Reparations: Slavery’s past-due bill?
Paying reparations for slavery is no longer an “outlandish idea,” said Charles Blow in The New York Times, and Congress is taking note. The House held a hearing last week on H.R. 40, a bill backed by close to 80 Democrats that would designate $12 million for a commission to craft proposals addressing slavery’s lasting effects. The aim is for the U.S. to “undo the trauma it has inflicted” with 250 years of chattel slavery, plus Jim Crow, urban redlining, and mass incarceration. Reparations could mean providing zero-interest loans for black homeowners, tuition-free college for black students, or initiatives boosting black-owned businesses. Whatever form they take, it’s not a big step for a country that became an economic powerhouse largely thanks to “the unpaid, unrewarded labor of enslaved Africans.”
Democrats really need to stop and think before going this route, said Lance Morrow in The Wall Street Journal. Compensation for slavery would be “a nightmare in practice.” It won’t fix anything, and in the meantime it will “make race relations in America a good deal worse.” A fight over reparations would throw “open a trapdoor out of which all manner of bigotries and bitterness” will fly. Actually, this bitterness is exactly what Democrats hope to encourage, to ride “waves of intense racial strife” to victory at the polls, said Deroy Murdock in NationalReview.com. The Democrats “speak as if slavery ended last week, and colored-only water fountains still trickle just outside white-only waiting rooms.” But we’ve had the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the War on Poverty. All were intended to help blacks overcome not only the legacy of slavery but also “more than a century of Democrat-enforced discrimination and destitution after slavery ended.”
Yes, the U.S. did create plenty of government programs to invest in social welfare, said Zak Cheney-Rice in NYMag.com—but for decades denied them to blacks. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal “amounted cumulatively to the most significant government handout in American history. And the results were devastating to most black Americans.” Look at the wealth gap. In 1984, helped by GI Bill mortgages, the median white household had a net worth of $39,000, compared with less than $3,400 for black households. Thirty-five years later, white households still have 10 times the wealth of black ones. If white people seem to be winning the economic “footrace,” it’s because they had plenty of help getting ahead.