California governor Gavin Newsom has announced he plans to give $233,000 in reparations to each black Californian, at a cost of half a trillion dollars. This taxpayer-funded largess comes on the heels of California’s projected $25 billion budget deficit, with state revenue now 41% below expectations due in part to lost tax-revenues from rich residents––who pay half of state income taxes–– fleeing California’s 13.3%, the nation’s highest rate, on incomes over a million dollars.
Such fiscal fecklessness has long been a tradition in California. The reparation scheme, however, would be an irresponsible expenditure given the numerous other spending on progressive pet projects such as free kindergarten for 4-year-olds, stipends for transsexuals, and free health care for immigrants legal or illegal. And don’t forget the $1.5 trillion in public pension debt, and the white-elephant high-speed rail project that has already cost $105 billion since 2010, with completion nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, an ongoing water crisis, crumbling highways, mismanaged forests fueling wildfires, and a vulnerable electrical grid remain neglected.
But the larger issue is the incoherence and injustice of reparations per se. First, there’s the problem of who will receive the payments. Would the children of black immigrants, like Barack Obama or Kamala Harris, whose ancestors were not enslaved in America, be eligible? Isn’t their beef with the British? Will reparations be means-tested, or will the affluent be included in the largess? And what about mixed-race citizens. Will they get a reduced payout?
More important, the idea that people today, none of whom were enslaved, should be given taxpayer money from people who never owned a slave, is to regress to a more barbaric form of justice in which generations of descendants inherit the guilt of the malefactors. True justice is when “the doer suffers,” as Aeschylus put it, not his distant, multigenerational offspring. Making others pay for something they never did is the epitome of injustice.
Especially when they or their ancestors came to this country decades after slavery was ended. In the U.S. are millions of immigrants or descendants of immigrants who cannot justly be held responsible for American slavery. In California particularly, which entered the Union as a free state, there are 15.38 million ethnic Hispanics who emigrated from countries guiltless of American slavery, but who under Newsom’s reparations scheme would see their tax-dollars transferred to 2.25 million black Californians.
This redistribution from one group of citizens that never personally practiced slavery, to another that never personally endured it, would no doubt widen California’s growing ethnic divide. And it’s morally questionable for people to treat their ancestors’ sufferings, which they have never experienced, as a fungible asset to be exploited for their own interests, whether pecuniary or political.
Then there’s the question of who was responsible for developing the African slave trade. British “Royal Watcher” Hilary Fordwich recently was asked about the calls in Great Britain for the Royal Family to pay reparations for colonialism and slavery. Fordwich stunned CNN’s Don Lemon by asking in turn about the “supply chain” that provided the slaves purchased in Africa by Europeans. She also reminded Lemon that Great Britain was the first state to abolish slavery in 1833, and used the Royal Navy to enforce its ban on slave-trading. As Fordwich wondered, why aren’t the historical sellers of Africans into slavery as liable for reparations as the historical t buyers?
Of course, identity politics based on racial grievances doesn’t want to confront the more complex history of slavery, especially the Arab-Muslim slave trade that supplied the lion’s share of the human “inventory,” without which European slavery would have been considerably reduced.
Larry Elder a few years back raised this issue from an interview with Ghanaian professor John Azumah, author of The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa. Azumah summarized the reality of Arab-Muslim slavery:
“While two out of every three slaves shipped across the Atlantic were men, the proportions were reversed in the Islamic slave trade. Two women for every man were enslaved by the Muslims.
While the mortality rate of the slaves being transported across the Atlantic was as high as 10%, the percentage of the slaves dying in transit in the Tran-Saharan and East African slave market was a staggering 80 to 90%.
While almost all the slaves shipped across the Atlantic were for agricultural work, most of the slaves destined for the Muslim Middle East were for sexual exploitation as concubines in harems and for military service.
While many children were born to the slaves in the Americas, the millions of their descendants are citizens in Brazil and the United States today. Very few descendants of the slaves who ended up in the Middle East survived.
While most slaves who went to the Americas could marry and have families, most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated, and most of the children born to the women were killed at birth.
It is estimated that possibly as many as 11 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic, 95% of which went to South and Central America, mainly to Portuguese, Spanish and French possessions; only 5% of the slaves ended up in what we call the United States today.
However, 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.”
The point is not to mitigate Western slavery with a specious tu quoque argument. Slavery in any form is fundamentally evil, full stop. Race-based slavery made it even worse than it was in antiquity, where everybody was one kidnapping or lost war away from bondage. Rather, the point is to expose the selective outrage and politicization of slavery to serve partisan ends, all the while ignoring how the U.S. fought a bloody civil war to end slavery at the cost of 110,000 Union soldiers who died fighting it.
Azumah’s data complicate the simplistic melodrama of white America’s unique racist sins that fuels the reparations movement. This brings us to the political purpose of reparations––to serve the tendentious and empirically challenged idea of “systemic racism” that locates racism in social, economic, and political structures, and in cultural institutions that can never be reformed by human effort and will, but must be “fundamentally transformed,” always in a leftward direction.
Moreover, as Jason Riley summarized in the Wall Street Journal, this causal role given to slavery or “systemic racism” ignores the improvement in black lives that happened even before the Civil Rights movement and the end of Jim Crow segregations:
“Between 1890 and 1940, for example, black marriage rates in the U.S. where higher than white marriage rates. In the 1940s and ’50s, black labor-participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes; and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points. Between 1940 and 1970—that is, during Jim Crow and prior to the era of affirmative action—the number of blacks in middle-class professions quadrupled. In other words, racial gaps were narrowing. Steady progress was being made. Blacks today hear plenty about what they can’t achieve due to the legacy of slavery and not enough about what they did in fact achieve notwithstanding hundreds of years in bondage followed by decades of legal segregation.”
The race-lobby must marginalize this real and measurable progress that the U.S. has made in dismantling legal segregation, which was actually systemic racism; protecting voting rights and providing opportunities for black Americans; and turning white supremacy into a toxic fringe belief with little national or even regional influence––not to mention black Americans’ remarkable achievements Riley catalogued. That improvement is why we have so many hate-crime hoaxes, something that wasn’t necessary back in the days of brazen racist violence and tyranny.
This truth about racial improvement is inconvenient for the those who profit politically and fiscally from keeping racial grievances and victimization alive. Hence complex history is turned into simplistic melodrama, and the decline in cultural and political white supremacy is obscured by lurid tales of a plague of “hate crimes,” police officers wantonly slaughtering black men, and racist “dog whistles.” Back in the day, racists didn’t need “dog whistles” to communicate their hate. To think that today racists are communicating in a verbal codes shared with other racists is itself proof of how marginalized racist beliefs have become.
But ignoring such facts neutralizes the troubling questions raised above about culpability for slavery and redress for its victims’ descendants. Slavery may be gone, race-tribunes admit, but occult racism is forever, as is the universal “white privilege” created by the “systemic racism” spawned by slavery.
Finally, we can wonder why deep-blue states like New York and California, and white progressives are so eager to push the reparations movement, especially in California, where progressive policies on energy, schools, and housing have reduced the black population to half the national average.
As usual, as well as virtue-signaling, cultivating and rewarding political clients may explain Newsom’s interest in promoting reparations. He is clearly planning on a run for president someday, and now that the Dems have replaced Iowa with South Carolina––a state that is 26% black–– as the site of the first primary election, reparations is a way to pander to that constituency, one of the Democrat party’s most critical. Just ask Bernie Sanders, whose second attempt to secure the Democrat nomination for president died in the South Carolina primary after Congressman Jim Clyburn endorsed Joe Biden.
Once again, to understand any policy, start by identifying who benefits. It certainly won’t be those it proclaims to help.