Pay Up, Yankees! We Want Greenbacks

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Under
the terms of the Slave Reparations Act, the American government
has agreed to send payments to people “of the black ethnic race”
born before 1928. At least, that is the claim
made in a recent scam
that targeted elderly black residents
of Arkansas and North Carolina. Earnest Brown, President of the
Arkansas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) has referred to the scam – that asked targets for their
Social Security numbers and other personal data – as a “form of
taking someone’s life savings.”

It is difficult to feel unalloyed sympathy for people caught up
in this private scam when, in responding to it, they were trying
to take advantage of a far greater political grab at the life savings
of other innocent people. There is no Slave Reparations Act but
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has introduced a
bill
to create a federal commission to study reparations issue.
H.R. 40 acknowledges “the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality,
and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American
colonies between 1619 and 1865.” It seeks “to establish a commission
to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and
de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans,
and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make
recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for
other purposes.” Local government has also picked up the banner
of slave reparations. For example, In June of this year, the City
Council of Chicago passed a resolution that urged Congress to consider
reparations to the descendants of slaves.

Perhaps the foremost spokesman in the growing slave reparations
movement is Randall Robinson, author of “The
Debt: What America Owes to Blacks
,” who seems determined to
start a movement. (Baseball caps, T-shirts and sweatshirts sporting
the message “The Debt” can be purchased at his site.) Robinson states,
“This question of reparations has [been] demonized only where African
Americans are concerned. Jews, quite rightly, have received billions
of dollars in reparations for World War II, as have Korean women
who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese.” A group called
the National Coalition
of Blacks for Reparations in America
(N’COBRA) has taken up
Robinson’s cry. N’COBRA’s mission is clear. “We want our just inheritance:
the trillions of dollars due us for the labor of our ancestors who
worked for hundreds of years without pay.” The method of reparations
advocated is clear as well,”Payment may include all of the following:
land, equipment, factories, licenses, banks, ships, airplanes, various
forms of tax relief, education & training, to name a few. A
good academic exercise would be to develop a plan for how reparations
could be used collectively to enable the African community to become
independent from racist institutions and economically self-sufficient
for at least seven generations.”

The only manner in which such a massive redistribution of wealth
can be accomplished is by taxing the current and potential life
savings of an extremely large base of people. But those who bear
personal responsibility for the institution of slavery are dead.
Thus, in order to establish a base broad enough for the money-grab
to work, tax dollars would have to be used. The majority of Americans
who had nothing to do with slavery would have to be impoverished
to support the minority whose ancestors were slaves Many of those
bearing the tax penalty would be the descendants of immigrants who
fled their own lands because of severe oppression, both political
and economic.

I am an example. Although I am a Canadian, if the nineteenth century
cargo ships carrying my Irish ancestors had landed a few miles to
the south, I would be American. The Irish who landed in the mid-1800s
onward were not slaveholders. They were the type of laborers that
slaveholders sent to clear the Southern swamps because they did
not wish to expose valuable property (black slaves) to high-risk
work. For them, life in America was nasty, brutish and short –
but, at least, it wasn’t British and short. Now N’COBRA wants the
descendants of people who were less valuable than slaves to impoverish
their families in order to enrich strangers whose skins happen to
be black. If there is a formula for creating racism in America,
this may be it.

The idea that government should assume the role of a remedial historian
who corrects past wrongs through inflicting current ones is so bizarre
that I was initially at a loss to reply. Then I recalled advice
offered by Ayn Rand. When an audience member at a lecture asked
her how he should respond to the proponent of a blatantly absurd
position, she suggested that he should take the person seriously
and walk away.

Too much is politically at stake to walk away from the slave reparation
issue, but I am willing to take its proponents seriously. Indeed,
I will take them more seriously than they take themselves. Granting
– for the purpose of this article – that it is a proper
role of the state to correct centuries old historical wrongs, let’s
do so in an orderly fashion. The first massive historical wrong
committed against a class of people by the United States government
– first because it was simultaneous with very nascence of that
government – was the persecution of the Loyalists. The Loyalists
were American colonists who retained their basic loyalty to the
crown of Great Britain during the American Revolution.

More than 80,000 Americans were forced to flee to the safety of
Canada where their descendants now number approximately 3,000,000,
Since genealogy is a Canadian hobby, many – if not most –
of the descendants can trace their roots directly back to a plot
of land Stateside.

The United States government itself officially recognized a moral
obligation to pay reparations to the first class of victims it created.
The Treaty of Paris between England and the United States (1783)
– signed on the American side by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay
and John Adams, then ratified by the U.S. Congress – ended
the War for Independence and granted certain rights to the United
States in consideration for those signatures. Article 5 of the Treaty
not only recommended to Congress that “all estates, rights, and
properties” of British citizens and loyalists who did not bear arms
during the American Revolution be restituted. (Many loyalists did
not bear arms but were simply citizens who disagreed with the rebels
and refused willing co-operation.) Article 5 concluded, “And it
is agreed that all persons who have any interest in confiscated
lands, either by debts, marriage settlements, or otherwise, shall
meet with no lawful impediment in the prosecution of their just
rights.”

The
United States government never lived up to its moral and stated
commitment to facilitate restitution to loyalists. Its weaseling
out can not blamed on a lack of claimants. As recently as 1996,
loyalists attempted to regain their confiscated property through
the Godfrey-Milliken
Bill
. MP John Godfrey and MP Peter Milliken both of whom trace
their roots to loyalists introduced this private members bill to
the Canadian House of Commons. Godfrey has requested the return
of his family home in Carter’s Grove, Virginia. Milliken wants a
slice of the Mohawk Valley in New York State. They have requested
that the U.S. live up to the Treaty of Paris and provide justice
to some 3,000,000 Canadians.

(And,
yes, the Godfrey-Milliken Bill is a satire – though it was
introduced into the House of Commons. The proximate cause of the
parody was the Helms-Burton Act (U.S., 1996) which stated that the
U.S. government had a right to seek restitution from Cuba for lands
confiscated from US citizens. In pursuit of this policy, the United
States outraged Canadian opinion by exerting great pressure on Canada
to break its own relations with Cuba.)

In
short, in 1783, the United States affirmed its obligation to facilitate
reparations or restitution to the loyalists. In 1996, it further
validated the right of a nation to pursue the property of its citizens
that has been confiscated by other nations. The slave reparations
movement, by the logic of its own arguments, should support the
documented claims of loyalist descendants – the first class
of people who were systematically victimized by the U.S. Government.
Indeed, the Loyalists clearly have the better legal claim and they
might set a precedent from which N’COBRA could benefit. Of course,
no such support from that quarter will be forthcoming.

Instead,
I will be accused of racism for making the satirical suggestion
that the descendants of slaves – that is, innocent black American
taxpayers – contribute to the prosperity of white Canadians.
Yet this is what proponents of slave reparations are demanding in
reverse. They want Americans who have done them no wrong, whites,
Asians, Hispanics, etc. to have their “life savings” diverted into
their own pockets. And they are not engaging in satire.

October
3, 2000

Wendy
McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
. See more of her work at ifeminists.com
and at her personal website.

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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