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Call for $14 trillion in slavery reparations while riots rage in US is extortion, not justice

Michael Rectenwald
Michael Rectenwald

is an author of ten books, including the most recent, Beyond Woke. He was Professor of Liberal Arts at NYU from 2008 through 2019. Follow him on Twitter @TheAntiPCProf

is an author of ten books, including the most recent, Beyond Woke. He was Professor of Liberal Arts at NYU from 2008 through 2019. Follow him on Twitter @TheAntiPCProf

Call for $14 trillion in slavery reparations while riots rage in US is extortion, not justice
After George Floyd’s death, Black Entertainment Television (BET) co-founder Robert Johnson called for massive reparations for slavery. He floated $14 trillion in “wealth distribution” to “create growth,” but it’s just blackmail.

Following the death of George Floyd and in the context of mass rioting, on Monday, BET co-founder Robert L. Johnson, the first black American billionaire, made the media rounds, calling for $14 trillion in reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves, or nearly $358,000 for every black American, as “atonement” for slavery.

“Now is the time to go big,” he says, explaining the mind-boggling sum. “We need to focus on wealth creation… and to do that we must bring the descendants of slaves into equality with this nation.”

Johnson’s call for reparations is irresponsible and provocative during a time of widespread riots, muggings, shootings, and property destruction, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the US since 1968. He has been advocating for reparations since before George Floyd’s death, but now, his call comes across as “either pay up or expect more rioting.”

Johnson’s demand not only represents a morally bankrupt extortion attempt, it is a fiscal impossibility. It would amount to the largest wealth transfer in American history. The demand is dead on arrival. It would tax every living American taxpayer, not only white Anglo-Saxons, but also Hispanics, Palestinians, Arabs, Asians, Jews, Italians, Germans, Russians, Poles, and every other American ethnic group, for crimes from which few living Americans have benefited, least especially non-whites. The ancestors of these groups, and most white Americans for that matter, had no part in slavery, and their descendants received no benefit from historical slavery either.

Further, locating the descendants of American slavery and separating them from black Africans, as well as other blacks whose ancestors were not slaves, represents a genealogical nightmare of enormous proportions.

And the claim that living whites are the beneficiaries of “white supremacy,” or the milder infraction of “white privilege,” has no relevance where reparations are concerned. Structural injustice has been redressed time and time again, with countless programs and affirmative action policies, while the Civil Rights movement removed legal liabilities and injustices. Personal feelings of racism may persist, but people cannot be charged money for having the wrong opinions.

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It remains verboten to ask the following question, without recriminations and charges of racism, that is: after all the programs, affirmative action efforts, welfare distributions, and other efforts to redress economic inequality in the US, is it possible that the persistent wealth disparity between whites and blacks has less to do with historical slavery than it does with more proximate causes, such as contemporary policies and politics, including the Democratic Party-led welfare program that effectively paid black American unwed mothers when the fathers of their children absconded from their homes, thus destroying the black family and creating a culture of failure?

Because no existing black American suffered slavery, and few living white Americans benefited from it, reparations make absolutely no sense to most Americans, and rightly so. Johnson’s charge that reparations have been denied because white Americans are “insensitive” and unwilling to “atone” for their crimes is ludicrous. Atone for what, exactly? For crimes they didn’t commit and for benefits that they did not receive. And one can’t be extorted for feelings or unwillingness to beg for forgiveness, even if such feelings and unwillingness persist generally among whites, which is quite doubtful.

If black Americans want reparations, they should locate the descendants of the owners of black slaves, and, with Johnson’s help and money, bring a class action suit against them for denied wages, suffering, and historical immiseration.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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