decolonization was extended by cultural Marxism to American minorities, who were characterized as “internal colonial subjects.” Hence the solidarity of American black nationalists with ex-colonial nations like Algeria in Africa and the Middle East; the legitimization of violent resistance like that employed in anti-colonial revolutions; and the rejection of the Civil Rights movements and its principle of non-violence that exploded in the Sixties in destructive urban riots, sowing the seeds of today’s dysfunctional, crumbling blue-state cities.
This malign dynamic has been documented by Mary Grabar in her essential study The Debunking of Howard Zinn, whose propagandistic screed A People’s History of the United States has been and remains hugely influential among American leftist educrats. In a recent article for American Greatness, Grabar tracks the influence of Soviet communism and its American franchise in the Civil Rights movement. The goal was to turn its more radical elements into a communist tool, from the urban riots in the Sixties to the Black Lives Matter hustlers today.
But the beginning of this influence can be seen in the Communist Party’s interference in the 1931 Scottsboro case involving eight young black men accused of raping white women. Recounting black conservative journalist George Schuyler’s contemporary reporting on the trial, Grabar writes,
“Schuyler saw that the Communist campaign was intended to propagandize against the American justice system for the purpose of fundraising and recruitment. And the longer the ‘boys’ stayed in prison, the better. In fact, it would be even better for the Communist cause if one or more of the prisoners died on the electric chair. Fortunately, this did not happen, but the ‘boys’ lingered in jail for years as the Communists wrested the case away from the NAACP and sabotaged their legal case, while stirring up violent protests across the globe.”
This modus operandi has survived and flourished all the way to the violent protests over the Michael Brown and George Floyd shootings, the latter igniting widespread looting, vandalism, arson, and assaults in the summer of 2020.
Finally, the idea of reparations paid for by the descendants of people who lived centuries ago, is a travesty of justice. It reflects primitive notions of justice that violate the equal protection under law guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as the ancient fundamental principle that, as Aeschylus put it, “the doer suffers” for his crimes.
In fact, some justifications of Southern slavery were predicated on the opposite principle. The moral rightness of enslaving Africans was found in the biblical story of Noah’s drunkenness in Genesis 9:20-23. Noah gets drunk on his own wine, and passes out naked in his tent. His son Ham looks at Noah’s nakedness and laughs at him, then tells his brother Shem and Japheth, who avert their eyes while covering their father. Noah curses Ham and his progeny: “a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”
Some exegetes see this verse as a Hebraic justification for the conquest of Canaan. But Americana slavocrats used it to justify the enslavement of Africans, reflecting the unjust primitive notion that the sins of the father and their punishment are transmitted to all their offspring.
Similarly, premodern anti-Semitism was justified by a biblical verse. In the account of Jesus’s trial before Pilate, the mob of Jews demanding his death overcome Pilate’s hesitation by shouting, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). There is no implication in the text that this acceptance of guilt applied to all Jews forever, instead of those particular Jews standing before Pilate.
So two of the great evils of history, anti-Semitism and race-based slavery, were predicated on a primitive notion of “justice”–– just as today’s reparations movement does.
But we know what it’s all really about––political power and money. All those billions in reparations will not go to changing the dysfunctions plaguing the black underclass, most resulting from welfare and other redistributive federal programs that have weakened the black family and black character, while privileged cognitive elite blacks gain leverage for more clout.
As usual, some “black lives matter” more than others.