Anti-reparations ad merits a reading, despite its flaws

April 01, 2001|By Gregory Kane

DAVID Horowitz, the former dogmatic leftist who made a sharp right turn along the way and is now one of the country's leading conservative voices, has done it again. This time, he's really done it.

Horowitz has really leaped into the flames this time, putting himself in the line of fire from the fascist wing of the political left, whose adherents seem to think that the First Amendment right of free speech doesn't apply to conservatives.

What did Horowitz do? He offered an ad to some college newspapers titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea - and Racist Too." Several college newspapers ran the ad, and the liberal/left horde was soon demanding Horowitz's head. Because this space is frequently dedicated to stimulating debate, I will reprint Horowitz's points:

1. No single group, Horowitz wrote, is responsible for the crime of slavery. He mentions that Africans and Arabs enslaved blacks, and that there were black slaveholders in the United States. If he had really wanted to ruffle some feathers, he'd have added that the internal African and Arab slave trade in black flesh continued decades after Europeans had abolished it.

2. There is no single group that benefited exclusively from slavery.

3. Only a minority of white Americans owned slaves, while others gave their lives to free them. Here, Horowitz mentions "the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves" and asks why they should pay. Historical evidence reveals that many of those 350,000 believed they died to preserve the Union and had no intention of freeing slaves, but Horowitz has a point. Why should descendants of John Brown, who did die to free slaves, have to pay reparations, and the descendants of Peter Prioleau, the revolting house Negro and worm who squealed about Denmark Vesey's planned slave rebellion, get paid?

4. Most living Americans have no connection (direct or indirect) to slavery.

5. The historical precedents used to justify the reparations claim do not apply, and the claim itself is based on race, not injury.

6. The reparations argument is based on the unsubstantiated claim that all African-Americans suffer from the economic consequences of slavery and discrimination.

7. The reparations claim is one more attempt to turn African-Americans into victims. It sends a damaging message to the African-American community and to others. Horowitz gets a hearty "Amen!" from me on that one. The pro-reparationists in black America know it's never going to be paid; hence they will claim as long as it isn't paid that blacks are still victims.

8. Reparations to African-Americans have been paid. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and the advent of the Great Society in 1965, trillions of dollars in transfer payments have been made to African-Americans in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences (in contracts, job placements and educational admissions) - all under the rationale of redressing historical racial grievances.

It is here that Horowitz left himself open to the charge that his ad was racist. He's guilty of muddling a bit of history as well. Welfare payments didn't start with the Great Society in 1965. They started during the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. And it isn't only blacks who receive welfare payments. Plenty of whites do. To call them "reparations" for blacks is just downright silly, and preferential jobs and admissions for blacks are no more reparations than similar preferences given to veterans.

9. What about the debt blacks owe to America? Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade, and in all societies. But in the thousand years of slavery's existence, there was never an anti-slavery movement until white Anglo-Saxon Christians created one.

More muddled history from Horowitz. The American anti-slavery movement started on these shores when the first African started the first slave revolt, and the first Maroon bolted and hit the bushes rather than be held in bondage. Horowitz goes on to say in this passage that Abraham Lincoln "gave his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation." That's a strong argument that he should have left his ninth point off the list completely.

10. The reparations claim is a separatist idea that sets African-Americans against the nation that gave them freedom.

Horowitz needs to read Lincoln in his Sept. 12, 1864, letter to Isaac Schermerhorn of New York. Lincoln wrote that without the help of the blacks who served the Union as soldiers, sailors, laborers, spies and scouts - close to 200,000 people in all - the North would never have won the war. Blacks won their freedom from a reluctant nation and president. It sure as hell wasn't given to us.

You should expect such lapses from Horowitz. It's the former leftist in him. But he does have a right to state his views. What is not a right is breaking into a campus news office and stealing copies of papers with Horowitz's ad in it, as students did at Brown University. I'll take Horowitz and his ad, faults and all, over that group any day.

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