Armstrong Williams On Reparations
Even though the majority of Black leadership ended the year 2000 with its focus directed on voting rights and irregularities, few can question that with the exception of racial profiling and police brutality, reparations was the hottest political issue in Black America over the last 12 months. Every one in the Black community seems to have an opinion on the issue, regardless to where they lie on the political spectrum. This year, the challenge will be to create a forum where all points of view on reparations are welcomed and considered, as we believe that one day in the future the Black Electorate will actually have a "referendum" on the issue - officially or unofficially.
In light of that destination, we turn over our space to Conservative commentator, the noted Black Republican, Armstrong Williams who has provided BlackElectorate.com with an advance copy of his latest column. Prior to this column, few have known where Armstrong stands on the issue of reparations. After today, that certainly will not be the case
Here it is:
By Armstrong Williams
The notion that blacks are owed reparations for the awful crimes that slavery visited upon them two centuries before, was barely a blip on the screen during the Clinton administration. Now, with the ascension of a white, Republican president, who happened to be born into a wealthy political clan, black intellectuals are pushing the issue into the mainstream across the country.
Plainly, the civil rights leaders know that they can capitalize on voter disenfranchisement in Florida and the black voting public's distrust of the Republican Party to rally the troops around the reparations issue. Along the way, they can empower themselves by making the president seems as racially insensitive as possible.
The implications are frightening: The civil rights leaders are nurturing a movement that would encourage full-grown, capable adults to blame the missed opportunities of their lives on the slavery that transpired centuries ago-as though their pains were interchangeable with those endured by slaves. In the name of racial harmony, the civil rights movement will then demand that the current ruling structure owes them money-as though the current government is interchangeable with the English monarchy that first brought slaves to America in the 17th century. In short, our civil rights leaders are presently prepared to exchange their social activism for the warm pillow of victimization. This notion of lining one's coffers with reparation money has sent minorities across the country, scurrying to adopt the mantel of "victim." This rallying cry has resonated in Chicago and Detroit, where legislators are debating a bill that would give blacks a $330,000 tax credit-to make up for the government's false promise of "40 acres and a mule," offered to newly freed slaves during the reconstruction era.
Supporters argue that such reparations payments would publicly acknowledge the atrocities committed by the English government (America was a colony at the time) when they enslaved thousands of africans and systematically exported them as slave labor.
And indeed, it is true that the systematic destruction of another culture needs to be raised to consciousness for examination. It is equally true that their remains quite a bit of hangover in this country from the cultural division that slavery wrought. I firmly believe that the racism of today isn't as much about skin color, as it is about the racial hierarchies that a shared history of slavery and discrimination ingrained into our national identity.
This rousing point was not lost on those civil rights activists of the 60's, who sought to redistribute those social hierarchies through social activism. The landmark legislation that they secured during the 60's was animated by a single idea: equality amongst white America and its former "inferiors." Men like Rev. Martin Luther King advocated not for special treatment, but merely for those basic human rights that we associate with happiness: equality and individual freedom. He dreamt not of revenge, but of a more perfect union.
Thirty years later, the civil rights movements has shifted from Dr. King's quest for individual equality, to a sniveling cry for collective retribution. By failing to draw a distinction between past and present, the reparations issue encourages the view that all blacks are victims, and that all whites are collectively responsible. Simply, to regard all members of a group as victims neatly removes such terms as "character" and "personal responsibility" from the cultural dialogue. After all, what need is their for individual striving when it is plainly understood that all the difficulties that blacks suffer are the direct indisputable result of incidents that occurred centuries ago. The real danger with reparations, then, is that it presumes victim status for all members of a fixed group.
Plainly, the civil right movement did not teach blacks to identify themselves as inferior. Nor did it adopt as a rallying cry, "Victims all." Herein lies the rub: the civil rights movement has been hijacked lately by racial hustlers like Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume, and John Conyers who empower themselves by dispensing a warm drug, a surrender of the will to the feelings of victimization. They are the next generation of cultural prophets, our torchbearers in the dark. The only problem is that they are embracing slavery as some sort of all encompassing truth that reduces all members of a particular race to victims.
Get it? The civil rights movement has veered from individual rights, to social retribution. Sadly, a lot of black Americans are going along with this, and demanding reparations.
Never mind that reparations raises more concerns than it assuages. One wonders, for example, what percentage of black blood would entitle a citizen to reparations? What reparations, if any, would Africa be required to pay for selling their own citizens into slavery? Would American Indians be able to stake a similar claim? How about the various religious groups that the Puritan settlers persecuted? Would modern day members of the occult be entitled to reparations, to make up for the fact that our founding fathers regularly burned their distant relatives at the stake?
Bottom line: If it literally paid to be a victim, countless people would rush forward to adopt the mantel. Plainly, forcing this government to pay reparations to the biological, cultural or religious offshoots of every "group" that they wronged over the past 200 years, would bankrupt this country. For this reason, reparations has no chance of becoming a reality.
Nor should it. To embrace reparations, is to embrace the notion that history has indeed conspired to make blacks inferior. The civil rights movement taught us an entirely different lesson. It demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that social activism, will, and personal responsibility could be the engines that propelled black Americans toward equality. Nearly half a century later, the country has moved imminently closer to achieving Dr. King's vision of a more perfectly integrated union. That is why it pains me to see the civil rights movement shift its emphasis from conventional social activism to retribution. Rather than focusing on what it takes to move forward in this country, our cultural prophets now seem content to revel in the tragedies of the past.
I vote NO to victim status, and YES to activism and growth. The alternative is to embrace inferior status, by creating a culture of victimization that never moves beyond the initial steps of the 60's civil rights legislation.
Thursday, January 4, 2001