Monday, February 26, 2001

Week of 02/26/2001

The Reparation Scheme
- by David Matthews 2

It had been talked about in certain sections of the African-American community. It’s mentioned in passing in other parts of society. It is sometimes whispered by certain members of Congress. But every so often it comes up for public discussion.

I’m talking about reparation for slavery.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote that "All men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, even he knew that was only a half-truth. Not all men were created equal. That only applied to certain white men.

But there were attempts to change that. Slavery was outlawed in many states. But that wasn’t enough, because the southern states still allowed it. We went through a bloody civil war to make sure all those enslaved were free. But that wasn’t enough, because then there were "Jim Crow" laws set up to discriminate between white and black citizens. So there were Civil Rights marches and efforts made to get rid of those laws and create a level playing field irregardless of race.

But now we’re told that still isn’t enough. Now some people are wanting money. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan feels that the only way the races could "be equal" is if the US Government gives out a huge cash payment.

Well let’s get brutally honest here… does anyone ACTUALLY think that simply giving out a cash payment will serve as the cure-all to any continuing problems we have between the races?

The whole idea of reparation started on a promise that could not be kept. All former slaves were supposed to get 40 acres and a mule. That was the promise continually mentioned. But the flip-side of that was that Congress never approved of the deal, so essentially it was an empty promise.

However, that did not stop some people from wanting that promise kept. Especially after the US Government sent out $20,000 and formal letters of apology to each and every surviving Japanese-American who were interned during World War II.

Ah.. but there was the rub! The reparations went out to the SURVIVING internists! Not to their children or to their grandchildren! If you happened to have died before the US Government was able to personally send you that letter of apology and the twenty grand, you were out of luck! You got nothing!

Oh, okay.. so let’s find someone who was a slave, who was freed during the Emancipation Proclamation, and who is still alive and kicking today. Mind you, they’d have to be well over 130 years old.

But I get the sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t Congressman Conyer’s idea to do that. No, he was looking for a blanket lump sum payment to everyone of color, even if your ancestors weren’t brought over in bondage.

Now isn’t that a kick in the pants! Getting a check simply because of your race! Talk about getting something for nothing!

And what is to say that ONE check wouldn’t be enough for some people? What is to stop people like Congressman Conyers from then demanding a second round of checks? Or a third? Or for that matter, a continual series of payments?

While we’re at it, what about all of those years of affirmative action? Weren’t those created to offset some of the discrimination? If Congressman Conyers is going to figure out how much the African-American community is due, why not subtract all of the millions of dollars given through affirmative action programs?

And if we’re going to just give out a cash payment, wouldn’t that mean that affirmative action would outlive its usefulness? After all, the slate would be clean, right?

Then again, the idea of giving out lump sums for past sins would open up a Pandora’s box of other demands from other minority groups. After all, the African-American community weren’t the only group of people we abused in our country’s lifetime. How about the Hispanic community for being kicked out of southern states in our war with Mexico? How about the Chinese-Americans, who were brought over to build our railroads? And don’t forget our Native Americans. We took away their lands and stuck them on reservations. Do you really think these groups won’t be sticking their hands out expecting a check if we go along with the congressman’s idea?

While we’re on the subject of paying out money for the victimization of our ancestors, I should probably point out that part of my family came from the middle part of Europe. That’s a land that’s been trampled on and taken over by a whole alphabet soup of conquerors and rulers! Would I be justified, then, in demanding cash payments from Italy, Germany, Turkey, France, and Russia? I mean, hey, if other people can do it, why can’t I?

Congressman Conyers can afford to be flippant about redistributing money. After all, he’s a member of Congress. He’s used to playing around with other people’s money! But it has to come from somewhere, and usually that mean the taxpayers will have to foot that bill.

The really scary part about this is idea is that there are already con games being played on those in the African-American community who believe that they are due that money. A group of con artists are trying to sell "reparation insurance", on the belief that the money has already been distributed. These people make the sweepstakes folks look like amateurs.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot and should not be held to bear the sins of our ancestors. What they did back then was wrong. Slavery was wrong, and many of our ancestors tried to put an end to it.. including some from my family. Racial discrimination is wrong, and many people are striving to put an end to it. That is the best that we can do to change what has happened.

No amount of money will ever repair the damage caused by slavery or from the racial discrimination that followed. No dollar amount would be enough to offset what has happened in the past. All we can do is learn from the lessons of the past and strive to do better. If we cannot, then we can never avoid making those same mistakes again.

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