Reparations aren’t about justice. They’re an act of revenge
Category: Op/EdVia: s • 3 weeks ago • 229 comments
By: Douglas Murray
Ten years ago, the idea of “reparations” sat on the political fringes in America. The question of whether or not compensation should once have been paid to former slaves had died out. Not least because by the start of the 21 st century, no one in America had actually suffered from slavery. The country was a century and a half away from the bloody civil war it had fought over the issue.
But there’s a tendency in our own age which does not allow wounds to mend or heal. Indeed, there is a movement that locates long-healed wounds in order to rip them open again. And then complain about the hurt caused to themselves.
In 2014, the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an essay in The Atlantic making “ The Case for Reparations .” In recent times, few articles have had more impact. The issue of reparations began to be picked up by the radical left and then made its way to the political center. By the time of the Democratic primaries in 2020 all of the party’s candidates were willing to talk about the issue. Some, including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, expressed support for some form of reparations. Such candidates pointed to the disparity between average household wealth in white families and black families in America.
Once the Democrats were in power, one of the first things they did in Congress was apply pressure on President Biden to set up a commission to study reparations for black Americans both for slavery and for “systemic racism” — a guilty verdict that was already in.
It certainly is true that there are disparities of wealth between black and white Americans. But there are disparities between black and white Americans and Asian-Americans as well. In America in the 2020s Asian-Americans significantly outperform every other racial group in their earnings. They earn more on average than white Americans, who in turn earn more than Hispanic-Americans, who in turn earn more than black Americans.
All talk of reparations must confront this statistic. If the cause of black economic underperformance in America in the 2020s is systemic racism, why do other groups outperform them? Why do groups who have arrived more recently outperform them? And why is the “systemic racism” of America not holding down Asian-Americans if it is so all-pervasive?
In recent years, the claim of systemic racism has become an all-encompassing explanation for everything the radical left wants done. This movement looks at complex problems and presents a simple answer: racism because of white supremacy.
As I researched these problems for my latest book , I did wonder whether anyone claiming to speak about reparations had done any real thinking on it.
For instance, today in America, we are no longer talking about a group of people who did a wrong paying compensation to people to whom a wrong was done. We are talking of a group of people who look like a group of people who did a wrong in the past making a vast wealth transfer to another group of people who look like a group of people to whom a wrong was done (black Americans).
And it is not just the unjustness of punishing people for wrongs done long before their time, but the madness that comes from even thinking that such a task is performable.
The transatlantic slave trade, like the far larger Arab slave trade of the same period, was only made possible because black Africans kidnapped and sold their brothers and sisters into slavery. We know this from the historical record and from the memoirs of those to whom this was done, like the remarkable 18 th century slave Olaudah Equiano . Some people at the time, including Voltaire, noted that the only thing worse than the treatment of some Africans by some Europeans was the behavior of some Africans to their fellow Africans.
So how do we find out who is responsible for all of this? How are we to find out who among the black community in America is descended from American slaves and who is descended from African slavers? What are we to do about people who have some of each inheritance in their family? Anyone who thinks that voter ID is intrusive will be amazed at how much intrusion would be required to perform this act of mass DNA gathering.
Some hope to arrive at equality by giving “non-Western” people a freer pass and carrying out acts of vengeance on “Western” people. Arlington County’s attorney Parisa Dehghani-Taft recently said that she plans to find ways to reduce the incarceration of black people by explicitly taking race into account in prosecutorial decision making. The former chief prosecutor has condemned this, saying that it “makes a mockery of blind justice and corrodes confidence in the criminal justice system.” Which indeed it does.
Others also see this as a route to justice. In 2020, San Francisco passed the CAREN Act , which made it a hate crime to make a “racially motivated” 911 call against a black person “without reasonable suspicion of a crime.” The name comes from the derogatory term “Karen,” which in recent years has come to mean a white woman with entitled energy. The act makes it a potential crime to call the cops on a person who is black and makes white people doing so have to wonder whether it will be they who the police take in for questioning. It is also noteworthy, in passing, that in the current era, racial slurs are actually cool and can be written into law so long as the people they demean are white women.
Both of these actions, in Arlington and San Francisco, are explicit departures from the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws.” Both take the form of explicitly unequal treatment on the basis of race. Taking this further would certainly be one form of revenge, if not reparation. But a grander, more common form of revenge is what is now taking place and sweeping across the culture.
I come back to Coates’ essay that kicked off this debate a decade ago. In his view, there was a precedent for American reparations in the money paid to Israel after the Holocaust by Germany. But this was a payment made immediately after a genocide, not two centuries after a barbaric trade.
The people who push for reparations in America today claim to be doing so in the name of racial harmony. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything more likely to put a bomb under race relations in this country. It has become just another tool of vengeance in the fevered anti-Western, anti-American spirit of our age.