The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 39.0°F | Fair

COLUMN

Horowitz’s Ten Points Miss the Point

Philip Burrowes

In light of the protests at Brown University this week, many of you have heard of David Horowitz’s advertisement/column “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea -- and Racist Too.” Much has been made of Brown students organizing to remove issues of The Brown Daily Herald containing the offensive ad from the newspaper stands.

Unfortunately, reporting on the matter has not given any reason for the uproar surrounding it except the title. This has lead to blind rage but little actual amelioration of the situation. At the risk of giving Mr. Horowitz more free publicity, I present his ten points and place them in a proper context.

I. There Is No Single Group Responsible For the Crime of Slavery.

This is very true. Slavery spans all of the globe and all of history. Reparations are not intended, however, to pay for the “crime” of slavery. It is payment for the system of dehumanizing by inherited pigment concentration that was antithetical to the precepts of the United States. The government not just allowed but at times mandated that blacks (among other groups) should count for less than other humans. It must be held accountable.

II. There Is No One Group That Benefitted Exclusively From Its Fruits.

Obviously, all of the United States benefitted to an extent from the massive agricultural output amassed under slave labor. A tenant of the reparations argument, however, is that these benefits were not distributed equally throughout the population, let alone in proportion to actual responsibility.

Horowitz also mentions the relative condition of black Americans versus their “cousins” on the western coast of Africa. That African-Americans tend to be better off than black Africans, however, is not merely a consequence of African-Americans’ status but of unrelated forces at work within that continent.

III.Only a Tiny Minority of White Americans Ever Owned Slaves, And Others Gave Their Lives To Free Them.

As previously stated, the majority of the population was aided in some fashion by slavery; one could argue the indigenous nations were adversely affected. Obviously the slave owners gained the most, but to the degree blacks could not gain under an inescapable caste system, slaveless whites were relatively better off.

The Union “fighting-for-freedom” argument is not baseless, but those soldiers’ descendants will be asked to pay no more than African slaves’ descendants. It should be noted that no sane reparations arrangement will ask only for specific people to pay more than the rest of the population, just as no sane judiciary would try only one sector of the population.

IV. America Is A Multi-Ethnic Nation And Most Americans Have No Connections (Direct or Indirect) To Slavery.

The United States would not be where it is without the contributions of slaves. Immigrants are reaping gains made from the toil of transplanted West Africans, although that was certainly not their intent. Present institutions that are in place largely because of such a system, such as the 14th Amendment, are also important to remember.

V. The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury.

The time where slaves themselves could be paid back for their efforts is past. It is not true, however, that no precedent exists for such “indirect” reparation. Indigenous American nations have won such settlements in this country’s judicial system.

Most black people who lived in the country before the Civil War were descendents of someone who was a slave in this country. While the impact of that legacy varies, and the resulting arbitrary nature of “flat” reparations are significant, there is an ethnic correlation which is an effective paradigm for such dispensations.

VI. 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.

Yes, there are African-Americans in the middle and upper classes, but the fact remains that a disproportionate share of this country’s poor are of the same ancestry.

Reparations address not only economics, but also the psychological ramifications of slavery which transcend economic lines. Such a theory of almost abstract ramifications was similarly applied in Brown v. Board of Education.

In supporting his claim of the lack of a causal relationship between slavery and destitution, Horowitz cites West Indian black immigrants, who on average do better economically than the rest of the American population, as an example. Without delving too much into details, the conditions in the various West Indian nations are extremely different than that of the United States, and emigrants are not exactly a cross-section of their population.

VII. The Reparations Claim Is One More Attempt To Turn African-Americans Into Victims. It Sends A Damaging Message To The African-American Community.

Many African-Americans do perceive systemic obstacles to their improvement which either never did or no longer do exist. Their current situations are often much better than those of other groups, such as recent immigrants.

This does not negate the fact that there are self-perpetuating legacies of slavery that impede the progress of African-Americans. As an example, predominantly African-American schools are consistently less efficient than their white counterparts.

VIII. Reparations To African-Americans Have Already Been Paid.

Affirmative action is not payment for the past. It is supposed to recalibrate the current situation. End of story.

IX.What About The Debt Blacks Owe To America?

The United States was not the vanguard of abolition. From its origins with the Three-Fifths Compromise until well after European interests were outlawing the slave trade, the government did not make any concerted effort (the Northwest Ordinance notwithstanding) to better the lives of black people. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was not an altruistic exercise but an act of war against the seditionist South. The government’s military occupation of the South during Reconstruction, the only period during which the government made an attempt to change the status of blacks, was ended for merely political gain. The basic rights which were eventually granted to African-Americans are merely considered to be “inalienable” and should not be viewed as anything exceptional.

X. The Reparations Claim Is A Separatist Idea That Sets African-Americans Against The Nation That Gave Them Freedom.

Some demands for reparations take radical and selfish stances, but not all do. As long as the demand is an inclusive effort, acknowledging other groups’ needs in this country, it can be both educational and, in the end, reparatory.

Horowitz’s main viable argument is that reparations could have negative consequences which would negate their proposed purpose. The contentious nature of even the theoretical argument demonstrates this point. Still, to contend that nothing is owed by the U.S. government, and that slavery is in fact a positive part of the history of African-Americans is patently wrong. Procedurally, it is obviously difficult to fulfill, but if America is to be the progressive nation Horowitz believes it to be, it must aspire to such measures as reparations.