August 21, 2002


Reparations in Disrepair: It may be a good cause, but you wouldn't know it from the latest demonstration on the Mall. (Alex P. Kellogg, 8/19/02, American Prospect)
Chances are that August 17, 2002 won't go down in history as a particularly pivotal day for the pro-reparations movement. Not only did the Millions for Reparations Rally -- held on a small patch of the Mall immediately in front of the nation's capital for seven hours -- fall well short of a million participants. The event also indicated why formal legal channels, rather than popular demonstrations or legislative action, may be the best way for the descendants of America's slaves to pursue compensation for centuries of slavery and discrimination in the United States.

One of the most jarring aspects of the rally was the alarming rhetoric flowing from center stage. "I heard black people get happy on pay day," shouted Hashim Nzinga, the national chief of staff for the New Black Panther Party. "Well it's pay day!" he continued excitedly, before introducing Malik Zulu Shabazz, the 34-year-old party chairman. Shabazz's group, it should be noted, has been denounced by members of the original Black Panther Party and its heirs for some of its more reactionary views and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Shabazz followed Nzinga's stereotype-laden comments with a bit of race baiting: "You've heard of pin the tail on the donkey? Well now it's time to pin the tale on the honkey!" Then Shabazz suggested that it was also time for his adherents to "pass the ammunition" and get ready for battle. Shabazz closed his speech with a plug for a new rap CD he'd just released. [...]

As a reparations supporter, I was highly disappointed by all the grandstanding and racially charged rhetoric spewing forth from the main stage. For the first time in my life, I saw where the argument against cries of victimhood from within the black community could have some validity. [...]

To the central question of the afternoon -- namely, "how much they owe us" -- the answer generally came back as some nebulous, astronomical and amorphous amount, oddly enough often invoked as an actual paycheck (something more mainstream reparations advocates have cautioned against).

This is an unusually honest bit of nitwittery, but the idea that the legitimate economic case for reparations was crowded out by racial denagouguery completely misses the point. There is no economic case. By any measure you can come up with you have to conclude that, in purely economic terms, blacks have benefitted greatly by being brought to America. As a legal matter, there just are no economic damages in the case.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 21, 2002 5:12 PM
Comments for this post are closed.