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April 25, 2010
Henry Louis Gates and reparations for slavery
It should be said that unlike many advocates for reparations to the African American community for our slaver past, Professor Gates is a tad more realistic about who should be paying.
Indeed, Gates points to the prominent role played by Africans themselves in the abomination - one of the few scholars to do so.
Gates in the New York Times:
How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.
Now that we've congratulated Professor Gates for his recognition of history, let us descend upon him for his outrageous, ridiculous notion that 1) reparations from taxpayers whose ancestors played absolutely no role in slavery should be demanded; and 2) that for those whose ancestors were involved, the sins of the father should be passed on to the son.
Should we even worry that this unworkable, unfair, un-American idea of paying off Black Americans for slavery might actually become a reality some day?
With Barack Obama as president, anything is possible:
Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.
"Extracting" reparations from the taxpayer as well as governments abroad would be an interesting exercise. Should the Gauls, the Celts, the Teutons, and most of the rest of Europe seek redress from the Italians for the millions of slaves owned by Romans? What's the difference? A couple of hundred years? If the issue is truly "one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization," why stop with America? Professor Gates is being hypocritical if we don't go all the way back to classical civilization in Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon, Persia, and other ancient civilizations - all of whom bought and sold slaves in the normal course of empire. To single out Africans as victims is purely subjective and selfish, besides being wholly political.
And even here, the native Americans were sold into slavery as well. Do we exclude them because they didn't have to endure the Middle Passage? Why are the Indians in Mexico, Peru, and elsewhere not worthy of their own reparations regime?
It is not the "sin" of slavery that concerns the professor but his agitating for the "extraction" of wealth from those who have it to those who don't. Reparations will always be no more than an excuse to redistribute money from the many to the few while dishonestly, and piously attempting to base such notions in a moral framework.
And since President Obama only opposes reparations because they are "unworkable," the unsaid conclusion to that idea is if any way can be found to do it, the president will proceed.
Try telling the truth and running on that in 2012, Mr. President - if you dare.
Hat Tip: Larrey Anderson