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SCHAEFFER: The Historical Complexities Of Reparations

Today Congressional hearings were held to consider discussions of reparations to African-Americans as recompense for the sin of slavery. As the Democrat Party totters ever leftward it was only a matter of time before this perplexing idea reached Capitol Hill.

To burden 21st Century Americans of a certain melanin-count with the sins of a nation that over 150 years ago was effectively melted down and recast at such hallowed places as Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and finally Appomattox is prima facia absurd. To then seriously consider cash payments from today’s citizenry via the already red-ink saturated U.S. Treasury boggles the mind.

I will let ethicists discuss the fairness of extorting money from one generation to pay for the sins of five generations removed. Rather I propose to simply ask Sens. Warren and Booker, representative Lee, and others, how would such a reparations program work exactly? Who would fall under the category of payor and who under payee?

Would a white person today who can trace his/her lineage back until it ends at a grave marker of a Union soldier boy KIA at Chickamauga be exempt? How about the descendants of a Southern planter who not only rejected slavery and owned none, but, in fact, aided runaways at great peril to his home and family?

Would there be some on-line form to fill out that says “Check here if your great-great-great-great- grandparents were slave-owners” or will the a Reparations Commission find that whiteness is culpability enough because, well, okay, while you may have had three relatives atomized by rebel cannons while defending the Union “hornet’s nest” position at Shiloh, you’re still white and so you got the benefits of, well, just being white. So send your check here.

Now, what about my Italian wife? Her family never even set foot on American soil until sixty-seven years after Lee surrendered to Grant. What “privilege” did penniless Italian immigrants landing in New York in 1932 just as the Depression kicked into overdrive enjoy? And it wasn’t like Italians, dark people with a strange language and customs—and Catholic—were exactly welcomed with open arms by other whites. Should my wife pay anyway? Who should she cut the check to? Colin Powell’s or Tyler Perry’s kids? (For the memo how do you spell Sasha and Malia?)

Gets complicated doesn’t it? Well, let’s kick it up a notch. For almost all recorded history, among all peoples in both hemispheres, be they ancient Greeks, Mayans, or Chinese, slavery was an accepted norm. Movie-goers who hail the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae as defenders of freedom against a tyrant king may not know that Lacedaemon at its height fielded just 10,000 citizen-soldier hoplites; it was, in fact, a society built upon the backs of 150,000 brutalized Helot slaves. Athens, too, that cradle of democracy, was perfectly happy to enslave those it conquered.

And so it was in Africa as well. What has been taught in our ever more indoctrinating schools as an exclusively white slave trade was, in fact, aided and abetted throughout its 300 years of shame by African blacks who routinely enslaved other tribes and sold them off to the Europeans who stayed mainly confined to forts along the Atlantic shore. So how did all the inland slaves make it to these coastal outposts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders.

Says Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates (yes he of Obama’s famous “Beer Summit”): “The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.” Maybe proponents plan to cast their reparations net far enough to reach across the ocean and ensnare some western African countries’ treasuries as well?

So slavery was hardly the sin of the Western white man alone. In fact, two white men, more than any others of any color, were most responsible for ending slavery in the West. British Commoner William Wilberforce led Great Britain in abolishing the slave trade in 1807, after which the Royal Navy effectively drove slavery off the high seas. (Britain abolished all slavery in 1833). And in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared with the stroke of a pen that 3.5 million slaves in North America would be “henceforth and forever free” and then prosecuted a brutal war that saw over 700,000 Americans die to make it stick.

The United States today would be unrecognizable even to those who worked diligently to push through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. According to the 2010 US Census, there are over 550,000 inter-racial married couples in the USA. Ten percent of children born in the USA today are of mixed race, up from just one percent in 1970. Who pays who then? And what of their children? Do mixed-race people like Obama cut checks to… themselves?

Whenever one tries to distill a once-universal practice that was so multifaceted and historically overarching as slavery along a simplifying and patronizing color line, the center doesn’t hold. Slavery was the most complex issue in the history of the United States, and indeed the world. Its barbarity was matched only by its ubiquity…that was until the two most powerful White nations on earth ended much of it by force.

Perhaps it’s time leftist politicians stop condescending to African-Americans while cynically instilling in them a victim mentality solely for the harvesting of votes. This practice serves only to hobble Blacks with the greatest disadvantage in life one could have: a lack of belief in their own power to change their lives for the better and truly participate in the American dream. Reparations discussions deflect attention from the real issue facing Blacks today (and ever more whites too). 72% of Black children are born out of wedlock; 38% of Blacks are considered poor. And yet only 8% of Black families headed by married couples live below the poverty line. 30% of White families headed by one parent do. The greatest shield against poverty is emphasizing family values and smart choices. Perhaps, then, it’s today’s behavioral patterns rather than yesterday’s ancestral chains that are the real impediments to minority progress…that and the CEOs of Race Hustler, Inc. and their pandering Democratic hopefuls for whom true racial equality would merely serve to strip them of power. Maybe ending self-destructive societal norms, and not searching for restitution in the hold of the Amistad, is where true salvation lies.

Brad Schaeffer is an author, historian, musician and commodities trader whose articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, NY Daily News, National Review, and a variety of blogs and news outlets. His World War 2 novel, Of Another Time And Place. can be found here:

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