The notion of awarding reparations to blacks to compensate for slavery has been floating around for years without anyone taking it seriously. In 2014, the argument for reparations was given a boost by an influential article that appeared in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates himself admitted that he didn’t expect it would come to fruition. “My notion wasn’t that you could actually get reparations passed,” said Coates, “even in my lifetime.” Thanks to the racial hurricane set off by the George Floyd incident, Coates’ idea has been given a new round of support.
Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee have proposed legislation to establish a commission for the study of reparations. On July 10, the US Conference of Mayors came out in support of the bill. “There’s an interesting phenomenon among Democrats ahead of the 2020 election,” said Fox News host Laura Ingraham, in which “one of their fringe members proposes something really radical and then they all rush in to support it.”
The two main reasons behind renewed interest in reparations are a resurgence of white guilt and resulting black opportunism. “Whites are hungry for a way to prove that they’re innocent of racism,” says Shelby Steele, author of White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, so they offer “to make reparations to African-Americans and other minorities.” Meanwhile, black anger and militancy have become “the best means to opportunity and power for blacks. Anger in the oppressed is a response to perceived opportunity, not to injustice,” Steele says. “Black rage is always a kind of opportunism.” The opportunity is presenting itself now in the form of white guilt. Black opportunists like Booker and Lee are eager to take advantage of it.
Here are five reasons why the push for reparations is insupportable: (1) It is unfair to non-blacks who never owned slaves; (2) It is totally impractical from a fiscal viewpoint—it would bankrupt the nation for centuries; (3) It would inflame racial discord; (4) It would result in a taxpayer revolt; and (5) Instead of helping blacks, reparations would aggravate two chronic problems plaguing the black community.
First, asking all non-blacks to fund reparations is patently unfair. Since so many of today’s non-black Americans are descendants of post-Civil War immigrants, political commentator Michael Medved observed, as few as 5 percent of today’s whites have a “generational” connection to slavery. “Maybe I live in a box, but I’ve never met a single black American who was a slave or a single white American who was a slaveowner,” said black activist Candice Owens. “I’ve only come across lazy people who believe that those of us who work ought to support them.”
“The reparations argument is based on the unfounded claim that all African-American descendants of slaves suffer from the economic consequences of slavery and discrimination,” says author David Horowitz. “No evidence-based attempt has been made to prove that living individuals have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended over 150 years ago.” Slavery in America falls under the heading of ancient history. “Why are we penalizing people for what their ancestors did?” asked former NFL running back Herschel Walker. “Reparations are complicated, contentious and messy, and work best when the crime was recent and the direct victims are still alive,” Stuart E. Eizenstat wrote in Politico Magazine.
Second, paying reparations is impractical. From a fiscal standpoint, it is totally irresponsible. A study by three college professors puts the price tag of the Booker-Lee proposal at $6.2 quadrillion. The US would be bankrupt for five centuries. How would it be determined who should receive benefits and who should pay? Black talk show host Larry Elder pointed to mixed-race Democrats including Kamala Harris and Barack Obama, asking “do [they] pay a check or receive a check?”
Third, the backlash from a program of reparations would “inflame racial tension even more,” said Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich. “Rather than promote the reconciliation we so badly need,” said Eizenstat, “reparations could seriously inflame racial tensions, stoking the resentment of nonblack citizens who would feel their needs for government assistance were being ignored in a rapidly changing, dislocating economy.”
Fourth, we can expect a taxpayer revolt if the Booker-Lee program is enacted. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Americans oppose reparations. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken in 2020 found that only 20 percent of Americans agreed with the concept of using “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States.”
Fifth, reparations would do more harm than good, Shelby Steele argues, by “facilitating weakness in the very people we’re trying to help.” Payments would aggravate two chronic problems plaguing the black community—a victim mentality and the unwillingness to accept personal responsibility. Reparations would be self-defeating, Steele said, because entitlements perpetuate a sense of victimization. “The reparations claim is one more attempt to turn African-Americans into victims,” agreed David Horowitz. “To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans may have done to their ancestors fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victim-hood.”
“[Blacks] are not being held back anymore,” Steele says. “You can do pretty much anything you want to do in America as a black, including become president.” Yet blacks are reluctant to accept personal responsibility. “We want the society to give us more—to be responsible for us,” he says. “So when people start to talk about systemic racism built into the system, what they’re really doing is expanding the territory of ‘entitlement.'”
In reality, we have been making reparations for years. “Trillions of dollars in transfer payments have been made to African-Americans in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences—all under the rationale of redressing historic racial grievances,” says David Horowitz.” If that is not enough to achieve a “healing,” he asks, what will? Reparations would further isolate blacks from the rest of America. “The reparations claim is one more assault on America, conducted by racial separatists and the political left,” says Horowitz. “It is an attack not only on white Americans, but on all Americans—especially African-Americans.”