Mazzuca: The reparations charade
It’s the political season and not surprisingly the question of reparations for slavery has again reared its ugly head. Now before reading further allow me to make a carte blanche statement — reparations aren’t going to happen, and the current crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls know full well such legislation would never make it through Congress, making this entire exercise a bit of a hustle.
So why do these politicians pander on an issue they know is destined to go nowhere? The answer is simple; they understand that stirring up historic grievances pays off at the ballot box — it’s the epitome of identity politics.
Elizabeth Warren tells us, “Slavery is a stain on America and we need to address it head-on. I believe it’s time to start a national, full-blown conversation about reparations.”
Bernie Sanders, who was against reparations in 2016 saying it was, “too divisive,” has reversed himself and told Al Sharpton that if elected, he would support Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s proposed reparations bill. “If the House and Senate pass that bill, of course, I would sign it … there needs to be a study.”
Meanwhile, Kamala Harris said, “The term reparations means different things to different people, and that allocating funds for mental health treatment would be one form of reparations.” Ah yes, Senator, injecting a little more victimhood into the discussion is always a good way to empower people.
Yes, America is guilty, but is it really necessary for Sen. Warren and her ilk to portray the matter as if the issue of slavery was uniquely American and can only be atoned for by the American taxpayer, i.e., “…a stain on America and we need to address it head-on.” Perhaps the most ‘uniquely American aspect of the slavery issue is the fact that we fought the bloodiest war in our history to abolish it.
Slavery is an abomination that’s been a global phenomenon throughout history: Europeans enslaved Europeans; Asians enslaved Asians; Africans enslaved Africans; and Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans. In fact, the origin of the word slavery comes from Slav, as in the Slavic people of Eastern Europe who were enslaved by Spanish Muslims in the ninth century.
There were times when it wasn’t uncommon for up to half the slaves for sale on the island of Zanzibar, an Arab colony off the east coast of Africa, to be Caucasian. And the Arab slave trade was even more horrific and dehumanizing than those in the Americas.
The point is, people of all races have been enslaved, and virtually every culture in the world has some type of grievance. If you don’t believe that, then point to a place on earth where every race and ethnic group have had equal opportunities and privileges.
But let’s assume for a moment that these pols got their wish and as a nation, we decide to move forward with reparations. The complexity of ascertaining who should pay reparations, to whom and how much, is a Gordian knot replete with an unimaginable rash of unintended consequences.
Consider that even in the Antebellum South the question of responsibility arises. Depending on which numbers you believe, somewhere between 80-95% of white Americans never owned slaves. And what about the black Americans who owned slaves — yes there were several thousand of them.
Then there’s the matter of who should be compensated. There are no living slaves, making it impossible to compensate those who were actually subjected to this inhumane practice. And how would we compensate people of mixed heritage or the descendants of African-Americans who immigrated here after the Civil War? Meanwhile, untold millions of Europeans and Asians have migrated here since slavery was abolished; should their descendants be responsible for reparations?
The questions about compensation are unending and reparations proposals range from creating new social programs to giving out bonds to newborn African-Americans to direct cash handouts. Now can you imagine the government agency responsible for determining who does and who does not qualify for compensation? And how long would it be before the question on everyone’s mind was, “How many drops of blood does it take to prove a person’s compensable lineage?”
The bottom line is that the topic of reparations is not a social matter; it’s a political one, and a rabbit hole we enter at our peril.
Quote of the day: “You don’t right the wrongs of past by wronging the people of the present.” — Phil Valentine, the God Players
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. Follow him on his blog at butchmazzuca.com.
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