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White Denial (Conservative, Liberal and Progressive) On Reparations Only Hardens The Hearts Of Blacks

Although they do so in different forms, the White-led Liberal, Conservative and Progressive Movements are all in denial, to varying degrees, on the issues of reparations, racism and slavery. That Blacks stand all alone on the reparations issue is not hard to tell by the lack of support that leaders of the reparations movement have received from those who are supposedly sympathetic to them and their causes. As long as the subject is fighting corporate power or civil rights, Blacks have always found themselves on the receiving end of resources, publicity and support from Progressives and Liberals. But the general silence from Progressives and Liberals that exists as the rallying cry in Black America continues to grow for reparations is striking.

Ted Glick, in an op-ed forThe Black World Today accurately picked up on this peculiarity when he wrote of the lack of a broad-based coalition of traditional allies when the cause is reparations for slavery. He spoke of the lack of White progressive support for reparations.

Many older, white labor activists, for example, believe that the correct approach must be one of working for unity among workers of all nationalities by emphasizing the fight against racism on the job and in the community, within the context of a multi-racial working class and multi-racial organizations. This is fine and commendable as far as it goes. But some of these same activists have problems with all-African American, all-Latino or other constituency-based groups organized around the special oppression felt by those particular groups.

To me, opposition to these forms of organization is a form of racism. Get over it! Stop trying to control and keep on top of everything! The reality of our society, including the reality of life for most workers, is one of both interrelationship and separation when it comes to our variety of cultures and nationalities. We need organizational forms and ways of interacting with each other that allow for both to happen, as desired and as is possible.

To the extent that white progressives are serious in practical ways about the struggle against racism, to that extent will people of color be more open to building closer and stronger personal and organizational ties. There will be a basis for trust. But we are still very much "on the road" in this essential journey, sisters and brothers. We have not yet arrived at our goal of a non-racist progressive movement, much less a non-racist society. Until a good chunk of our organizations are genuinely multi-racial at the base and in the leadership; until the issue of racism is something we discuss easily and naturally, without uptightness and defensiveness; until we begin to see more and more examples out in the broader society where whites and people of color join together in common cause around common issues AND incorporate pro-equality demands within those common struggles-only then can we think that we are finally getting somewhere.

Mr. Glick is absolutely right. The argument that Blacks who support reparations are tearing the country apart is ridiculous. What a short memory some have. Was it that long ago that many of these same reparations advocates who are accused of "balkanizing" America today were the same ones getting hosed, beaten, biten by dogs and verbally abused by Whites, simply because they wanted to eat and use the same bathrooms as their Caucasian peers?

There has never been a group of people in America more open to interracial coalitions than Blacks. Why now, we wonder is a Black-led coalition seeking reparations such a problem for Whites to stomach? Do "sympathetic" Whites have a problem following Blacks in coalitions? Do "benevolent" Whites have a problem supporting a cause whose immediate short-term benefits are largely aimed at Blacks?

Ideologically, White progressives would seem to be the most natural of allies for the reparations cause but one would think that White liberals would not be that far behind. However, that simply is not the case. Today there is not even a peep to be heard from White liberals on the issue of reparations. They have ignored and avoided it, with cover for such being provided by the Black political establishment. At the most, White Liberal politicians wink and nod their head at Black leaders, like Rep. John Conyers, who are pushing for a congressional study on the issue. White liberals who are Democrats don’t want to touch the issue with a ten-foot pole, comfortably realizing, for the time being, that Blacks will still vote for them anyway – whether they speak publicly about reparations or not.

Conservatives, White and Black, are actually the least disingenuous about their position on reparations. But by far, they are the most virulent in their opposition. We wrote about the fallacious reasoning supporting their position on reparations, their general stubborness and we hinted at the consequences of such in our E-Letter To Thomas Sowell regarding reparations.

Although the progressive and liberal lack of support for reparations may be the most disappointing for Black reparations advocates, it is the Conservative position on reparations and the seemingly intolerant position on issues of race – most notably, the impact and legacy of slavery on Blacks and the reality of racial discrimination – that may hold the worst consequences for race relations in this country.

We recognized this race-averse zealotry in the manner in which some conservatives have castigated President Bush for his administration’s position in the Adarand case. If conservatives are successful in pulling the President of the United States away from a public recognition that racial discrimination exists and that its effects require a redress, then there is no hope that a legitimate public discussion on race can occur, in a manner where Blacks and Whites are free to discuss any steps that maybe taken toward solving this country’s greatest problem.

One Republican who does not agree with the present demands of the reparations movement but who does recognize that slavery and racial discrimination have caused damage among Blacks and the entire country that needs to be addressed, politically, is supply-side economist Jude Wanniski, President of Polyconomics Inc. He expressed this opinion to us in response to what we wrote to Thomas Sowell:

Of course, I agree with you that (Sowell’s) "ain't gonna happen" argument is full of holes, but I still believe (the reparations movement) is misdirected when it appears the goal is cash money. Reparation means "repair." And cash money is as useless to black Americans as the tax rebates are to lifting the economy out of its deflationary morass. It is in the self-interest of all white Americans to see all black Americans achieve a comparable standard of living. How to go about that kind of repair should be front and center on our domestic agenda.

I would ask black leaders, like Minister Farrakhan, for a list of things they would like to see done to effect "repair," without involving cash. When I asked Nation Of Islam Chief of Staff, Brother Leonard Farrakhan Muhammad, what he would put at the top of his list, he said he would have a full-scale education program funded for the prison system, with white prisoners allowed into the project too. It would be presumptuous for me, a white guy, to tell black men what they need. They know what they need. When we asked Kweisi Mfume, (when he attended) our conference what he wanted most for his people, he said, "Access to capital and credit." You know I've always said that the poorest people would benefit the most from a gold standard and elimination of the capital gains tax. Minister Farrakhan supports both, for the right reasons.

What would it take for conservatives, to gravitate toward Mr. Wanniski’s position? Is such a scenario very likely? Would liberals and progressives be willing to follow Mr. Wanniski’s lead and seek the advice of Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan on the issue of reparations? Would Blacks be willing to accept a non-cash-based form of reparations?

All of these questions begin to get under the surface of the current superficial level of discussion about reparations, which has some Blacks demanding a hearing and only a cash remedy on one end with all of the leading members of the White political community – conservative, liberal, and progressive – playing down or denying that the issue warrants attention, on the other end.

While the proposed reparations remedy may lean too heavily on the side of money, that is a very weak excuse for Whites to ignore the root of the argument of Black reparations advocates, that something tangible and material must be done, politically, in response to slavery and racial discrimination.

If recognition of what slavery caused is not publicly demonstrated by White conservatives, liberals, and progressives and the need for “repair” not politically sought, we have little hope that anything short of violence will bring all parties together in one room to have a frank discussion aimed at solving the problems of America’s racial divide.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, August 27, 2001

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