Reparations for the millions of descendants of slaves – me among them – is a hot topic that could come up in Thursday night’s debate by the 10 leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
I raised the issue myself with nine Democratic presidential hopefuls when they campaigned at the Iowa State Fair.
Walking up to them, I told them that as a black American I wanted to know if they could give me cash reparations on the spot for the unquestionable injustice my ancestors suffered as slaves. I helpfully gave them several methods of payment, including PayPal and credit cards.
I spoke with Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, author Marianne Williamson, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (who has since dropped out of the race), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, businessman Andrew Yang, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland.
Not surprisingly, no candidate agreed to my request for an immediate cash payment. Most said they support legislation in Congress to study the issue of reparations for the descendants of slaves. Delaney was a notable exception, saying he doesn’t support reparations.
A videographer followed me around and recorded all my brief encounters with the candidates. The video has been viewed more than 2.5 million times on several social media platforms. You might call it “Profiles in Hypocrisy.”
The video was a stunt. Satire. It shows the absurdity of the issue of reparations in 2019.
In reality, I oppose paid reparations for myself and other descendants of African-American slaves. It’s not because I’m a millionaire or billionaire and don’t need the money. Instead, my opposition is practical, ideological and based on my principles and sense of justice.
I can certainly see the argument for reparations when the slaves were freed. Slaves endured years of oppression, family breakups as they were sold like farm animals, backbreaking labor, beatings and rapes. Some were murdered.
As slaves, they earned no money and so were unable to accumulate any savings or property. So upon emancipation, they suddenly became homeless, penniless and desperate – and still faced widespread and legal racial discrimination.
But no one who was ever enslaved in the United States is still alive. I believe that paying their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren is not warranted.
Many questions remain unanswered as Democratic candidates lurch from black audience to black audience, pandering for votes and supporting a study of reparations as a way to compensate people who look like me for America’s original sin of slavery.
The issue of reparations rarely comes up in an audience outside of the black voter bubble. Perhaps that’s because an overwhelming majority of white Americans are opposed to cash reparations. In a Marist poll in 2016, a whopping 81 percent of whites opposed reparations.
So if we have an issue that is deeply unpopular among a majority of white Americans and will undoubtedly raise resentment among other non-black American communities of color, why has the reparations debate become big issue in 2019?
After all, slavery was abolished in 1865, when the South surrendered and the Civil War came to an end. So America has had 154 years to pay reparations – yet has never done so, even when we had a black president in the White House.
The issue of reparations is gaining traction today because Democrats are eager to capture the support of black voters.
The whole reparations issue is part of the grandiose plans by the Democratic presidential candidates to hand out trillions of dollars worth of “free stuff” to buy the support of different groups.
“Free” public college tuition, “free” health care, “free” child care and more “free” goodies are trotted out by various Democratic presidential candidates. Yang even wants to give every American adult “free” money – $1,000 a month for life.
How would the Democrats pay for all these freebies? Massive tax increases for all of us (not just the rich), massive deficits and probably massive cuts in defense spending.
Marianne Williamson is the only Democratic candidate who has said she endorses reparations so far – she wants to give away $500 billion to black Americans. But who knows what will be said over the course of the presidential campaign by the other candidates?
With the exception of Delaney, the other candidates only support a bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, that would use $12 million in taxpayer funds to “create a commission to study the economic impact of cash reparations and how that should be paid.”
It’s a safe bet that such a commission would call for reparations. The only question is how much money the reparations would amount to, and how they would be distributed – to individuals, to groups, or to some combination of the two.
The truth is that a one-time cash payout to African-Americans as compensation for slavery is a cheap exploitation of white liberal guilt, and also stokes stereotypes about black people for those who traffic in the white grievance politics that can be found among some right-leaning Americans.
Unfortunately, the Democratic presidential candidates can only see African-Americans as perpetual victims. This was certainly true in the days of slavery, and in many years that followed as the result of Jim Crow laws and other legalized discrimination.
But while no can claim racism has been eradicated, black Americans today have more opportunities than ever in the history of the country. More of us than ever are getting college educations, getting good jobs and moving into the ranks of the middle-class and even the wealthy.
And under President Trump, black unemployment has hit the lowest rate on record – 5.5 percent in August. Trump understands that a strong economy and a business sector unhindered by the excessive regulation and taxation that Democrats favor is good for Americans of every racial and ethnic group.
Unquestionably, there is a still a gap dividing black Americans from other Americans in terms of income, education and other measures of achieving the American Dream. But we’re closing the gap, thanks to our own hard work and the removal of racist barriers that discriminated against us for hundreds of years.
None other than Bayard Rustin, a civil rights icon and personal hero of mine, opposed reparations when the concept was being discussed 50 years ago.
In a 1969 interview, Rustin called a demand for $500 million in reparations from the Black Economic Development Conference “preposterous” and said the demand amounted to “hustling, begging.”
And in his essay “Equality Beyond Race,” Rustin wrote: "It is insulting to Negroes to offer them reparations for past generations for suffering, as if the balance of an irreparable past could be set straight with a handout."
I agree with Rustin. I don’t believe in grievance politics. I don’t believe in a victim culture. And I don’t believe that at this point the U.S. government owes African-Americans any more than it owes Americans of all colors.
I say no to reparations. No to phony handouts from the left. No to the idea that my future as a black American is somehow less bright or valuable without cash payments that somehow atone for the very real brutality and hardships suffered by my ancestors.
My integrity and my vote aren’t for sale, no matter how hard the Democratic presidential candidates and others on the left pander.