E-Letter To The Washington Post And Charles Krauthammer Re: A Grand Compromise

I think you make some excellent points in your column, "A Grand Compromise". First, I think you are right that the current generation of Whites are not guilty of creating the institution of chattel slavery but that they have a responsibility to help to address the reality of the damage it caused as well as the wealth it created. Second, I think that you are correct to view affirmative action as the lowest form of reparations and that it has not been as effective as advertised. And third, I think you do well to consider the actual costs of reparations in this era of budget surpluses. We would, however, like to take you up on your challenge to create a more fair reparations arrangement

Mr. Krauthammer, you are wrong to think that $50,000 cash compensation is a sufficient form of reparations. It is not the amount per se that we have a problem with. It is the idea that money is all that Blacks deserve or desire from slavery. Sure, back wages and a compounded return on those wages, denied to Blacks, are owed. But slavery was more than just the simple denial of a paycheck. And the replacement of that denied paycheck will not, as an example, increase the horrid life expectancy of Blacks in America. It really is not about the supposed almighty dollar - if it were, then Blacks in this country who earn more than any other group of Blacks on earth, would not live less years than their supposedly "poorer" Brothers and Sisters overseas. Financial wealth does not equal life. It is unfortunate that when it comes to slave reparations very few Whites seem able to accept or even understand that.

Blacks have grown tired of the comparisons made ad nauseum that Black slavery in America is the same as the slavery of any other people on earth. How superficial. Blacks did not just lose their wages and receive physical beatings as other enslaved groups did. They lost their land, culture, religion, collective memory and their health, to a great measure.

If any one can show me a form of slavery in the recorded history of the world where millions of people were taken from one land across an ocean to another land, thousands of miles away; lost any connection to their ancestors to the point where they don't even know the specific family, tribe, community or country they were taken from; lost their names; had their religion totally changed; were kept illiterate in general and although called Christians, were denied the right to read the Bible - Old or New Testament - for 300 years; had their diet changed completely; were denied the right to marry one another for nearly 300 years; and then on top of all of that were not paid a dime, again, for 300 years of labor; and then on top of that were not given land nor provided an education immediately thereafter; if anyone can show me this type of slavery on the pages of history I will then tell Blacks that they deserve no special treatment and that lost wages are the best they can hope for.

But, until then, I believe that any "repair" or reparations for slavery, must include money, but maybe more importantly, it should also include useful and unpolluted land as well as the removal of all government-created barriers to capital formation. It was land that was denied Blacks during and after slavery and it was land that Blacks toiled to help create much of America's wealth as well as to help make the Industrial Revolution possible. Agribusiness is an area that Blacks should excel at but it is an area that the government through its mistreatment of Black Farmers, continues to hinder Blacks from prospering in. There is plenty of land in federal possession that is doing absolutely nothing for America. This land should be turned over to Black Americans as part of a reparations arrangement. Blacks in this country can and should become leaders in farming. Such success would be more than just poetic justice. It would represent justice and repair at the scene of the crime.

Second, although few people address this, the US. Government instituted fiscal and monetary policies in this country during and immediately after slavery that prevented Blacks from creating wealth, accumulating wealth and inheriting wealth, from one another. As an example, immediately after slavery ended, the money supply was shrunk as a result of the Civil War ending and the Greenback currency being taken out of circulation. In addition, in the 1870s silver was demonetized. While there were reasons why both of these monetary policy actions were taken the result they had on Blacks was devastating. At the very point that at least 4 million people were integrating into the U.S. economy, the liquidity necessary to employ them and capitalize their entrepreneurial activities, was denied to them.

This is called a monetary deflation and for all of the pain it caused White farmers, laborers and debtors it was ten-fold more excruciating for a people who needed to be integrated into the American economy for the first time. Imagine the money supply being cut in half today in the exact same year that 4 million immigrants were entering the country seeking employment. Imagine the stress this causes for not just the immigrants but for the economy as well.

I personally believe that the monetary policy of this country at the time that slavery ended is the untold story in the reparations argument. It was not just 40 acres and a mule that Blacks were denied. It was access to financial capital at a time when it was needed the most. The monetary deflation of the post-slavery years meant that less money was chasing more goods, and services in not just White America but among the brand new Black economy full of laborers who were made illiterate and prevented from exercising and fulfilling their talents, skills and interests. The result was that wages were driven downward and that, in part, explains why so many slaves returned to work for their slave masters for next to nothing.

At least, in the worst case scenario, Blacks could have been paid in silver for their work, as my family members and other Blacks were paid for their work on the Panama Canal - while Whites received gold for their wages. But once silver was demonetized even this gradual approach at economic integration was made impossible. And then there is fiscal policy. After Blacks were denied their wages they integrated into the US economy only to have a disproportionate amount of their wages taxed away. Any form of reparation has to include a lessening of the tax burden carried by Black Americans who have historically had the least income, and capital gains.

For a period of time I believe that Blacks should be exempt from payroll, income, estate, and capital gains taxes. It is always amazing for me to hear libertarians, conservatives and even some liberals crying about the "oppressive tax burden" of capital gains, income, payroll and even estate taxes but who are unable to connect these tax burdens with Blacks coming out of slavery and Blacks in poverty today.

In fact, I find it difficult to sympathize with any White American who cries about government regulatory burdens, fiscal policy burdens and monetary policy burdens but who are unable to see how these burdens make what happened to Blacks in slavery even more excruciating. It even looks callous at times - especially as these Whites seek to rally Black support for their causes and political movements.

Lastly, some financial compensation must be applied to education. Another area where Blacks were promised relief but only received 1/10th of the promised resources to address. Whether a combination of vouchers to attend black-owned private institutions - at the grammar, secondary and college levels; increased funding for public schools in Black neighborhoods; or funding to educate and rehabilitate prisoners, resources are warranted and would go a long way toward repair. A significant amount of money should be used to pay for the educational needs of Black Americans.

And I am even giving serious consideration to the idea that Blacks should be given some of the spectrum from the FCC as part of a reparations package, but more on that later.

So, Mr. Krauthammer I think we have met your challenge of fairness and I for one, would certainly be willing to give up affirmative action and the like if Blacks were granted an exemption from taxation, given useful land, funding for education as well as the monetary compensation that you recognize is warranted.

I respect your desire to put this behind America and in effect make a payment in the present to avoid all future payments. I support your efforts in that regard.

I for one, would prefer my $50,000, which you offer, turned into gold, purchased at the official government price of $42 per ounce from Ft. Knox, or from the football field sized vault underneath the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

And if you think that all we propose is not fair, remember that we have asked for nothing to take care of the wretched health ailments that Blacks suffer from disproportionately, as a result of slavery, nor did we ask for anything to compensate for the pain and suffering that we have suffered as a result of having lost our identity.

Even though Whites are largely responsible for these two losses, there are some things that we have to take care of among ourselves and with our God.


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, April 12, 2001