If the Democrats run a campaign for Presidency featuring an endorsement of reparations to current Blacks for the horrors of slavery and the inhuman aftermath, they will likely lose. The furor and backlash over bussing (which is some cases entailed busses not passing by nearer white schools) will seem minor by comparison.
Unfortunately, it may be too late. Its revival is due to the Reverend Al Sharpton (the title reportedly self bestowed when he was in 5th grade and he does not appear to have a flock) who now is positioned publicly so liberals, at least, have to kiss his ring and accept his urging of “reparations” without definitions or categories. He came to prominence for his advocacy of what turned out to be the Tamara Brawley racial abuse hoax, his racial divisiveness with the fire in Freddy’s Pizza, and demonstrations and a boycott against a Korean grocer. He parlayed this fame into an organization, a TV show, and many public and media appearances. This fame does not prove his seeking endorsement of “reparations” is right.
Some past reparations have been both justified and possible. Jews, after the Holocaust. received payments for the atrocities perpetuated and genocide. The United States disgraced itself, well before Guantamo (with no reparation foreseeable) by placing thousands of Japanese in concentration camps after imposing curfews first. The Supreme Court upheld this outrage (based in parts on purposeful lies by the Department of Justice). Over forty years later, Congress voted some recompense. (Disclosure. As part of the Board of the Asian American Legal Defense fund, I participated in the advocacy for this partial redress. I was gratified to me Fred Korematsu.)
If current American reparations were possible the first group to receive them should be the Natives or Native Americans or Indians or Native Indians. They were massacred, driven from their lands, enslaved, pushed on death marches, had treaties broken, still have treaties broken, sacred land denied or degraded, receive unequal treatment even when displaced from the land with which they identify (and maintained, it appears, with ecological wisdom) into cities. (About Oakland, see “Very, Very” by Terry Orange.) Their oppression and exclusion is such that they have not produced the famous American leaders and artists as have the oppressed Blacks – with contributing cultural identity – from Frederic Douglas to Booker T. Washington to Malcolm X. and others (Martin Luther King, Jr. has his holiday. ) Music from Scott Joplin, to the classical composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (partially Jewish) to Jelly Roll Morton and the explosion of jazz; then rythmn and blues, rock and roll, hip hop, break dancing, and rap. Tap is one of the great dance forms. Literature: the whole Harlem renaissance, Ralph Ellison. Lankford Hughes, Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, etc. These are major American achievements. The history of sports has been transformed with integration. The one famous Indian athlete Jim Thorpe was half Irish.
Let us affirm that after slavery came racial discrimination and brutality with Jim Crow. Lynching, torturing, treating workers like slaves except for the shining ten years of Reconstruction (often misrepresented in histories- “carpetbaggers” – movies, etc/) with many Black legislators State and Federal and voting rights – which are still being curtailed by racists. Even now we observe clear segregation, discrimination, and inequality. Besides some new laws (e.g. repeal current war on drugs with unequal incarceration, voting rights protection etc.) with proper enforcement, how would “reparations” be properly effectuated?
The Liberians present a particular problem. They were sent from slavery to their own African country. Now, here in the wrong “immigration status”, they are sometimes deported as not being Americans. What are they owed?
To whom?: Many of those identified and identifying as Black have very mixed “racial ancestry.”(Little noted is how the enslaved Indians and Blacks were thrown together so that a large number of Black families have Indians in their family tree.) Should there be a DNA test – at what percentage (the drop of blood theory is an old racist construct)?
What about those descended from people that were always free and demonstrably so?
What about recent arrivals of Africans and those from the Caribbean with black ancestors , some of whom may be been slaves?
Should there be an income or status limit?
From whom: Would there be an attempt to derive money from those who enslaved, including other Africans, sold the suffering, including Arabs, the descendants of the owners of slave ships or just Americans? Which Americans? Refugees and immigrants or their descendants who arrived after the Civil War, end of the outrageous doctrine of “Separate but Equal” or after the Civil Rights Act? What about those who devoted their careers to Civil Rights? Do they get a pass?
Affirmative action is a type of reparation. Certainly it redresses historical exclusion. But, the difficult ethical question of why punish innocent contemporaries arises.
“Reparations” has moral reverberations. But, because of time (if only reconstruction had lasted! – maybe with its promise of 40 acres and a mule) the practical factors militate against it being a policy rather than a slogan. Most certainly, it should not distract people of good will from dealing with the horrendous continuing mistreatment of Native Americans.