I feel there are many issues that can be called important to contemporary black society. America’s dangerous decision that affirmative action is a thing of the past, the fact our government builds more jails than schools, the condition of schools in our inner cities — and the list goes on and on. Reparations did not hold top billing.
Yet there are times when passions are incited. And this time, it happened when I read an article in the Yale Daily News regarding the Brown Daily Herald’s decision to publish David Horowitz’s ad, and I was prompted to read his piece entitled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea — and Racist Too.”
Free speech aside, what a blathering idiot. The nicest thing I can write is that he mistakenly assumes that pro-black anything automatically signifies anti-white. This is obviously not the case. But for those of you who have not been so fortunate enough as to read this ignorant piece of “journalism,” allow me to share some of his reasoning.
First, he argues that “it is not clear who owes it,” assuming there is a debt. Really? That’s funny. I would assume it would be the government who promised over three million people forty acres and a mule. Then, Horowitz uses the same sad little argument people hold up as some type of wannabe explanation for why Europeans really had nothing to do with the slave trade: “It was not whites, but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters.”
Does it still need to be pointed out that African slavery and American slavery were as different as day and night, that while any kind of slavery is wrong, in Africa slavery was not tied to an organized economic structure? But in America, not only were slaves labor to support a largely agrarian economic system, but this servitude was indelibly tied to the color of their skin.
Second, he claims black people benefited (and continue to do so) from slavery; therefore, blacks should not demand any reparations. Here’s my favorite line: “American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes in the range of 20 to 50 times those of blacks living in any of the African nations from which they were kidnapped.” Therefore, we should just shut up and be grateful. We should actually pay homage to those enslavers of “long ago” because we’re so much better off today than those that got left behind. My mistake.
In discussing the benefits of slavery, Horowitz does little here to address one of slavery’s worst legacies: the decades before and after Reconstruction, in which blacks suffered the debilitating suppression of freedom and its privileges and the disenfranchisement that left African Americans without the legal or social capital needed to further their education, expand their career options or increase their political rights.
Horowitz says reparations are anti-American. I believe taking away a human being’s right in America to earn money for him or herself is un-American and goes against the fundamental idea of our American brand of capitalism: If you work hard, you will be able to provide a better life for yourself and your children.
Third, he states “only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves.” Furthermore, there were 350,000 soldiers in the Union army who “died to free the slaves.” Now, the idea of what those soldiers were actually fighting for has been long contested. Who is Horowitz to assume he has the final word on what the Civil War was fought over? And that white men fighting for the Union avenged all of slavery’s evils?
Other notable highlights include Horowitz’s claim that Oprah Winfrey’s success “refutes the reparations argument” (after all, if she did it, why can’t everyone?) and his belief that “the failures of the black underclass are failures of individual character” and have absolutely nothing to do with racial discrimination. In fact, blacks should be grateful for the “massive gesture of generosity and contrition on the part of the white political majority –” These gestures include welfare benefits and racial preferences in employment, government contracts and educational admissions.
In one of Professor Ian Shapiro’s lectures (part of the William Clyde DeVane Lecture series), he spoke about why the success of icons such as Oprah or the dream of Horatio Alger never reflect real possibilities for the majority of Americans. Instead, stories like these connive the middle class into thinking they are somehow associated with the upper class.
Horowitz believes that in actuality, blacks owe a “debt” to white Americans “for liberating them from slavery.” Yes, he actually says this: “– there was never an anti-slavery movement until white Englishmen and Americans created one.” This is simply not true. I need only mention the countless number of slave rebellions, large and small, that occurred in America before there were white abolitionists.
But Horowitz changes from an ignorant man to a racist one when he states, “If not for the sacrifices of white soldiers and a white American president — blacks in America would have remained slaves indefinitely.” I have no words that can accurately express the wild mix of laughter and venom a statement like that inspires — laughter because I cannot believe there are actually people out there who believe things like this and venom because I think of 60 million lives. I think of over three million American slaves.
And then I think of this small, little man who believes so strongly in the power and benevolence of white men that he believes slavery was ended by them and if they so chose, could have held African Americans in chains indefinitely.
I give no group such power, for I believe in right and wrong. And I believe slavery could not have continued because it was wrong and because there were people — black and white — fighting against it.
Aisha D. Gayle is a junior in Berkeley College. Her columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.