Ten years ago, the idea of “reparations” remained on the fringes of American politics. The question of whether or not compensation should have been paid to former slaves had died out. Notably because at the beginning of the 21st century, no one in America had really suffered from slavery. The country was a century and a half away from the bloody civil war it had waged over this.
But there is a trend in our time that does not allow wounds to mend or heal. Indeed, there is a movement that identifies long-healed wounds to reopen them. And then complain about the harm done to themselves.
In 2014 writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an essay in The Atlantic doing “The Case for Reparations”. In recent times, few articles have had more impact. The issue of reparations began to be taken up by the radical left and then made its way to the political center. By the time of the Democratic primaries in 2020, all of the party’s candidates were ready to speak on the issue. Some, including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, have expressed support for some form of reparations. These candidates pointed to the disparity between average household wealth in white families and black families in America.
Once the Democrats were in power, one of the first things they did in Congress was to lobby President Biden to create a commission to study reparations for black Americans both for slavery and for “systemic racism” – a guilty verdict that was already underway. .
It is certainly true that there are wealth disparities between black and white Americans. But there are also disparities between black and white Americans and Asian Americans. In America in the 2020s, Asian Americans significantly outperform all other racial groups in terms of income. They earn more on average than white Americans, who in turn earn more than Hispanic Americans, who in turn earn more than black Americans.
Any discussion of repairs must confront this statistic. If the cause of black economic underperformance in America in the 2020s is systemic racism, why are other groups outperforming them? Why do more recent arrivals outperform them? And why isn’t America’s “systemic racism” holding Asian Americans back if it’s so pervasive?
In recent years, the allegation of systemic racism has become an overarching explanation for everything the radical left wants to do. This movement addresses complex issues and presents a simple answer: racism because of white supremacy.
As I was researching these issues for my latest book, I wondered if anyone claiming to talk about repairs had really thought about it.
For example, today in America we no longer speak of a group of people who have done harm by paying compensation to those who have been wronged. We are talking about a group of people who look like a group of people who have done wrong in the past by making a vast transfer of wealth to another group of people who look like a group of people who have been wronged (Black Americans).
And it is not just the injustice of punishing people for wrongs committed long before their time, but the madness that comes from thinking such a task is attainable.
The transatlantic slave trade, like the much larger Arab slave trade of the same period, was only made possible because black Africans kidnapped and sold their brothers and sisters into slavery. We know this from historical records and from the memoirs of those to whom it was done, such as the remarkable 18and century slave Olaudah Equiano. Some people at the time, including Voltaire, noted that the only thing worse than the treatment of some Africans by some Europeans was the behavior of some Africans towards their fellow Africans.
So how do you know who is responsible for all of this? How do we know who among the black community in America is descended from American slaves and who is descended from African slaves? What should we do with people who have part of every inheritance in their family? Anyone who thinks voter ID is intrusive will be amazed at how much intrusion would be needed to perform this act of mass DNA collection.
Some hope to achieve equality by giving “non-Westerners” a free pass and carrying out acts of revenge against “Westerners”. Arlington County Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Taft recently said she plans to find ways to reduce black incarceration by explicitly considering race in prosecutorial decision-making. The former chief prosecutor condemned this, saying it “mocks blind justice and corrodes faith in the criminal justice system”. Which he actually does.
Others also see it as a path to justice. In 2020, San Francisco passed the CAREN Act, which makes it a hate crime to call 911 “racially motivated” against a black person “without reasonable suspicion of a crime.” The name comes from the derogatory term “Karen”, which in recent years has come to refer to a white woman with authoritative energy. The law makes it a potential crime to call the cops on a black person and forces white people to wonder if they will be the ones the police will be questioning. It’s also worth noting, by the way, that in the present day racial slurs are actually cool and can be enshrined in law as long as the people they put down are white women.
Both of these actions, in Arlington and San Francisco, are explicit waivers of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of law.” Both take the form of explicitly unequal treatment on the basis of race. Going further would certainly be a form of revenge, if not reparation. But a bigger and more common form of revenge is the one that’s unfolding right now and sweeping the culture.
I go back to the Coates essay that started this debate ten years ago. According to him, there was a precedent for American reparations in the money given to Israel after the Holocaust by Germany. But it was a payment made immediately after a genocide, not two centuries after a barbaric trade.
Those seeking reparations in America today claim to do so in the name of racial harmony. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything more likely to set a bombshell under race relations in this country. It has become just another tool of revenge in the feverish anti-Western, anti-American spirit of our time.
Douglas Murray is the author of the new book, “The War on the West” (Broadside Books), now available.
New York Post