by Victor Davis Hanson
The last time racial reparations made the major news was on the eve of September 11, 2001 attacks. The loss of 3,000 Americans, which for a time fueled a new national unity, quickly dispelled the absurdities of the reparation movement, and turned our attention toward more existential issues.
Now the idea is back in vogue again. Here are 10 reasons why the nation’s – and especially California’s – discussions of reparatory payouts are dangerous in a multiracial state, and why reparations are not viable either in an insolvent state or a bankrupt nation at large.
1) Identity Politics Absurdities
We live in an absurd woke age of retribalization. It has witnessed Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for mutual advantage, advertised as Harvard’s first Native-American law professor.
Fellow Montecito mansion denizens Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and multibillionaire Oprah Winfrey swap ridiculous televised stories of their own racial victimization.
“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett initially was canonized by our top elected leaders and exempted for months by Chicago legal authorities after claiming the following absurdity: two white, MAGA-hatted racists, on their apparently routine nightly racist patrols in a liberal Chicago neighborhood and equipped both with special bleach that does not freeze in subzero temperatures and an ever-ready, just-in-case noose, assaulted Jussie. They put a rope around his neck and libeled his predominately black “Empire” soap-opera show – only to be repulsed single-footedly by a courageous Smollett, while retaining in one hand his cell phone and in the other his late night Subway sandwich.
Note that in these nutty cases and thousands like them, there is the cynical assumption that current American society, and the government as well, reward claims of racial victimization. That is why a Ward Churchill or Rachel Dolezal constructed new racial identities to game the system for profit.
One of the racialist universities’ current admissions challenges is their checkbox of “mixed race.” Whites and Asians often feign mixed parentages in hopes of being assumed either part black, Latino, or Native American. Any such partial lineage is seen as preferable to their own race. In our old racist society, one used to attempt to pass for white; in our new racist society, one attempts to pass for non-white.
Current racial tribalization obsessions have descended into a nadir that makes Al Sharpton’s 1990s Tawana Brawley/Crown-Heights career start (“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”/ “We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”) look amateurish in comparison. In this context, new calls arise for ludicrous reparations simply because we have become a ludicrous society.
2) Who Is Who?
Lots of racially obsessed tribal groups, in our multiracial, intermarried, assimilated, and integrated postmodern America, for perceived advantage still claim racial purity.
Yet to further those claims, they ultimately will rely on DNA certification (ask Elizabeth Warren how that went down). Perhaps some will resort to the sort of sick rules of past racialized societies such as the Old South (“the one-drop rule”), Hitler’s Germany (yellow stars), or apartheid South Africa (racial certificates). Stanford University recently deplored its recent past of anti-Semitic admissions – even as it has adopted an entire canon of racial classifications to return to the very categories that it now claims to regret. After all, Jews with superior transcripts in the 1950s were turned away for being Jewish and now a century of regression later are turned away for being considered white.
Do we adopt the South’s 1/16 rule that is occasionally used by Native-American gaming casinos and perhaps, stealthily, universities? Will blacks applying for reparations have to hire genealogists to calibrate percentages of racial purity to assess corresponding reparatory remunerations?
How will the multimillionaire Barack Obama be adjudicated? He has zero African-American parentage. He went to prep school, funded by his white grandmother, a bank president. He is half-black due to his Kenyan father. But the latter was a temporary resident of the United States with no connection to slavery or Jim Crow.
Do we distinguish between African Americans born in the United States and African and Caribbean immigrants with no histories of ancestors who lived under Jim Crow or were American-based slaves? How white or Asian or Latino can one be and still qualify for black reparations? These are absurd questions only because our absurd system demands that they will ultimately have to be answered absurdly.
3) Whose Culpability?
California is at the forefront of the reparation lobbying effort. Yet it was neither a slave nor a Jim-Crow state. On the eve of the Civil War, the federal census recorded only about 4,000 free black citizens residing in the free state of California, or about 1 percent of the nearly 400,000 residents in 1860.
The relatively new state remained part of the Union, in which no major battles of the war over slavery were waged. The pathology did not exist anywhere in California and the population was overwhelmingly loyal to the Union.
In other words, reparations based on slavery is not a cohesive argument for the current-day 40 millions of California, in which over one-quarter of the residents were not even born in the United States.
Are whites with Confederate ancestors more culpable than Michiganders or Ohioans, whose great-great-great grandfathers marched through Georgia, freeing slaves or who died fighting side-by-side with black soldiers at Fort Pillow against General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates?
Will the ancestors of blacks who fought with the Confederacy, or were descended from slave traders in Africa, qualify for reparations? Will whites whose ancestors died fighting the racist Third Reich or the racist Imperial Japanese be given tax exemptions from paying the cost of reparations?
If prior violent felony convictions disqualify one from voting, will the same be true of reparations? Will convicted murders, rapists, and assaulters be issued government reparatory checks?
4) Comparative Grievances
Will Armenian- and Jewish-Americans have equal or more compelling claims as well? Both groups arrived following the genocides of their own people. Many had relatives who perished due to discriminatory immigration laws that denied them entry into the United States. Nearly 8 million Jews and Armenians were murdered in the Nazi and Turkish genocides. Those totals are 23,000 times greater than the 3,500 blacks believed to have been lynched from 1882-1968 (a period during which 1,300 whites were also lynched).
Arguably these two groups suffered more killed in their 20th-century histories than all other American racial and ethnic groups combined. And such genocide, in our current ways of thinking, was imprinted on their collective psyches in a way few other oppressed groups could imagine.
Both were subject to zoning restrictions on home purchases and Jews were overtly discriminated against in Ivy League admissions for a half-century.
Stanford University was founded in part on the profits of exploiting cheap Chinese railroad labor, often in racist fashion. For a time, 19th-century racialist discussions centered around whether starving Irish immigrants were fully human. The recorded hot-mic outbursts from various Latino Los Angeles City Council and union members reminds us that racism is not a black/white binary. Instead, it has become a circular firing squad, with ammunition that will be radically increased by discriminatory reparations.
5) Plus and Minus Ledgers
If we are to envision individuals only as racial collectives, and then assess their grievances on the basis of distant claims of ill-treatment, and if we are also to assess contemporary black claims as of greater immediacy than say those of Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, poor whites, gays, the disabled, and the transgendered, then if we are no longer individuals, are we to calibrate both relative pluses and minuses that help calculate oppressors versus the oppressed?
Therefore, should we also ascertain each racial group’s federal crime statistics? That way we could calibrate whether any one tribe has been collectively disproportionality guilty of hate crimes or violent rape, murder, and assault, committed against other groups, who have been percentagewise inordinately the victims of hate and violent crimes?
Then in our sick game of racial arithmetic, through such a complex calculus, should we assess which particular group falls on the plus or minus side of the reparations ledger? Will groups who have been denied college admissions and job opportunities on the basis of their race since 1965, likewise lodge claims against the state, calculating how institutionalized race-based discrimination has harmed them financially?
In this context, would Asians who proportionately are least likely as a collective to commit crimes, but suffer disproportionately as victims of hate crimes and reverse discrimination in college admissions, and who have weathered a history of anti-Asian discrimination, perhaps have the best claim on reparatory compensations?
Or are reparations really not about the past, but solely the present and thus fueled by one reality: blacks believe they collectively are not doing as well economically as Latinos or Asians and therefore attribute the lack of parity to the past, in order to find equity in the present that so far has not been attained?
6) Reparations Upon Reparations
The Heritage Foundation not long ago pegged the cost of Great Society redistributionist entitlement programs at $22 trillion. For a half-century the courts have engaged in multibillion dollar reparatory settlements. To take one example, under the so-called Pigford I and II payouts, black farmers received $5 billion dollars in payouts. Are we to total up thousands of such court settlements or other compensatory federal entitlements that were race-based to subtract from the current racialized reparatory obligations? Can a half-century of affirmative action be monetized, calibrated, and deducted from reparatory obligations?
Again, ridiculous questions like that arise because ridiculous people are ridiculously attempting to monetize purported reparations.
7) Class claims?
Over one-fifth of the California population currently lives below the poverty line. One third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in California. Will reparations in the state with the largest number of absolute poor and homeless people ignore class considerations – in an age when class and racial statuses are no longer synonymous?
Are some of the grandchildren of the Oklahoma diaspora, who work minimum-wage jobs and have no college-educated relatives in their families, to pay increased taxes to ensure reparations to third-generation, college educated, diversity, equity, and inclusion, six-figure salaried campus administrators?
8) Financial Insolvency
California is currently facing a mounting budget deficit of between $25 and $40 billion. The nation itself heads into a likely recessionary or stagflationary economy in 2023. Billions of dollars in capital and more than 300,000 residents a year are fleeing California, due to the highest combined basket of income, sales, property, and gas taxes in the nation. About half the state’s resident households do not pay income taxes, while the one percent often pays nearly 50 percent of all state income tax revenues.
So how does an insolvent state facing a huge budget deficit, and over $1 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities, in a nation with a $31 trillion national debt and a $1.5 trillion annual deficit, borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to pay 12 percent of the population for the purported sins of nearly 160 years ago, when most of those who enslaved and were enslaved have been dead for over a century? Upon which culpable group are the taxes necessary to redistribute such vast amounts to be leveled?
9) No Statutes of Limitations?
There has not been slavery in the United States in some 158 years since the end of the Civil War. If a generation can be defined as 25 years, there has not been a living American with personal experience of slavery in generations. Few of any Americans even know the names of, or much of anything about, their great-great-great-great grandparents.
In that context, what was the collective price that all of white America of 1861 was properly to pay for the contemporary slave-holding society of the Old South? Since we are going back 16 decades to ensure fairness in the present, were 500,000, 600,000, or 700,000 dead between 1861 and 1865 in battle or due to disease and illness on campaign, sufficient wages for the sins of slavery? Should the United States assess West-African nations reparatory fines for their active participation in the Atlantic slave trade, given the enslavement of black Africans by black Africans was essential for ensuring the slave trade’s trajectory to the New World?
The evil institution of slavery itself did not enrich generations of subsequent Americans. Reactionary slavery instead explains why the 11 Confederate states were, in aggregate, far poorer in almost every category of economic development than their Northern Union adversaries. After the war, almost all the riches of the plantation class and its prewar profits from slavery vanished during the fighting and reconstruction, and most antebellum slave-based wealth was not inheritable by the vast majority of the postbellum South.
10) Salutary Effect?
In 2020 nearly 10,000 blacks, mostly young males, were murdered, the vast majority by other blacks.
Blacks, who make up about 12 percent of the population account each year for about 50-55 percent of all homicide victims and murderers taken together. But beyond that, there is an epidemic of disproportionately black violent crimes (over 50 percent of all firearm assaults and juvenile violent crime). In the black community, over 72 percent of births are out of wedlock, one-parent households account for about 64 percent of all black families, and a third of blacks have felony convictions. These current challenges might deserve more focus and federal action than simple cash payouts for the sins of the pre-Civil-Rights era.
If there has been any lesson from the $22 trillion record of Great Society compensatory payouts, it is that massive infusions of federal money are more apt to ensure social disruption and dislocation than alleviate them.
In sum, it would be hard to imagine a more volatile idea than racial reparations in our current multiracial society. But if the goal of the architects of reparations is to accelerate our rendezvous with the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda, then it certainly may get us there far sooner than we think.
– – –
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004.
Photo “Juneteenth Reparations Rally” by Fibonacci Blue. CC BY 2.0.