Monday, August 19, 2002

The Legacy of Martin and Malcom?

Saturday afternooon, in our nation's capital, a rabble of leftist True Believers gathered for a rally (LRR) in support of Slavery Reparations. The rally was not well-reported, perhaps because, in the greater scheme of things, it was not well-attended. Only about 2,000-3,000 demonstrators showed up, which, in Washington demonstration terms, is insignificant. But the insignificance of the reparations movement has not prevented it from gaining a certain degree of acquiescence, if not support, from the establishment left.

Such "luminaries" of the self-appointed black leadership as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have expressed their support for slavery reparations. Advocates of reparations have thrown out figures of 50 to 100 billion dollars, as well as grants of large tracts of land, as starting points for negotiations. And who would supervise how these monies and lands are distributed? Well, ahem, people like Jesse and Al, of course!

Advocates of reparations cloak their arguments in rhetoric about the "stigma" of slavery and the "systemic effects of racism", etc., ad nauseam, but their cause has all the subtelty of a mugging, and about as much moral legitimacy. But the demonstrators tipped their hand about their true motivations when one of the leaders, New York City council member Charles Barron, said, "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, `You can't understand this, it's a black thing,' and then slap him, just for my mental health." So, Mr. Barron's "mental health" requires that he abuse white people. Who, then, I ask, is the racist?

The problem with "reparations" for slavery, as people like economist Walter Williams have pointed out, is that none of the proposed recipients of reparations is, or ever was, a slave, and none of the people from whom the reparations would come is, or ever was, a slave owner. Every former slave or slave owner has been dead for at least 60 years. By the reparations logic, Americans whose ancestors died in World War One should be able to extract settlements from the descendants of Austro-Hungarian Imperial soldiers. The argument is absurd. My family never owned a slave: my forbears all came here long after slavery was abolished. By what logic do I owe reparations? What about recent emigres from Poland or Russia? What "obligation" do they have to pay reparations? All of these questions and problems are ignored by the Reparations muggers because they expect to extract their demands from the government.

And in that we see the true origins of the Reparations movement. Reparations are really a new cover for the old redistributionist-socialist agenda. The failure of socialism and the obviously corrosive effect of redistributionist schemes has not deterred those who are desirous of lining their nests with feathers plucked from others. The champions of reparations are the same old leftists who championed the wonders of the Sandanista regime in Nicaragua and the glories of Castro's Cuba. They have merely covered their marxist fantasy in dashikis and dreadlocks. And does anyone seriously believe that, if they got what they wanted, we would hear no more from them? Rest assured, they would come back for more.

The problem with investing one's identity in victimhood is that victimhood is a fundamentally weakening and disabling phenomenon. One can, in a sense, never find the limits to one's own victimhood, and therefore, find limits to the demands one's victimhood imposes on others. You can never have enough of being a victim. To be a victim is to cede your power and moral authority to others, and the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons will always be waiting to take that power and use it for their own ends. The advocates of reparations are either cynical opportunists or dupes. The dupes are victims, but of their own supposed leaders.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, I'm confident, would have been sickened by what took place in Washington on Saturday.