The city of Asheville, North Carolina, which is in the 11th Congressional District I am running to represent in the next Congress, threw itself into the national conversation on race Tuesday when the city council voted to approve reparations for the city’s black residents.
The debate about reparations is not new but has taken on new resonance following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, some of which have been mindless, violent, and nihilistic. Conservatives need to offer a direct and thoughtful response that defends our founding principles and Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, while also countering the destructive impulses of the woke progressive mob.
The text of the council’s resolution offers an instructive starting point. The council’s self-stated goals are, “Increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities, strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice.”
That sounds fairly benign, aspirational, and in line with The Opportunity Agenda and sweeping criminal justice reform that President Donald Trump and Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott have successfully enacted.
In 2018, Scott said of Opportunity Zones, “To create a brighter tomorrow for communities that have been left behind, we need to capitalize on the private-sector resources that can help boost these areas in ways we haven’t seen before.”
There is very little disagreement between the council and the Trump administration about goals, but a mainstream media that wants to frame everything as a race war won’t tell that story. That is, in part, why the council’s use of reparations as a policy tool is so divisive, destructive, and short-sighted.
One problem with reparations is America already fought a bloody and costly war to end slavery. The Civil War cost the lives of 600,000 people just like you and me — with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears. In today’s numbers, the war’s death toll would be 7 million (2.5% of our population). Reparations say those sacrifices weren’t enough and that we need to collectively punish all Americans, forcing them to atone for sins committed more than 150 years ago.
Yet, woke progressives argue we need reparations today because systemic racism is ongoing. I have yet to hear a coherent definition of systemic racism, but what is clear is that the Left’s definition of “systemic” is highly selective.
The reality is that America is divided not just on race but also class, geography, ideology, and age. The woke progressive mob doesn’t want a systemic conversation. For instance, our nation’s most persistent problems of race and poverty are focused in urban areas that have been predominantly represented by Democrats for decades. That fact is conveniently left out of the conversation about systemic racism.
Many other key facts are left out as well, such as the fact that seven children, including a 20-month-old, died in shootings in Chicago during one two-week period this summer. Where are the protests for these children and the families devastated by their loss? Is it politically incorrect and not woke to say that black child lives matter? Or do black lives only matter when they are taken by white police officers?
With such an abysmal record, I understand why Democrats want to change the subject. But we dishonor our neighbors when we shy away from an open and inclusive conversation about all the facts and all the challenges facing minority communities.
At a time when our country needs to move forward and focus on the future, a debate about reparations takes us backward. The Asheville city council seems to be inspired by the 1619 Project, which says our national foundation is slavery, not our Constitution. Instead of adding to our national understanding about slavery, that project seeks to cancel our history. The 1619 Project is vehemently opposed by many civil rights leaders, including Robert Woodson, who launched his own 1776 Project to challenge the 1619 Project’s shoddy and biased scholarship.
The woke progressive mob that wants to tear down monuments commemorating Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator has become the 1692 Project, the year that marked the start of the infamous Salem Witch trials. Those trials were a shameful episode of mass hysteria, mindless persecution, superstitious dogma, and cruelty that culminated in the hanging of 19 women. Today, anything short of total adherence to the woke mob’s dogma on race can lead to physical violence or professional ruin, as was the case with centrist New York Times writer Bari Weiss, who claims she was bullied into resigning.
I refuse to be silenced and intimidated by the mob. I’ll continue to listen to all voices and counter the dividers who use fake disagreements as a distraction. In Congress, I want to build on what’s working and turn all of western North Carolina, and all of America, into an opportunity zone.
MLK’s dream is my dream: That people will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. MLK was echoing the dream articulated by our imperfect founders, who said that we are all created equal and that our rights don’t come from the state, but our Creator. America needs to reawaken that dream and not let a debate about reparations distract us from the serious work of reform.
Madison Cawthorn is the Republican congressional candidate for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.