To pay or not to pay

"I would personally relish seeing Jesse Helms wash dishes or pick up litter for his role in prolonging segregation."

By Letters to the Editor

Published June 1, 2000 7:07PM (EDT)

The latest civil rights disaster

David Horowitz's article does make some good points regarding the incongruities inherent in payment of reparations to African-Americans. Unfortunately, he also glosses over the valid point that some African-American leaders are motivated to demand reparations based on the fact that slavery instituted a system of white privilege which all whites -- not just the descendants of slaveowners -- benefit from. My family came from Poland 30 years after the end of the Civil War, and I have never doubted that I have benefited in many ways from my skin color. I don't think that I would have been unable to achieve my goals, but I do know that my life would have been made more difficult.

The answer to rectifying the imbalance that white privilege has established is not monetary reparations, though. It is by distributing opportunity more evenly and ensuring the construction of a strong black middle class -- as strong and as universal as white middle class. If this construction requires affirmative action, so be it.

Lastly, Horowitz leaves out the most disturbing possibility which may arise out of monetary reparations: the likelihood that, after the money has been distributed, any further complaints of racism, however justified, may be met with white indifference and an attitude of, "Look, you got your money. We've done our part and gave you what you wanted. Leave us alone."

-- Elizabeth Tencza

David Horowitz suggests that reparations to black Americans is fundamentally a flawed, if not immoral, idea. It may very well be, but not on the basis of which he argues. Essentially, any basis for reparations must be based firmly on notions of "justice," and not whether the Oprah Winfreys of the world should receive reparations payments.

Justice, at minimum, demands that the prospects of a decent democratic life not in any way be compromised by heinous impediments that single out individuals on the basis of salient characteristics such as race. Slavery was certainly such an impediment, and it plausibly compromised the historical and contemporary life outcomes of black Americans.

Is this a reasonable standard of justice? If so, making reparations to black Americans deserves consideration. If not, then Horowitz is correct, but not for the reasons he advocates.

-- Greg Price

I don't often agree with Horowitz, but his essay on reparations to the descendants of slaves was right on the mark. It's absurd to pay reparations when both parties involved have long since turned to dust. Should I demand Great Britain pay me for the wrongs visited on my Irish ancestors? Should everyone sue Italy for the wrongs the Romans (one of history's worst slave-owning nations) visited upon the world? The whole idea is silly. Randall Robinson should go soak his head.

-- Sean Brodrick

I believe that we have largely atoned for slavery by virtue of the war that was fought to end it and Reconstruction that followed. The crimes we need to address are the crimes of the 20th century brought about by the collection of laws and customs known as Jim Crow.

The last perpetrators of Jim Crow are still alive and well and stalking the halls of our government, courts and places of business. It would be fitting that those in the power elite today who were active in enforcing Jim Crow would have to sacrifice their fortunes and position to underwrite appropriate reparations. I would personally relish seeing Jesse Helms wash dishes or pick up litter for his role in prolonging segregation here in Raleigh, N.C.

-- John Iwaniszek

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