‘Reparations For Black America Already Happened,’ Black Scholar Tells Don Lemon
John H, McWhorter, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, McWhorter is the author of a new book on black society, "Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America" (Gotham 2006). He also wrote "Losing the Race" and an anthology of race writings, "Authentically Black. (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)
James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

Current discussions about “systemic racism” and “equity” ignore the fact that U.S. taxpayers already financed several multi-trillion-dollar programs of reparations beginning more than 50 years ago, an expert on civil rights told Don Lemon on Tuesday night.

The bill for “slavery and Jim Crow” has already been paid, Columbia University English Professor John McWhorter told Lemon, a hardcore believer in “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” But that continuing payment makes up a part of U.S. social history “that we’re beginning to forget.”

CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” covered President Joe Biden’s speech on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre Tuesday night, noting that the Biden administration refused to answer whether it supports reparations for its survivors.

Lemon put that question to his guest, who said identifiable survivors and their families should receive funding.

McWhorter, who describes himself as a “cranky liberal,” said that “making up for slavery and Jim Crow” and the practice of redlining is “a great thing.”

But he added, “I’m a little weary of the idea that we should think of [Tulsa-style reparations] as a microcosm for what should happen for black America, not because I’m against reparations, but because reparations for black America already happened starting in the late ‘60s.”

Although Americans today do not think of these programs as reparations, McWhorter named three of the many Great Society programs specifically enacted to reverse the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow by assuring black citizens access to a social safety net, quality education, dignified employment, and property ownership.

“Affirmative action was reparations. People didn’t use that word, but that’s precisely what it was,” he said. “The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 that forced banks to invest in inner cities … that was reparation,” although “nobody makes a movie about that.”

“Welfare was reformed to be easier to get in the late ‘60s — another untold story. It was reparations,” McWhorter continued.

Don Lemon objected, “That certainly doesn’t make up for the people who farmed lands for free while the slave master got all the wealth and you got nothing and no education and no right to vote. Even affirmative action, do you think, was reparations for all of that?”

“I very much do,” McWhorter replied, “because if affirmative action didn’t help to turn black America upside down [socioeconomically], then why do we fight with tooth, claw, and nail whenever anybody threatens it? It created a huge black middle class, and it created black success of all kinds that wouldn’t have happened without it.”

“I think affirmative action was a great thing, but I do think that it was a reparation,” he said.

That’s very much how Americans saw the expansion of social welfare programs in the 1960s, taken up at the same time as Congress passed two landmark civil rights bills.

Shortly after launching the War on Poverty, President Lyndon Johnson told the 1965 graduating class of Howard University that, while the black American “will have to rely mostly upon his own efforts” to escape poverty, “he just cannot do it alone.” The government will have to pass laws to erase “the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice.”

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair,” President Johnson said.

Despite LBJ’s good intentions, the programs did not always have their intended effect. “Some of it worked, some of it didn’t,” McWhorter said.

The United States has spent more than $23 trillion on the War on Poverty since 1965, but poverty has barely budged in 56 years.

Ironically, in the 15 years before the new government spending, the black poverty rate had been cut in half. Black poverty fell from 32% in 1950 to 17% in 1965. Since then, the official poverty measure has stayed more-or-less constant.

But Johnson intended to root out the “causes” of poverty by giving “the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity not doles.” That part hasn’t worked out so well.

The Community Action Program organized welfare recipients to lobby for “welfare rights” and more generous benefits, while the taxpayer-funded Legal Services Corporation sued the government to swell the ranks of welfare recipients. Both increased generational welfare dependence instead of empowering citizens to self-sufficiency.

Welfare programs reduced payments to married families, giving couples an incentive not to get married. “In 1938, 11 percent of black children were born to single mothers,” wrote the late Walter Williams in 2015. “Today it is close to 75 percent.”

Out-of-wedlock births have a devastating long-term impact on poverty, including the ability of black Americans to obtain wealth. “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it,” said Barack Obama in 2008.

Affirmative action, in the form of preferential hiring for people of minority backgrounds, continues to this day, even though the Supreme Court authorized only “temporary, voluntary, affirmative action measures undertaken to eliminate manifest racial imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories.” In 2003, the court ruled that “race-conscious [college] admissions policies must be limited in time.” Although the court did not specify a time, “we expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today” the justices wrote 18 years ago.

As for the Community Reinvestment Act, economists debate how important a role the CRA played in triggering the 2008 subprime mortgage crash and, in turn, the Great Recession.

McWhorter said that all of the ongoing anti-poverty programs were “part of a program of reparations, which is part of a national mood in the ‘60s and ‘70s. So that it isn’t true that white America or the powers-that-be never acknowledged the horrors that we went through,” McWhorter said. “It is just not true.”

“Something happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s that we’re beginning to forget,” McWhorter said.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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