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Jewish World Review August 19, 2002 / 11 Elul 5762

David Horowitz

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Reparations buffoons on the Washington Mall | In 1943, A Phillip Randolph organized a civil rights march on Washington to demand full citizenship for black Americans. At the time, the descendants of slaves were disenfranchised and legally segregated in the South and legally discriminated against everywhere else. Twenty years later Martin Luther King Jr. led a triumphant reprise of Randolph's protest and delivered what has become second only to the Gettysburg Address as the most famous speech in American history. Within two years of King's march, the Congress passed laws by eighty and ninety percent majorities of both political parties that guaranteed full citizenship rights and political equality to blacks. King himself won a place in the pantheon of American heroes, displacing Washington and Lincoln to become the only American honored with a national holiday in his name - a powerful symbol of the guilt Americans felt for the crimes of slavery and segregation, and a living reminder of the lengths to which Americans have gone and are prepared to go to right the wrongs of their country's racial past.

But since King's day of glory, the Washington mall has become the platform for a series of increasingly embarrassing displays of racial histrionics and anti-American bathos in the name of the civil rights cause. In 1991 America's most prominent black racist and spiritual guru of a crackpot religious cult led an improbable "Million Man March" to the hallowed site. On the mall where King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech, Minister Louis Farrakhan delivered a disquisition on the numerology of the integer "19" and denounced "white supremacy," which he identified as the most pressing problem in America and the world. This was a throwback to the era of racial charlatans like Marcus Garvey and Farrakhan's own mentor, the improbable prophet of Mohammed, Wallace Fard.

Two years ago, the Reverend Al Sharpton claimed the same podium for what he called his "Redeem the Dream" march, an appalling effusion of race-baiting diatribes. Malik Zulu Shabazz, the "Minister of Defense" of the New Black Panthers called for a race war. Farrakhan was absent but sent his "Queen" to represent him at the event. Participants included members of the congressional black caucus and HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, along with sometime felon and current boxing promoter Don King, who provided the only levity of the day.

This year witnessed a full-blown return to the buffoonery of pasts remote in time and not so remote. One speaker referred to the event as a revival of the Sixties, chanting "Black Power! Black Power! Black Power!" But the presiding spirit of the day was not Stokely Carmichael or Martin Luther King. It was Marcus Garvey, famous for launching a "Back to Africa" movement and then bilking those who bought tickets on his "Black Star Line" in the hope of going "home." The afternoon included many paeans to Garvey, whose 115th birthday it was, along with a genuine Garvey impersonator in Admiral Nelson hat and ostrich plumes. The only rival to this marvel was a white-robed gentleman calling himself the "Prince of Israel," who began by garbling a Hebrew prayer and then delivered a sermon on the evils of the Constitution and the racism of the American Way.

Malik Zulu Shabazz came for a return appearance, stepping to the microphone, tarted up in Salvation Army drag, which is apparently the uniform of the New Black Panther Party, to deliver the following message: "The President wants to talk about a terrorist named bin Laden. I don't want to talk about bin Laden. I want to talk about a terrorist called Christopher Columbus. I want to talk about a terrorist called George Washington. I want to talk about a terrorist called Rudy Giuliani. The real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America."

New York City Councilman Charles Barron followed with a confession that he was so mad he wanted to go up to a white person - "any white person" - and "slap them," while explaining "it's a black thing." Barron was determined to show that he had more than mild mayhem on his mind as he repeatedly injected the word "fire" into his sentences and warned, "If they don't pay us reparations now, we're talking about scorched earth."

The theme of the march was "We are owed," and the afternoon provided many imaginative variations on this idea. One black rapper chanted, "Show me the money, or I'll show you my Glock," while another sang "Reparations, reparations … I want my house on the hill and my Coupe De Ville." When the theme of the speakers wasn't demands or threats it was an almost religious invocation of identity, and not the American one at that. A professor named Camille Yarborough, draped in a pink dashiki summed up these sentiments in a bongo-accompanied anthem with the refrain, "We are the people of Africa, we are the family of Africa."

While the platform mainly belonged to the fringe, Congressman John Conyers also spoke, taking time to gratefully acknowledge the presence of "Minister Farrakhan," and to demand "Reparations now!" Conyers is the author of the House reparations bill HR 40, which is the legal charter of the movement. If the Democrats win the House in November, Conyers will be the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and his reparations bill will come to the congressional floor. That is definitely something to think about.

In the end, the best thing that can be said of the "Millions for Reparations" march was that it was a complete flop. At several points in the day, organizers of the march came to the microphone to urge the crowd to move to the center of the mall so that its pitiful numbers would look larger. The AP is reporting there were "hundreds" in attendance. Event "coordinator" Viola Plummer could not stifle her despair: "When I look out, it is an empty field," she said, then put on a brave front to call for a reparations demonstration at the UN in September 2003.

This march displayed the authentic roots of the reparations cause - the fringes of the kooky left. This is a fact of which even Conyers took note of while asserting that it was also a movement whose time had now come. Conyers' position as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee means that his claim must be taken seriously, reflecting the fact that while the Washington march exposed the shabby, not to say deranged origins of the movement, its future lies elsewhere.

The real fire power behind reparations comes not from Sixties leftovers and the politically disturbed, but from the black civil rights establishment and the African American elites it represents. The spiritual godfathers of the current reparations claim are Harvard luminaries Randall Robinson and Law Professor Charles Ogletree, whose writings and legal suits have energized the movement and made it a serious one. Ogletree's lawsuits will be unveiled in September, and that will be a moment to assess where it might end up.

On the other hand, Ogletree's Harvard contingent shares two common and essential themes with the rag-tag army of misfits who gathered on the Capitol lawn on August 17 and claimed Martin Luther King's day as their own. The first of these is the anti-American animus that inspires both movements. This is evident in Ogletree's article "The Case for Reparations," which appeared in a special section provided by America's largest newpaper, USA Today, on the weekend of the march. Ogletree's case begins with the following fallacious and misleading claims:

"Beginning in the early 1600s, millions of Africans were brought to this country against their will, auctioned off like cattle, kept in bondage and forced to perform hard labor under the most wicked of institutions. As many as 25 million lives were lost. This atrocity was compounded by the US government's resistance to issue even a formal apology in the 139 years since slavery was abolished."

Fact: The United States - "this country" - was not even in existence until 150 years after the first slaves arrived in 1619 - something Ogletree is well aware of and like every other reparations spokesman chooses to ignore. The figure  "246 years of slavery" - used by everyone in the movement - refers to the years from 1619 (the arrival of the first slave ship in Jamestown) to 1865, the end of the civil war and the general emancipation of the slaves. But for more than 150 of those years there was no United States. A correct figure for the existence of slavery in "this country" would be more like 89 years.

This is not a small issue for Ogletree's argument since his intention is to make the "government" liable and not individual tax-paying Americans (although this is obviously an impossible distinction to make). If the government of the United States did not exist until 1776 or 1787, how can it be sued for what happened before?

This elision is in itself a statement, one that goes to the anti-American heart of the reparations movement. For Ogletree and his supporters, the American revolution was an insignificant event; the Declaration of Independence merely hypocritical; the 80 years of struggle by Americans who were not slaves to abolish slavery really nothing; the 600,000 lives and enormous national treasure the nation lost in a Civil War to free the slaves were actually not about slavery at all, and therefore should not be part of any reckoning in payment of the "debt."

And one could continue with the litany of acts undertaken by Americans and their government over the next hundred years, which have had world ramifications for minorities and oppressed people everywhere, including the civil rights battles to end segregation and discrimination, the trillions of dollars devoted to economic programs and affirmative action plans designed to uplift the poor generally and blacks in particular. These are all dismissed by reparations enthusiasts as nothing.

The same is true of Ogletree's claim that there has never been an official American apology for slavery, as though white Americans never noticed that an injustice had been done. Forget Thomas Jefferson's foreboding that he "trembled for my country, knowing that God is just" (a sentiment carved in stone on the Jefferson memorial). Recall only Lincoln's second inaugural, hailed generally as the greatest speech in the English language in which he said that slavery was an offense to God, that the Civil War was God's retribution on America for slavery, and that every drop of blood shed by the lash would be repaid by a drop of blood shed by the sword.

Robinson's and Ogletree's studied disdain for these facts reflect a seething hatred for the American heritage and the American achievement which is just beneath the surface of the reparations movement. This sentiment is as contemptible as it is dangerous - especially at a time when the nation is under attack.

The second theme common to all reparations proponents is the idea encapsulated in the slogan of the Washington opera bouffe, which is that "We Are Owed." Everything wrong with the civil rights movement for the last twenty years is summed up in this whine. Beginning with Tawana Brawley and working inexorably towards Rodney King, the principal subjects of civil rights campaigns in the last two decades have been disparate sentences for drug crimes, perceived injustice in the treatment of criminals by local police, and unsubstantiated claims about the disparate impacts of social policies among racial groups (so-called "institutional racism").

Reparations for slavery and its alleged legacies are just the latest unsubstantiated claims: "The legacy of slavery is seen today in well-documented racial disparities in access to education, health care, housing, employment and insurance, and in the form of racial profiling, the high rate of single parent homes and the disproportionate number of black inmates." [Ogletree]

But this argument is spun entirely out of a thin air called "disparities." It is true that 70% of black children are born out of wedlock, for example, and this does constitute a "racial disparity" since the figure for whites is about 30%. But in 1965 nearly 70% of all black children had two parents, and that was 100 years after slavery's end. In other words, while this may be a racial disparity it would take an entirely different argument to establish that it is connected to slavery or segregation or discrimination. Lack of a father in the home, however, is a powerful indicator of poverty and crime. The commission of crimes is rather integrally related to "racial profiling …and the disproportionate number of black inmates." Ogletree's racial indictment of America is a house of cards built with a stacked deck.

Rodney King - the most celebrated civil rights "victim" of the last quarter century was in point of fact a convicted felon resisting arrest. The President of the United States and the U.S. Justice Department took up King's grievance despite his record, despite his race (more probably because of it) and despite the exoneration of the officers involved in the incident by a jury of their peers. The police were tried a second time - a procedure directly against the American legal grain - and Rodney King emerged triumphant. He received his "justice."

Since then Rodney King has squandered all three million dollars he was awarded in reparations. He has shown himself through multiple subsequent arrests to be a habitual criminal and a willfully unproductive member of society. What did his reparations do for him and what does his subsequent history tell us about the incident itself? Was he beaten because he was black or - as the officers contended -- because he was a felon resisting arrest and they were angry because of the 100-mile-an-hour, life-endangering chase he had led them on? Was his treatment a legacy of slavery or a by-product of the mean environment in which battles with urban predators take place? These are the crucial questions that neither Ogletree nor any other reparations advocate is prepared to answer.

When Martin Luther King gave his speech in Washington, he was disenfranchised; he could not eat at lunch counters reserved for whites or sit in buses when whites were standing; or use facilities other than those designated "for colored only." What exactly are Charles Ogletree and Randall Robinson, two men of Harvard, two counselors to presidents, and both the recipients of six-figure incomes owed by America? What are they owed by the ordinary Americans who must pay the taxes for reparations and who in their vast majority had ancestors who either had nothing to do with slavery, or gave their lives to end it? Or dedicated themselves to fighting segregation and discrimination?

Thanks in part to the efforts of the majority of Americans who were not slaves and who are not black, blacks in America today are the richest and freest blacks on God's green earth. Richer and freer than black citizens of any black nation in the world. Seventy-five percent of black Americans live above the poverty line and 50% are solidly in the middle class. In other words the greatest ambition of the civil rights movement has been achieved. The doors of opportunity have been opened and the rules have been made as neutral as they humanly can be to ensure that the competition is fair.

Is there a level playing field? There is no level playing field for anyone. Short of a totalitarian state that controls the families that individuals are born into,there can be none. A free society is inevitably a society of great inequalities, because individuals themselves are greatly unequal. This is a fact that is obvious - or should be - to everyone from the age of five and up.

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JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . To comment, please click here.


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© 2000, David Horowitz