The Racism of Reparations

by | Mar 12, 2001 | Racism

Reparations advocates are not concerned with individual justice. They subscribe to the collectivist belief that individuals are merely interchangeable members of a group.

Imagine the following scenario. A man holds up a bank. There are several eyewitnesses, who only get a brief glance at the criminal–all they can report is that he is black. The police, upon learning this information, go out on the street and arrest the first black man they find. The man is brought into court, tried on the evidence that his skin color is the same as the perpetrator’s, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The public reaction in such a scenario would be justified outrage. How, people would ask, can you punish a man for a crime he didn’t commit, just because of his skin color? The same question should be asked of a new organization advocating reparations for slavery, under which whites today would be punished for a crime committed by other whites–150 years ago.

The organization in question is the Reparations Assessment Group (RAG), which is preparing a major lawsuit, from which, according to a story by the Associated Press, taxpayers and corporations could face “possible multi-billion dollar settlements.” The group includes Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, who says: “We want full recognition and a remedy of how slavery stigmatized, raped, murdered, and exploited millions of Africans through no fault of their own.” White people are expected to provide the “recognition” and the “remedy.” Why? Simply because they are white.

In any reparation, someone is punished and someone is rewarded. A legitimate reparation is one in which the victim of an injustice is given restitution at the expense of the perpetrator.

In the case of slavery, however, both victim and perpetrator are long dead; there have been no slaves or slaveholders in America since 1865. Still, RAG’s lawsuit, if successful, will force corporations and white taxpayers to pay, with both huge sums of money and public apologies granted to blacks who are descendants of slaves.

Reparations advocates attempt to justify these measures by saying that whites today benefit from slavery, while blacks suffer from it. It is often said that America was “built on the backs of slaves.” This is simply false. America became the richest country in the world not because of slave labor, but because of the Industrial Revolution begun in the slave-free North. Inventions like the sewing machine, the power loom, and the McCormick reaper were the product of thinking, free men, not slave muscle-power. And the North’s victory in the Civil War enabled the U.S. to grow into the bastion of wealth it is today.

In today’s economy, much of the wealth is created by companies in the fields of computers, communications, and biotech. If the reparations lawsuit is successful, it will be these companies that pay–they have the most money. There is no connection between these companies and slave labor. What slave could claim even partial credit in the success of Intel, Cisco, or Pfizer? What slave played a part in inventing the microprocessor, the Internet router, or Viagra?

While blacks in the pre-Civil War period were shackled by slavery, blacks today are not. Nor are they any longer forcibly held back by legal segregation or Jim Crow laws. They are free to work hard, earn money, and succeed, as many do.

No individual today is a victim or perpetrator of slavery, but reparations advocates are not concerned with individual justice. They subscribe to the collectivist belief that individuals are merely interchangeable members of a group. Thus, the group of whites as a whole is responsible for slavery, and blacks as a whole deserve reparations for it. Using this premise they attempt to make whites feel collectively guilty and capitulate to their demands. Alexander Pires, a member of RAG, said: “Most people don’t like having dirt on their hands,” as if the moral dirt from a white person 150 years ago automatically sullies any white person today.

The RAG’s reparations lawsuit is not a quest for justice; it is an act of injustice. RAG’s members seek to punish one man for the sins of another, because both men have the same skin color. This is pure racism. The targets of their attacks should assert their identities as individuals–individuals who deserve no unearned guilt for their skin color.

Alex Epstein is a philosopher who applies big-picture, humanistic thinking to industrial and environmental controversies. He founded Center for Industrial Progress (CIP), a for-profit think tank and communications consulting firm focused on energy and environmental issues, in 2011 to offer a positive, pro-human alternative to the Green movement. He is the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas—Not Less. He is the author of featuring hundreds of concise, powerful, well-referenced talking points on energy, environmental, and climate issues. Follow him on Twitter @AlexEpstein.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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