One of the Biggest Arguments Against Reparations Is Based on a Lie
.....But maybe the most insidious myth underlying Johnson’s anti-reparations argument is the idea that white people are winning the proverbial “foot race” without institutional help. This would be news to the beneficiaries of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, for example, the spoils of which were denied to most black Americans as a concession to white segregationist congressmen.
An unprecedented government investment in social welfare, the New Deal created union protections for workers, established social security for older Americans, and insured home loans, funded college, and provided job training and employment opportunities for military veterans, more than half of whom were men in their 20s and 30s. It amounted cumulatively to the most significant government handout in American history. And the results were devastating for most black Americans.
By 1984, when most of the GI Bill mortgages had matured, the median white household had a net worth of more than $39,000 compared to less than $3,400 for the median black household, according to historian Ira Katnelson. “Imagine two countries, one the richest in the world, and the other amongst its most destitute,” writes Katznelson in his history of the era, When Affirmative Action Was White . “Then suppose that a global program of foreign aid transferred well over $100 billion, but to the rich nation, not the poor. That is exactly what happened in the United States as a result of the cumulative impact of the most important domestic policies of the 1930s and 1940s.”
All of which unfolded not while black people were being left to their own devices, but while they were being actively subjected to segregation and terrorism at the hands of their white neighbors and police. That is to say nothing of the extent to which housing and employment discrimination so narrowed the field of available opportunities that for centuries — and continuing in many arenas to this day — white Americans could expect near-monopolistic access to America’s most prized institutions and privileges without having to worry about competing with black people.And yet, as Representative Johnson aptly demonstrated on Wednesday, many white Americans still insist that they made good by virtue of their own grit, determination, and self-reliance. This ignores history, but they seem to have no problem profiting so richly from societal largesse without suffering empty, meaningless lives as a result. It seems reasonable, then, to expect that if black people were paid reparations, they would also figure it out. Perhaps people like Johnson can more readily acknowledge that they, too, are the sum of investments — rather than insist that they are self-made and deny others aid that pales in comparison to the advantages that sustain them.