(from the archives - June 2003)
I have given a lot of thought to the matter of reparations and I'd like to be blunt about my conclusions for the sake of brevity. The answer is that blackfolks will settle for anything they can get because they are so accustomed to not getting what they deserve. African Americans deserve reparations, they won't get them, and the issue will hang around indefinitely with no resolution - rather like the Catholic Church's edict against the use of birth control. It won't matter how well thought out the moral case, it just won't mean shinola here in America. People will go about their own lives knowing that there is a compelling argument against what they are doing, but they won't look closely at the argument itself.
The simple case for reparations is this:
1.There is no statute of limitations on debt. It is either forgiven or not.
2. A man and his progeny have a right to the rewards of his labor.
3. A government, most especially a government of and by the people, should not conspire in the theft of those rewards. The descendents of slaves, through the legal institution of slavery itself and the Jim Crow laws that followed, are the only Americans who have been denied, by government, the inheritance their own forebears energy and creativity would have bequeathed them.
How can conservatives, who are so outraged by taxes, not be outraged by this?
I think conservatives and Republicans are not outraged about anything, they are just calculatingly greedy. I know I am. They care most about the integrity of a system of producing and maintaining wealth. The idea of reparations, taken as a 'transfer of wealth' seems to violate a principle of propreity which in fact it defends.
I think far too many people object to reparations for African Americans because it suggests that they would get wealth in a different manner than everyone else. I believe this to be a racist argument because it doesn't invalidate the claim for reparations, it simply sets up an arbitrary standard of how blacks should behave with no regard to their actual condition or history. It simply says 'not the Irish way, therefore not legitimate'.
What I believe should be done is that serious consideration be given to the form and substance of the reward itself. I strongly believe that African Americans, given some coordination and discipline, could and would develop several strong and well-accepted uses for any reparation payments. In fact, these would be desirable in any case and applicable to the needs of African American anyway. Why then limit the justification of these needs to the political impossibility of a reparations settlement?
When I first thought about Republicanism for myself, one of the first things I asked seriously was, what's in it for me? Where is my patronage and what kind do I want? I have been disappointed to the extent to which, in the African American case, Republicanism is a psychic thing. People seem to get the most kick out of the existentials of calling themselves black Republicans, and calling others fools and vice versa. Blacks are so hung up about wearing the label (or not) that nobody cares about the policies and practices. I exaggerate but you know what I'm saying. My point is that we should be outlining what our political desires are in concrete policy terms first, then worrying about how we can get them second. Instead of reserving all of our energy into theoretical issues like reparations and affirmative action we should be more concerned with the practical benefits owing to party work.
So I'm saying that if one congresscritter can slip in last minute riders on a bill that is going to sail through congress give x billion to y corporation, we shouldn't be spending our resources trying to convince the entire American public about the validity of reparations. Reparations are valid. It's as simple as one, two three, but public opinion is the path of greatest resistance and least reward. Buying a congressman or two is a lot simpler, especially since there is this thing called the Black Caucus. Understand that 15% of America is racist and another 25% on top of that is stupid and apathetic. Instead of trying to convince them that the sky is blue and reparations are good, we should be directing those agents we already control to do what they are already capable of doing. In other words, reparations are an impractical justification for better schools. If you wan't better schools than say so and figure out a way to get them that doesn't require (white) America to strain itself with moral thinking.
The sooner we get on that track, the better off we are.