The Time for Reparations is Now

 

shutterstock_135245903There are certain times when windows open, allowing previously marginal ideas to flourish and the unthinkable to become possible. Gay marriage started out in the early ’90s as the pipe dream of a few cranky law professors; soon, it is going to be the law of the land throughout the country. The movement to have the US pay out reparations for slavery is in its early stages; it’s easy enough for us to write it off now, but expect this to be pushed with some urgency over the next 10 to 20 years. The reason is that this is one social movement that comes with a time limit.

The window for reparations is slowly closing because of demographic changes in this country. Any such scheme will depend on rich, white Baby Boomers who are receptive to appeals based on guilt. As those people die off over the next 20 years, they will be replaced by two main groups.

The first is white Gen Xers, who will be a less-than-optimal target for extraction. Productive people about my age (38) will be squeezed for as much tax revenue as possible as we move into our peak earning years — and our peak earning years will not be nearly as productive as our Boomer parents’ were. They came of age when America was still on an upward trajectory.

The other reason we won’t be a good target for an appeal for reparations is that none of us has any firsthand memories of the fire hoses, the dogs, the National Guard, and all those images that fed the narrative of black subjugation for our parents. Yes, we have had all that drilled into us in school, but the effect has been more to inoculate us against guilt than anything. If you’re under 45, have you ever seen black people treated with anything worse than just rudenness or dismissiveness? Especially by the government? Unless you’re a public defender, probably not.

The second group that Black America will have to contend with is Hispanics, particularly those who immigrated over the last 30 years or so. Their incomes, and thus their usefulness as a source of money, will lag white America for some decades to come. More and more, though, these people will be moving into leadership and decision-making positions in our society, essentially leapfrogging the African-Americans. They are not equipped with the same guilt receptors that white Baby Boomers have. They didn’t even have slave-holding ancestors. Those who have money will have have clawed their way up against the odds in this country and will be less likely to hand it over. Those who don’t have money are likewise nursing their own set of grievances against the fading gringo majority.

I think the best term we can apply to the next 50 years in American public life is “The Great Squabble.” African-Americans are a small and vulnerable minority, who will not fare well as scarcity becomes the rule and identity politics hardens in this country. They really have only one shot at getting reparations — and it has to start now. I suspect we are going to be hearing more and more about this.

 

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  1. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    I agree that the case for reparations will be harder to make in the future.  Young Americans of all races tend to much more racially integrated than the middle-aged and elderly.  A couple months ago I was flipping through the channels and I stopped on CNN (I think).  This panel of middle-aged people were talking about race, when they cut to some man-on-the-street interviews with college-age people of various races.  They all had friends of different races and they seemed to look at black vs. white the way many of us look at Catholic vs. Lutheran.  That’s something grandpa used to complain about, nobody cares anymore.  Then we’re back at the studio and all the panelists are expressing disbelief.  It just doesn’t seem right to them that there is no grudge-bearing among these young people.  One of the black panelists seemed to think the young blacks were naive for not realizing the white people that they thought of as friends secretly looked down on them.

    • #1
  2. Grimaud Inactive
    Grimaud
    @Grimaud

    Brave of you to begin this topic! Your future demographic predictions are pretty stark and a little depressing unless we view our lifecycle as a nation as inevitable based on our success and subsequent lack of appreciation for the cost of our largess in wealth and self sacrifice.(sorry for long sentence). Since we are painting with broad brushes, I am fearful of the tendency for Hispanics to embrace socialism and communism as has frequently been the case in Spain and the South and Central Americas. All the while totalitarians like the Russians and Chinese are circling just outside the light of our campfire waiting for us to run out of fuel. Regarding the African Americans, I think more and more they get it, that no one alive has any connection to their ancestors enslavement and, dare I say, that despite their struggles here, they know they have far more opportunity here than had they remained on their continent of origin.

    • #2
  3. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Thanks for responding, guys.

    Randy Weivoda: Then we’re back at the studio and all the panelists are expressing disbelief.  It just doesn’t seem right to them that there is no grudge-bearing among these young people. 

    People form a lot of their attitudes when they’re young, and everyone my age or younger was reared on a program of racial equality: anyone can do anything. That makes it difficult for a grievance-based argument to grab hold; I remember having a few conversations with my Grandfather about race–he was born in about 1917, joined the LDS church and moved to Utah because there were no black people, used to embarrass us because he would call the police if he saw more than one young black person together on the street. I won’t say I was appalled by him, but I just didn’t have any of that in me and this white-supremacist argument just doesn’t stick to me.

    • #3
  4. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Grimaud: Your future demographic predictions are pretty stark and a little depressing unless we view our lifecycle as a nation as inevitable based on our success and subsequent lack of appreciation for the cost of our largess in wealth and self sacrifice.

     What got me on this was looking at my parents, who were able to buy homes about equivalent in cost to their parents’, when they were in their twenties. And neither I, nor my siblings nor our cousins would qualify to buy our parents’ houses now. There was just an enormous amount of wealth created during my parents’ lifetime, some as a result of economic conditions, some as a result of their willingness to spend so many hours at work that they forgot their childrens’ names. That just isn’t going to happen anymore in this country. 

    Grimaud: Since we are painting with broad brushes, I am fearful of the tendency for Hispanics to embrace socialism and communism as has frequently been the case in […].

    Same here. If we have a Latino majority,  doesn’t that make us now a Latin American country? With all that that entails? We_haven’t_changed_them.

    • #4
  5. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Grimaud: Regarding the African Americans, I think more and more they get it, that no one alive has any connection to their ancestors enslavement and, dare I say, that despite their struggles here, they know they have far more opportunity here than had they remained on their continent of origin.

     When you look at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay, a lot of his complaints are built on more recent grievances. As was the notorious Pigford settlement. So I think this desire for reparations is alive and well. But probably the best thing you could do for African Americans is take away any hope at all that they can vote or protest their way to prosperity. Once it becomes clear that they don’t have anyone else to turn to, they could start taking care of their social problems. 
    I’ve always thought this comparison to black Africans was a little weird, mostly because there’s no way to unwind the history that brought them here (see Liberia). We should be comparing blacks with white people in other countries, or average people in other countries. Even by that measure, they fare pretty well. 

    • #5
  6. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Grimaud: Regarding the African Americans, I think more and more they get it, that no one alive has any connection to their ancestors enslavement and, dare I say, that despite their struggles here, they know they have far more opportunity here than had they remained on their continent of origin.

     When you look at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay, a lot of his complaints are built on more recent grievances. As was the notorious Pigford settlement. So I think this desire for reparations is alive and well. But probably the best thing you could do for African Americans is take away any hope at all that they can vote or protest their way to prosperity. Once it becomes clear that they don’t have anyone else to turn to, they could start taking care of their social problems. 
    I’ve always thought this comparison to black Africans was a little weird, mostly because there’s no way to unwind the history that brought them here (see Liberia). We should be comparing African-Americans with white people in other countries, or average people in other countries irrespective of race. Even by that measure, they fare pretty well. 

    • #6
  7. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Jason Rudert: I’ve always thought this comparison to black Africans was a little weird, mostly because there’s no way to unwind the history that brought them here (see Liberia).

     Agreed. I don’t care for talking about races as a whole to begin with. There’s a culture that causes a lot of people to become far less than their potential, but people are still individuals. No one is completely trapped by their upbringing, and especially by their race, at least in America, even if its much tougher for many to escape.

    Really it can all be traced back to government intervention. If the government wasn’t tripping over themselves to make certain people’s lives easier, there would be a lot more pressure to choose better/healthier lifestyles.

    • #7
  8. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    This is going to backfire on democrats if they push it too hard, which is one reason why I suspect they’ll never push it too hard.

    Whites have already begun to align more behind republicans than is years past.  This type of effort to take money from those who committed no crime s against blacks, and make them pay for the sins of past generations is exactly the type of thing that can drive an exodus of whites away from the democrats.

    • #8
  9. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Frank Soto:

    This is going to backfire on democrats if they push it too hard, which is one reason why I suspect they’ll never push it too hard.

    Whites have already begun to align more behind republicans than is years past. This type of effort to take money from those who committed no crime s against blacks, and make them pay for the sins of past generations is exactly the type of thing that can drive an exodus of whites away from the democrats.

     It’s a balancing act, though,  because fighting this too hard makes us the big meanies again.

    • #9
  10. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Jason Rudert:

    Frank Soto:

    This is going to backfire on democrats if they push it too hard, which is one reason why I suspect they’ll never push it too hard.

    Whites have already begun to align more behind republicans than is years past. This type of effort to take money from those who committed no crime s against blacks, and make them pay for the sins of past generations is exactly the type of thing that can drive an exodus of whites away from the democrats.

    It’s a balancing act, though, because fighting this too hard makes us the big meanies again.

     It’s not just Republicans though.  Hispanics aren’t particularly thrilled at the concept of paying reparations either.  Nor Asians or any other immigrant to the country.  It also insults the sense of justice most people have.  Even my liberals friends will readily acknowledge it is wrong to punish people for crimes they never committed.  Practical support for reparations will be almost non existent.

    The democrats can gin up support by talking about race, but if they turn the situation into an actual race war, it won’t end well for them.

    • #10
  11. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    raycon and lindacon
    @rayconandlindacon

    Didn’t quite make it through your commentary nor any of the comments.  Only this remains:  A practice which was endemic worldwide was confronted and defeated at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives can hardly be considered a sin on the part of those who remain as the ones whose ancestors defeated it.

    Sorry that the black population of this country are late to the trough, but anyone who believes he has a right to reparations should be met with a one word answer… NO! 

    All the rest of this is simply surrender in advance.

    • #11
  12. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    Randy Weivoda:

    I agree that the case for reparations will be harder to make in the future. Young Americans of all races tend to much more racially integrated than the middle-aged and elderly. A couple months ago I was flipping through the channels and I stopped on CNN (I think). This panel of middle-aged people were talking about race, when they cut to some man-on-the-street interviews with college-age people of various races. They all had friends of different races and they seemed to look at black vs. white the way many of us look at Catholic vs. Lutheran. That’s something grandpa used to complain about, nobody cares anymore. Then we’re back at the studio and all the panelists are expressing disbelief. It just doesn’t seem right to them that there is no grudge-bearing among these young people. One of the black panelists seemed to think the young blacks were naive for not realizing the white people that they thought of as friends secretly looked down on them.

     This shows you what all this race fixation is really about: the need for (mostly white) cultural elites to feel morally superior.  

    • #12
  13. user_348483 Coolidge
    user_348483
    @EHerring

    It is extortion and shouldn’t be tolerated.

    • #13
  14. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    Jason Rudert:

    Frank Soto:

    This is going to backfire on democrats if they push it too hard, which is one reason why I suspect they’ll never push it too hard.

    Whites have already begun to align more behind republicans than is years past. This type of effort to take money from those who committed no crime s against blacks, and make them pay for the sins of past generations is exactly the type of thing that can drive an exodus of whites away from the democrats.

    It’s a balancing act, though, because fighting this too hard makes us the big meanies again.

     and then the Republican establishment becomes ashamed of their white voters and decides to offer their own reparations plan. reparations become a permanent feature of politics.

    • #14
  15. user_83937 Inactive
    user_83937
    @user_83937

    Go ahead!  I’m technically a Boomer, but I could not care less!  My southern, white, family had nothing to do with slavery.  Obama’s mom’s family appears that it may have.  Perhaps Barry should cut Michelle a check!  As a fun thing to contemplate, since Obama came from a well-off family in Kenya, it may be reasonable to suspect that his father’s family has some history with the “ownership” of other people.  Under my theory, the Current Occupant may have ties to the historical crime of enslavement in the roots of both sides of his family tree.  Certainly my Scotts-Irish, hillbilly ancestors had nothing to do with the wealthy plantation owners.  I suspect that the vast majority of black Americans have more genetic material in common with slave owners than anyone in my family.  I await with relish the resolution of these debts!  I will now go purchase as many shares as I can afford of ancestory.com!  (tongue planted firmly in cheek)

    • #15
  16. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    EHerring:

    It is extortion and shouldn’t be tolerated.

     an especially sleazy kind too, trying to profit off the adversity of people from the past.

    Not surprising to learn that Mr. Coates’ father was a Black Panther.

    • #16
  17. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Chris Johnson: s a fun thing to contemplate, since Obama came from a well-off family in Kenya, it may be reasonable to suspect that his father’s family has some history with the “ownership” of other people. 

     This would indeed be a delicious irony.

    • #17
  18. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    A prescient post I am sure. We will indeed be hearing more of this. But Latin America did in fact have slavery. Cuba abolished it only in 1886. Brazil, 1888. (Saudi Arabia, 1962, but never mind that.) Supposedly Brazilians are guilt-wracked at seeing the light so late but, ha-ha, that ain’t true at all! They don’t care a bit! Anyway, whatever “Latin Americans” think, I think “Hispanics” aren’t paying any attention to it anyway.

    The references in these comments to Liberia puzzle but still interest me. I once read a book about the place, and although the author wasn’t pressing the point, I think there nevertheless was one and I got it: American ex-slaves who went there didn’t do so because they thought Africa was good, they did so because they thought Africa was bad and they were going to punish it! And why not? This continent had sold them or their immediate ancestors into slavery. My own point is that whenever an “African” gets agitated about anything having to do with “Africa,” his wish is to punish, and loot…Africa perhaps but preferably something richer, like, oh, the U.S.

    • #18
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    When Alan Keyes ran for Senate in Illinois (stop laughing!), one of the first things he suggested was reparations for slavery.  The Democrats laughed at him, and the Republicans were horrified.

    It was the most fiendishly brilliant idea I’ve ever heard come out of a politician. All African-Americans would be immune from taxes for forty years.  First of all, in order to take advantage, one would have to be employed and in a position to pay taxes.  Secondly, when the time was up, and Uncle Sam started to dip his beak – Republican tidal wave.

    • #19
  20. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Thanks, John. Latin American slavery? Yes, but the slice of Mexico’s population that moves here didn’t have any hand in it, and yes, their ahistoricity and [expletivey] polka music will inoculate them against an appeal to their guilt. Also, you have at least the luxury of dipping in and out of Mexican radio; on about half the jobsites I work on, that’s all there is.

    • #20
  21. Owl of Minerva Member
    Owl of Minerva
    @

    I have to disagree strongly with this piece. Coates is responding to a few things. First, he is responding to the tremendous disappointment African Americans have experienced during Obama’s presidency. They have been disproportionately hit by economic stagnation and decline. It has been so bad that he has to make sense of it within his intellectual framework.

    Second, that framework is part of a long conversation about reparations among academics, such as Laurie Balfour, who see reparations not in terms of economic renewal (alone, at least) but in terms of redeeming or redefining post-racial America. Coates clearly regards the “post-racial” issue as a dead-end, as he interprets continued inequality among African Americans as an indication that America is white supremacist at its core.

    Third, Coates wrote this piece partly as a response to Jonathan Chait’s sense that we are in a post-racial America. He wanted to make sure that white liberals at least felt bad for leaving African Americans behind, though he isn’t surprised they have.

    • #21
  22. Owl of Minerva Member
    Owl of Minerva
    @

    A more immediate response to the political question is that African Americans are utterly captured by the Democratic Party. As long as that remains the case, then the DNC has no reason to work in their favor. The only result of acting on reparations is to alienate other constituents within the DNC, who would want a piece of the action or resent having their issues ignored in favor of African American constituents. Jesse Jackson originally feared this result and in 1976 actually made a post-presidential pitch to the Senate GOP to compete for the black vote.

    The trouble with Coates is that he does nothing to break the political reality that African Americans find themselves in. John McWhorter referred to it as more “of a doctrine rather than a proposal.” Coates is merely repeating a position so many before have taken, and it’s hard to figure out what we’re supposed to take away except a renewed understanding of exactly how bad African Americans have had it, and much more recently than many would like to believe.

    • #22
  23. RPD Member
    RPD
    @RPD

    Owl of Minerva said: “A more immediate response to the political question is that African Americans are utterly captured by the Democratic Party.”

    It is pretty pointless to pander to a one party people.

    • #23
  24. rico Inactive
    rico
    @rico

    Frank Soto:

    This is going to backfire on democrats if they push it too hard, which is one reason why I suspect they’ll never push it too hard.

    Whites have already begun to align more behind republicans than is years past. This type of effort to take money from those who committed no crime s against blacks, and make them pay for the sins of past generations is exactly the type of thing that can drive an exodus of whites away from the democrats.

    This is the reality. Coates and MSNBC can raise all the fuss they want, but then what? The Dems can’t take this seriously. The true purpose here is simply to reassert racial grievance in a way that stirs up as much emotion as possible for the purpose of keeping Blacks on the plantation.

    • #24
  25. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    There was a suggestion from Charles Krauthammer years ago that I always thought was provocative.  I believe he proposed reparations in exchange for having an end to all affirmative action or race-based anything.  For anything that alleged moral debt that went back to slavery or Jim Crow, it would be marked satisfied.  Without that condition, it’s not really reparations.  Reparations makes them whole.

    I confess to being more than skeptical that such an arrangement could ever be reached.  I think granting reparations would only lead to more demands rather than fewer.  But I’ve wondered, as a purely hypothetical matter, if there is any amount that might be worth ending all of this, for us and for future generations, once and for all?   (I think I still answer “no”, but I’d be curious if there was a realistic number that would get rid of the claims of the race hustlers forever.)

    It’s an academic exercise anyway.

    • #25
  26. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    The problem I see with getting reparations passed is how it would be implemented.  Advocates can’t agree on that.  No one wants a one time payment.  And would it be paid to all African Americans?  Would it be limited to descendants of American slaves?

    Those disagreements would also be an obstacle to reparations.

    • #26
  27. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Owl of Minerva: I have to disagree strongly with this piece.

     I’m taking it that your disagreement is that you regard this window as long since closed. And I find your argument that African-Americans are a captive constituency that can safely be ignored to be a strong one. I just think that as a stick for the left to beat the right with, there’s still a lot of life left in A-A suffering, for a short while. I say this not based on how strong their arguments are, but out of amazament at just how quickly and nastily the traditionalist/commonsense arguments against gay marriage were swept aside. 

    • #27
  28. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Rico, Quinn and Al,
    These are all very rational, solid arguments as to why this won’t happen. But again, they sound a lot like the solid, rational arguments that appeared early in the gay marriage debate. And where are we now? Utah (!) is a couple of months away from gay marriage.

    • #28
  29. rico Inactive
    rico
    @rico

    Jason Rudert: I say this not based on how strong their arguments are, but out of amazament at just how quickly and nastily the traditionalist/commonsense arguments against gay marriage were swept aside.

    Yes, the SSM wave moved suddenly and very rapidly, but reparations will not blind-side us in similar fashion. Passively accepting what many consider a lifestyle choice (SSM) is much easier for people than accepting reparations, which would carry a potentially limitless financial cost.

    People will understand that defining the scope of reparations and designing a legal method for implementation would be a thicket of very complex and difficult decisions, rendering any kind of a social consensus impossible.

    • #29
  30. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    rico:

    Jason Rudert: I say this not based on how strong their arguments are, but out of amazament at just how quickly and nastily the traditionalist/commonsense arguments against gay marriage were swept aside.

    Yes, the SSM wave moved suddenly and very rapidly, but reparations will not blind-side us in similar fashion. Passively accepting what many consider a lifestyle choice (SSM) is much easier for people than accepting reparations, which would carry a potentially limitless financial cost.

    People will understand that defining the scope of reparations and designing a legal method for implementation would be a thicket of very complex and difficult decisions, rendering any kind of a social consensus impossible.

     I see this reparations movement as the last gasp of what has come to be known as the Black Community–seriously, where do they go from here? As to the impracticality of this, yes it should be easy to dismiss by just asking, OK, so how do we know when we’re done? 

    But you know, we passed the Great Society.
    To your last comment, I would point out that gay marriage was installed in this country with very little consensus at all.

    • #30

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