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19 Apr, 2021 13:39

Slavery reparations are just another elite political ploy to avoid tackling the real race problems in America

Slavery reparations are just another elite political ploy to avoid tackling the real race problems in America

The Democrat plan to pay compensation for oppression that ended over 150 years ago will do nothing to alleviate black poverty, or ease the bitter ongoing racial tensions that continue to tear American society apart.

Democrats in the US Congress have sent a bill dealing with the controversial issue of making reparation payments to the descendants of American slaves to the House of Representatives. The bill will establish a commission to examine and report on this vexed matter. President Biden is personally committed to reparations.  

This is a typical Joe Biden political ploy, designed to shore up the Democrats’ black vote, while at the same time pandering to the party’s elitist so-called “radical left-wing” faction. 

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That faction, of course, is neither radical nor left wing. Its raison d’être is simply to prop up globalised capitalism by means of conferring privileges – for the most part, undeserved – on those disparate interest groups that support the economic world order.  

Biden is very adept at such transparently self-interested manoeuvres. In fact, his political survival depends on them – witness his enthusiastic support for transgender legislation in the early days of his presidency, and his more recent misguided immigration policy.

Unfortunately for black Americans, be they descendants of slaves or not, slavery reparation payments – even if Congress ultimately sanctions them – will do nothing to alleviate black poverty, or ease the bitter ongoing racial tensions that continue to tear American society apart on a daily basis. 

In fact, the entire slavery reparations issue is nothing more than an ideological smokescreen, behind which America’s contemporary ruling elite can continue to avoid confronting the race issue that they have consistently refused to meaningfully deal with for centuries.

What, then, are the main arguments in favour of reparation payments? Three have been put forward by supporters of the proposal:

1.    The descendants of slaves deserve “justice” and therefore compensation.

2.    Reparation payments will promote “national reconciliation”.

3.    Reparation payments will deliver “racial equality”.

These arguments are unconvincing and easily disposed of.

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As to the first, there is no such thing as justice in the abstract – and, even if there were, it by no means follows that it would be “just” to compensate all descendants of slaves in America.

As to the second, this is simply false. Reparations are a deeply divisive issue within American society as a whole – as the current political debate itself shows – and also within the American black community, because many American blacks are not descendants of slaves. Many black intellectuals, including economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell, oppose the payment of reparations.

As for the third, this is palpable nonsense. Paying compensation to a segment of the black community will do little or nothing to deliver “racial equality” in America. A crude monetary “fix” is not the solution to that seemingly intractable problem. Nor will reparation payments deliver even a modicum of economic equality for American blacks.

There are also a number of compelling arguments against making reparation payments, including the following:

1.   There is something inherently duplicitous about contemplating paying compensation in respect of an oppressive system that was abolished over 150 years ago while blithely ignoring the current economic and social disadvantages that cripple black communities in America.

2.   Drawing a distinction between black descendants and non-descendants of slaves is inherently unfair, because these categories ignore disparities of wealth and social status. Why should a millionaire politician who happens to be a slave descendant receive compensation, but a poverty-stricken janitor who is not a descendant be ineligible?

3.   The proposal for reparation payments is based on the erroneous and objectionable notion of “collective white guilt” – which is, of course, a fundamental belief of the so-called radical wing of the Democratic Party.

4.   No legitimate legal basis for the payment of reparations (for example, the breach of a treaty or the assertion of common law native title, as relied on by other oppressed ethnic groups) has been put forward by its supporters, and none would seem to exist.

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More importantly, however, the call for slavery reparation payments ignores the history of race relations in America and the lessons that need to be learnt from it if genuine reform is to come about.

After the abolition of slavery, following the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, America had a real opportunity to effectively deal with its race problem. 

The post Civil War Radical Republican program pointed the way: breaking the political and economic power of the South’s ruling class by giving the freed slaves political rights, together with economic autonomy, by dividing up Southern plantations into farms to be owned by Southern blacks.

As we know, America recoiled from such a genuinely radical solution, and, after the 1877 compromise, the Southern ruling class returned to power and introduced Jim Crow segregation, thereby politically disenfranchising Southern blacks and reducing them to economic penury. At the same time, de facto segregation intensified in the North.

This situation continued until the emergence of Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights movement in the 1950s, which once again provided America with an opportunity to resolve its race dilemma. 

America, however, point-blank refused to do so. Having achieved a great deal in the South, King was abused more vociferously in the white suburbs of Chicago than he had ever been anywhere in the Southern states. When King began campaigning for fundamental economic reform and criticised American involvement in Vietnam, America’s ruling elite cast him aside.

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In the mid-1960s, President Johnson pushed through Congress long-overdue civil rights legislation that America grudgingly accepted. Only a Southerner could have achieved this (and the South never forgave him), and Johnson acted in large part because of the ideological demands of the Cold War. 

Every time America lectured Russia during the 1950s and 1960s on human rights abuses, Russian politicians simply pointed to what was happening in Alabama and Mississippi. This situation had become untenable by the middle of the decade.

Since the late 1960s, America’s ruling elite has fought a rearguard action against the radical demands that Martin Luther King Jr made, and, to this day, they have not been acceded to.

It’s true that significant progress was made in the 1960s. The racist Jim Crow regime was dismantled, civil rights legislation was finally passed, the welfare state was expanded, and a black middle-class elite was fostered and allowed to emerge.

These were important advances, but the underlying racial divide remained firmly in place – in part, because – understandably, in the face of American intransigence – many black intellectuals and political leaders, unlike King, favoured a policy of separate development over that of assimilation.  

And fuelling the continuing racial divide was the undying white prejudice against blacks that had, in fact, intensified after the abolition of slavery and the dismantling of the Jim Crow regime. It’s this same prejudice that still plays itself out today on the streets of Minneapolis and other American cities. 

Since the 1960s, all mainstream American political leaders have sought to dilute and “slow down” the implementation of King’s reform program. 

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Richard Nixon did this very effectively in the early 1970s. At the same time he sought to stall de jure desegregation in the South and maintain de facto segregation in the North, Nixon expanded federal spending programs for blacks, and showered jobs and benefits on the newly emerged middle-class black elite by way of affirmative action programs.

Biden’s program for slavery reparation payments is nothing more than a new variant of this tried-and-true elite method for preserving the American racial status quo by co-opting that elite under a fashionable contemporary guise. (In fact, reparation payments are not a new idea – they were first proposed more than 30 years ago)

As Sowell has noted, black Democrat politicians such as Barack Obama, and white ones like Biden, play the race card and “do all they can to feed ... [a] sense of grievance, victimhood and resentment, because that’s where the votes are.

Slavery reparation payments will do nothing to improve the dire economic status of most black Americans. They will do nothing to abolish the appalling conditions that exist within black ghettos, or tackle the ‘ghetto culture’ that Sowell and others blame most for impoverishing African-Americans. They will do nothing to do away with the deep-seated prejudice against blacks that permeates American society. 

In fact, their most likely consequence will be to further divide the black community in America, together with its fractured political leadership. 

This is already happening now – as evidenced by the recent emergence of the ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves) movement, a rigidly separatist political grouping that seeks to corral reparation payments for its members, and denounces Vice-President Kamala Harris, and other black leaders who are not descendants of slaves, as being “not authentically black”.  

For all of the above reasons, Biden’s fundamentally flawed policy for slavery reparation payments should be firmly opposed by all Americans – both black and white – who are committed to the cause of genuine racial reform in their country. 

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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.