Horowitz, Benton-Lewis Debate
Reparations Discussed in Wake of Controversial Advertisement
Noted political columnist David Horowitz, who gained notoriety recently over a controversial advertisement, came to MIT for a well-attended debate on Wednesday.
The debate, which packed Room 10-250, featured Horowitz and reparations activist Dorothy Benton-Lewis and brought up several important issues, including reparations, racial inequality, and free speech.
Horowitz, an editor for Front Page Magazine, recently submitted an advertisement entitled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea -- and Racist too” to 51 university newspapers across the country.
At Brown, the publication of this ad in the Brown Daily Herald prompted enraged students to steal all copies of the issue and raid the newsroom. At the University of California, Berkeley, students raided the offices of the Daily Californian and successfully procured an apology from the newspaper for running the ad.
At Wednesday’s forum Horowitz expressed general support for reparations but not for descendants of African-American slaves. “I am 100 percent for reparations ... I would be the first to support reparations for the slaves. But the slaves are dead and their children are dead. There is no one to pay the reparations to,” he said.
Horowitz said that the ad is a part of a “ten year long campaign to free universities from political correctness censorship. If there had been debates like this on campuses across the country, I would never have had to place the first ad.”
Lewis, the co-chairperson of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), said that her “career was inspired by all the injustice and prejudice she experienced in the white education system.”
“Reparation is not about slavery; it’s about the continuing hardship, and the United States government is accountable,” Lewis said. “We are the descendants of the slaves and this country is based upon inherited wealth.”
Campus groups funded event
The talk, which was entitled “40 acres and a Mule: Does America Still Owe Blacks?”, was organized by Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity established for men of African descent.
“The original idea was to have a discussion on the reparations issue. After reading more articles about it, I decided to contact David Horowitz directly. Then I found Ms. Lewis through the BET (Black Entertainment Television),” said APA brother Jonathan S. White ’00, one of the event’s organizers.
Co-organizer Christopher D. Smith ’01 became involved with the event after seeing a notice on a public message board. “I happen to know Jonathan White, so within 24 hours I was helping him put the whole thing together,” he said.
The debate’s organizers solicited support from campus groups, and received funding from the Undergraduate Association, The Tech, and the College Republicans.
Panelists discuss reparations
Horowitz argued that it would be difficult to ask each American citizen to pay reparations. “A new Mexican immigrant, call him Jose Martinez, who is having trouble putting food on the table for his family, and you ask him to pay reparations?”
Horowitz also asked Lewis whether wealthy African-Americans would be eligible for reparations. “Should reparations also go to the Winfreys, the Jordans and the Cochrans?” he asked.
Horowitz also argued that the current U.S. government already paid a portion of its debt through the losses it incurred during the Civil War. “The United States government is a government that has given the lives of 350,000 of its sons to defeat the slavery movement,” he said.
Lewis, however, said that the government has offered little financial compensation for slavery. “In contrast to the reparations paid to the Jews for Holocaust, the Japanese for World War II, there is very little said or done on the issue of slavery in America.”
“ We have neither the benefit of our labor, our seed, nor our womb for 135 years!” Lewis said.
In the years after the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill which granted 40 acres and a mule to freed slaves. Former slaves were never directly compensated for slavery.
In his arguments, Horowitz contended that African-Americans have gained great wealth since their release from slavery. “The Black community is the tenth richest country in the world. There is no better place for a black to be than in the United States today,” he said
“It is no consolation being tenth when you have worked hard enough to be first,” Lewis responded.
“Reparations is not about the debt; it is about the wealth. With reparation, we can [support] ourselves without the vouchers and handouts,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that African-Americans at least need reparations so that they can leave the country and go back to Africa in ships “in style.”
Lewis also believes that the United States and other colonial nations should pay reparations to African nations. “Reparation is an international issue. Not only do [African-Americans] deserve reparations, but African nations also deserve reparations from their colonizers.”
Horowitz criticizes leftists
Horowitz also expressed concerns about the “racial Mccarthyist atmosphere present on college campuses” as well as the “leftist extremists who are appealing to the African-American Community.”
Because of his involvement against the reparations movement, Horowitz believes that he has been made a target. “I have been accused of being racist ... when what really is on stake here is the right to speak on an issue that is volatile without being smeared or demoralized.”
Horowitz said that, in fact, he marched in civil rights rallies in 1948, long before most college activists were born, and during the 1960s he edited the leftist magazine Ramparts.
Lewis described the African-Americans who are in prison as being “the two million African-Americans warehoused in the concentration camps they call prisons.”
“There is still slavery in America. We are newly enslaved by alcohol, crack, meth, violence, poverty and lies,” she said.
The debate allowed the student audience to place questions on issues regarding reparations as well as other social concerns. Despite the political tension, the atmosphere of the debate was subdued, and students expressed their support for both Lewis and Horowitz through occasional claps.
The organizers of the forum took questions from index cards that were passed out before the debate instead of allowing students to ask questions from a mike.
Organizers question reparations
The MIT students who organized the debate had mixed feelings about financial reparations. “The reparations movement is an extremely complex issue. However I do believe that something should be done for the Black Americans, though I am not sure if it should come in monetary form,” said White.
“I would say that I am actually strongly opposed to reparations. As a black person living in 2001, I find the whole idea of reparations to be inappropriate,” Smith said.
The organizers agreed that educating the public on the issue is extremely important. “APA will definitely be doing more to educate the campus on the issue. We have contacted professors from Tulane ... to come lecture at MIT,” White said.