In my opinion, the roots of the issue of reparations are the same as the issue of
affirmative action. Understand, that this is a simplistic answer, but I'll explain why I
say that. And then, I'll suggest that you consider the same issues in a new context.
In short, the idea is that blacks would sue businesses and institutions for economic
damages due to the effects of slavery and loss of property, rights and life, and the
multi-generational cultural rippling effects that a given injustice has caused. Damages
would be sought in order to generate funds that would restore parity and opportunity to
the damaged parties.
To place the issue in a legitimate context, you need to remove an issue that has become
clouded by rhetoric and stereotypical labels. For the sake of objectivity, you have to set
aside the idea that reparations has any association with racism and institutional slavery.
When you do that, it becomes a much more simple case of civil litigation with merit.
But it's not as simple as a car where one driver is at fault and another driver has been
injured, and a simple payment of relatively small amounts of money are at stake in order
to make up for the losses and pain and suffering.
If you were to ask me if I agree with the concept of reparations, my real answer would
be that I wish they were not necessary.
However, in a free market economy with less and less regulation and increasing
governmental reluctance to provide leadership in mainstreaming and generating equal
opportunities and rights or social programs of any nature, civil litigation becomes the
Unfortunately, financial damages do little to address the social issues that require
alteration. They can not change so long as politicians pander to and incite the
hatred of others in order to win elections.
For example, I can't help but consider that the Civil War ended some 140 years ago, and
this country is still arguing over the same issues that generated it (an observation that
makes me ever more skeptical about our activities in Iraq).
Last week (5/3/2003) a high school in Georgia announced its Junior Prom. Well,
actually, there aree two. One for white high school juniors, one for black high school
juniors. This, of course, in a state where there is an ongoing debate over the use of the
Confederate Battle Emblem as a symbol on their state flag.
It's a pretty clear example of how war may, indeed, suppress hostility, but it does not
resolve the underlying issues.
They include the issues of states rights, human rights and the right of communities, or
states, to make their own laws and policies that would not be subject to federal
interpretation, or superseded by federal law or judgement.
What leaders and participants in the movement and civil cases regarding reparations are
saying, in essence, is that if the government will not provide the leadership as well as
promote and enforce constitutional protections, and acknowledge that work still needs to
be done in the areas of civil rights, then the only option left is to seek damages so that
they may do the work themselves.
Of course, that would presume that the government has a responsibility to assist
citizens so that their local economic conditions and ethnicity do not place them at an
unfair disadvantage when seeking higher education and careers.
In my mind, that would mean recognizing that society is best served when every citizen
is empowered. It's like the saying a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Studies have shown that Headstart, education in general, and remedial programs for
literacy reduce requirements of government by causing healthier people in less need of
health care, lower teen pregnancy rates, less abortion, less crime and violence -
particularly by juveniles, lower drug use and in the longer range, reduces poverty
Even better, it breaks the cycle of poverty, and assists in breaking down social, class
and racial barriers in more natural, sustainable ways than forced integration or
adversarial civil litigation.
Affirmative Action Then & Now
When George Bush announced his decision to instruct the Justice Department to pursue
actions in regard to the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan on
Martin Luther King's birthday, I was not the only person who took offense at the timing.
It was perfect timing - if you wanted to demoralize and suppress a community of people,
and frustrate millions of people who have worked for many years on these issues. I find it
difficult to believe that it was by accident.
But there are some useful observations to make about the point.
I was impressed by reports of black students who were angry that they were put in the
position of being viewed as someone who needed help and special consideration in order to
be considered qualified or worthy - as if they inherently "weren't good
For many of us who remember the beginnings of the civil rights movement, and the
conditions and injustices that were being opposed back then, it's incredibly moving to
have living, breathing proof that the efforts have actually worked at some level. They
worked so well for some that younger beneficiaries of those efforts are less aware of the
struggle, and certainly less exposed to those kinds of conditions today.
That's good and bad because it's easy to slip into bad habits. It's easy to see that
things are better and stop paying attention, and assume that someone is sticking with and
completing the job.
Trent Lott and Ton Delay have both said, on multiple occasions, that black people in
America are treated better than anywhere else in the world, and that blacks should be
satisfied. Somehow, that doesn't sound like representatives of a nation believing in
equality and equal opportunity.
When the job began, it was fairly easy and accurate to assume that black citizens were
worthy of blanket consideration because their history of oppression caused incredible
poverty and illiteracy.
But even Martin Luther King knew that the core issue to address in order to facilitate
equality was poverty, not race. In a capitalist society, money provides access to many
opportunities, particularly higher education, and higher education leads to more money and
I can easily accept the idea that it may be time to realign our criteria and goals in
affirmative action, but I do not under any circumstances believe that affirmative action
for people who are disadvantaged, especially by unjust circumstances not of their own
making, should be left to endure the burden of inequality.
Affirmative action is not a giveaway program for the poor or for blacks or for any
other minority - it is an investment in the future of our nation, and a commitment to the
empowerment and the equality of people, in all walks of life.
If all things were equal, failure or success of individuals can accurately be
attributed to the fruits of labor and accepted as a just outcome. But things are not
equal, and the outcomes are not just.
We must never end our commitment and efforts to seek ways to seek and deliver justice
and equality. We must always be looking to find ways to do better and more,
not out of contrition, but out of the generosity, compassion and integrity of true
Civil Rights, the Sequel By Bob
Herbert The New York Times Those who are looking to government to lead this
effort are deluded. George Bush and Clarence Thomas will not be riding to our
rescue. What's required is nothing less than round two of the civil rights
movement, the goal being to create a safe and constructive and nurturing environment in
which all black Americans can thrive.
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(C) 2002,2003-2009 Charles Rehn Jr IV All rights