when david horowitz attacks! are reparations racist?
by Nick Mamatas (email@example.com) - March 15, 2001
David Horowitz, professional teeth-gnasher, is at it again.
Horowitz first entered the public consciousness in the 1960s, when, as a
member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and writer for
Ramparts, his explosive rhetoric against the Vietnam War did little to end
the conflict. Decades later, Horowitz has repudiated the cartoony left of
his youth and has become an ideologue for the parodic right. A thoughtful
conservative, the man is not.
There is no right-wing ideal or position too wacky for Horowitz. Was the
movie The Patriot historically inaccurate? No, screams Horowitz, because it
made the British look bad and the Americans look good. Yes, mention the
historians of earth idly, as they tick off error after error, and indeed,
historical fabrication after historical fabrication. Is there a vast
left-wing conspiracy against the right? Of course there is! Hororwitz
insists. His proof: some readers gave his books negative reviews on
Amazon.com. I cashed my check from Moscow (uhm . . . Communism is dead,
better make that Berkeley) today, and I never even wrote my commissioned
review of Horowitz’s work, but I'll make up for that now.
Horowitz recently scribbled a poison pen letter to blacks, seekers of
social justice and history itself. This little number, called Ten Reasons
Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks - and Racist Too (gee,
thanks for caring David!) has caused quite a stir in California. Opponents
of Horowitz have been smeared as being "politically correct" as usual, and
the many members of the myopic news media have squinted at the text of
Horowitz's piece and have declared it "not racist." (So much for the vast
left-wing conspiracy against Horowitz).
Of course, since the media could look at a sentence reading "All niggers
are motherfuckers," and, under the guise of objectivity, declare that
sentence non-racist -- after all, a pity op-ed writer might opine, some
white people have been described as niggers as recently as a week ago by
Governor Byrd -- I've decided to take a look at Horowitz's ten claims
myself. Here they are, from FrontPageMagazine.com:
1. There Is No Single Group Clearly Responsible For The Crime Of Slavery.
Horowitz punts here. He mentions that black Africans were involved in the
slave trade, and that some free blacks owned black slaves. Of course, he
stops short of explaining why this is a reason why reparations would be bad
for blacks. The implicit argument he is making is that reparations are
conceived as a payment by whites that benefited from slavery, and that such
a conception is racist, since whites are not exclusively responsible. His
claim would be accurate if black Americans had filed a class action suit
against the descendents of slaveholders, but they have not. The US
government is clearly responsible for slavery, since it allowed slavery to
It is also worth noting that, even if Horowitz is right, this doesn’t
mean that reparations would be bad for blacks. A check in the mail is
nearly always a good thing.
2. There Is No One Group That Benefited Exclusively From Its Fruits.
Here, Horowitz gets explicit and says that reparations are based on the
notions that only whites benefited from slavery. Such a claim would be a
surprise from many of those supporting reparations. Building a rhetorical
strawmen and shoving it in the mouth of hundreds of thousands of blacks is
certainly the action of a racist.
Horowitz further claims that black Americans benefited from slavery, since
slave-built wealth exists in the US and since blacks in Africa are worse
off then blacks in the US. If their ancestors hadn't been kidnapped,
current claimants would be stuck in Somalia, suffering from absolute poverty.
Of course, Horowitz doesn't demonstrate that slavery was the mechanism for
building up the US economy as a whole - in fact most historical economists
who study its impact would suggest that slavery was a drag on the economy
throughout much of the 19th century. Further, blacks in the "black belt" of
former slave states and territories are the dead last poorest group in this
country, even though they are the closest to the "wealth" built by slavery.
Horowitz ignores this inconvenient fact and adds, willy-nilly, the income
of the descendents of free blacks in the North to those of slaves in the
South, and claims that all blacks benefited from the existence of slavery.
He also ignores the probability that blacks are better of in the US in
spite of slavery. Since most of the black middle class emerged in the 20th
century and in the North where neither slavery nor Jim Crow has as
significant an impact on the economy, Horowitz's supposition that blacks
benefited from slavery is incorrect.
He's also wrong on Africa. While Africa is clearly an economic basket case,
that is also partially the fault of slavery. The need for cheap labor,
cheap raw materials and new markets fueled what is frequently called "New
Imperialism." Africa went from terra incognita to fully colonized by
European merchant powers in a matter of decades. The extractive economy of
imperialism kept local capital and civil society from developing, and the
US, as one of the largest market for slaves, and later for raw materials
and finished goods, fueled this.
Even today, nations with immense natural wealth, such as the Congo, are
impoverished because of the political and economic manipulations by the US
during the colonial era, and also in the post-colonial era. Far from being
an argument against reparations, the state of Africa suggests that African
nations should sue for reparations based on the terrible impact slavery had
on their economies as well.
3. Only A Tiny Minority Of White Americans Ever Owned Slaves, And Others
Gave Their Lives To Free Them.
Horowitz plays the race card. He asks, rhetorically, what moral principle
exists that would allow for millions of whites who had nothing to do with
slavery to pay reparations through taxes? There need be none, of course,
since Horowitz is asking the wrong question. The moral principle at work is
that the US government is an institution, and one responsible for its
actions. Since the US government had allowed for and encouraged slavery,
and since slavery would not have existed in the US had it been illegal and
fought against, the US is responsible.
It is clear that non-whites also pay taxes, and they would pay for
reparations as well. In other news, millions of people who have no use for
nuclear weapons and who never get to ride in Air Force One have to pay for
these things, because the government claims a responsibility to supply
It is also worth noting that this point contradicts point 2. If the US
benefited economically from slavery, and if black Americans even benefited
from slavery, then clearly non-slaveholding whites did as well. Horowitz is
so muttonheaded that he can’t even retain consistency across
sentences. In either case, both points are incorrect, and in no case can
both points be correct.
4. America Today Is A Multi-Ethnic Nation and Most Americans Have No
Connection (Direct Or Indirect) To Slavery.
Another non-sequitur. Most Americans today have no direct connection to any
practice of the US government in the 19th century. But most people on earth
live with the historical fallout of the US in the 19th century. The
reservation system for Native Americans? Check. The enormous amount of
money poured into the Panama Canal, including Operation: Just Cause? Check.
The very existence of any states other than the original thirteen colonies?
Check. And once again, this point contradicts point 2. If the US economy
was built on slavery, it is clearly part of what made the US such an
attractive destination for immigrants.
5. The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not
Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury.
Now, Horowitz suggests that blacks in America were not harmed by slavery,
even though Jim Crow laws, most of the stereotypes of the American black,
and much of the ideology of blacks as inferior and distinct from whites on
a social level can be directly traced to slavery. Slavery and Jim Crow
necessarily impacted the growth of unions in the US, to the point where the
average black worker in the North makes more money than the average white
worker in the South - the black southern worker is even further behind --
according to studies by Syzmanski and others. Blacks have had immense
systematic difficulty exercising the voting franchise in the South as
recently as November 2000 ("Hi Jeb!"). The socio-economic impact of slavery
is felt by all blacks, not just the direct descendents of slaves. Indeed,
Horowitz admits this himself in point 2. How is it that everyone in the US
benefits from slavery, but nobody is harmed by it?
Horowitz also asks, "Randall Robinson's book on reparations, The Debt,
which is the manifesto of the reparations movement is pointedly sub-titled
'What America Owes To Blacks.' If this is not racism, what is?" Well,
Robinson's subtitle isn't racism. Claiming that American blacks, regardless
of their socioeconomic status, benefited from slavery while claiming that
they could not possibly be impacted negatively by slavery, is. Glad to have
cleared that up for you, David.
6. The Reparations Argument Is Based On The Unfounded Claim That All
African-American Descendants of Slaves Suffer From The Economic
Consequences Of Slavery And Discrimination.
This is not a sixth reason, really, but simply an explicit repetition of an
implicit claim in other points. Again, this point runs headlong into point
2 and could thus be tossed our right away. However, just because Horowitz
makes such a great punching bag, I'll point out that the reparations
argument isn't based on an unfounded claim. Horowitz contends that the rise
of the black middle class demonstrates that slavery didn't have a negative
impact on black America. This is false.
What the rise of the black middle class demonstrates is that people can
surmount difficulties, that Affirmative Action works and that the impact of
slavery and the direct fallout of Reconstruction and Jim Crow impacted the
South more heavily than it impacted the North. Horowitz has confused the
word "unfounded" with the term "disliked by David Horowitz."
Further, studies by the Urban Institute show that racism (and modern racist
ideologies were born of the slave trade) still impacts the black middle
class. Blacks and whites seeded in job interviews, given the same exact
suits, resumes, and scripts show that whites are still more likely to get jobs.
7. The Reparations Claim Is One More Attempt To Turn African-Americans Into
Victims. It Sends A Damaging Message To The African-American Community.
Horowitz finds common cause with the most reactionary black leaders, like
those of the Nation Of Islam, who claim that black capitalism, black
separatism and up-by-the-bootstraps hard work, spiced up with
anti-Semitism, cultism and the occasional political assassination of one of
their own, is all the black community needs.
Horowitz is being disingenuous here as well. He claims to be concerned
about the social psychology of the black community, but then explains that
reparations would be "extravagant new handout that is only necessary
because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within
reach of others." Hardly the rhetoric of a concerned citizen.
Horowitz offers no proof that reparations are an attempt to turn blacks
into victims. He offers not a single quote from a black leader to that
effect, and offers no common pro-reparation argument that demonstrates this
claim. Rather, he just desperately makes it and hopes that off-handedly
mentioning the "extravagance" of reparations will scare Whitey into
8. Reparations To African Americans Have Already Been Paid.
Horowitz gets desperate. He claims that welfare benefits have been paid to
lacks "under the rationale of redressing historic racial grievances." Of
course welfare payments, which he incorrectly dates to the time of Lyndon
Johnson's Great Society, have been paid to people of all races for most of
the 20th century, in one form or another. If Horowitz means the now defunct
AFDC, home of the loathed "welfare mother," (a program Horowitz is
against), then it is worth pointing out that AFDC was also open to people
of all races, including relatively recent immigrants to the US. In no way
was it designed to redress historical racial grievances. Horowitz suggests
that welfare was a transfer payment (from whom?) to blacks on the level of
trillions of dollars. This figure is both vague and would not be accurate
even if every dollar from every Johnson-era federal welfare program --
excluding old age benefits from Social Security -- went only to blacks.
Horowitz also claims that Affirmative Action programs are a form of
reparation. Here too, he is wrong. AA/EEOC was designed to redress current
racial preferences for whites, regardless of black qualifications, not as a
"make good" for slavery. Horowitz also fumes over the wholesale rewriting
of federal law for the benefit of blacks. One is led to wonder how he feels
about the Constitutional amendments giving blacks citizenship and the laws
allowing them to vote.
9. What About The Debt Blacks Owe To America?
Boy howdy! Horowitz claims that slavery existed for thousands of years, and
that there was never an anti-slavery movement until "white Christians -
Englishmen and Americans - created one." We will forgive Horowitz, who as a
Jew, is a descendent of slaves himself, for ignoring Moses, or for
mistakenly thinking that Moses was a British Christian. I'm sure Horowitz
burned his copy of the Torah back when he joined SDS. We will also ignore
Spartacus and any number of slave revolts in the antebellum South. We will
also forgive him for conflating slavery under antiquity, which did not have
a racist component, with slavery under capitalism, which did.
We will also ignore the unfortunate fact that, for most of the last
thousand years, slavery was an economic footnote, as serfdom was the most
popular and efficient way of organizing labor for the feudal middle class.
Slavery re-emerged under capitalism in a form very different than the way
it existing in Egypt, Greece, Rome and Africa.
We will ignore all of these things, because it would distract us from
pointing and laughing at Horowitz for the following: "If not for the
sacrifices of white soldiers and a white American president who gave his
life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in America would still
be slaves." All together now, my friends in fourth grade:
Abraham Lincoln did not give his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation!
Does Horowitz have some vision of Lincoln from the movies, where old Abe is
dodging poison darts, hopping over deadfalls, rolling under ceiling-spike
traps, swinging over cliffs with nothing but the help of a whip, and
finally, outrunning a giant boulder, to sign the Emancipation Proclamation?
Oh wait, that was Indiana Jones, not Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln signed the
Proclamation years before he was assassinated. In no way could it be said
that he gave his life to do something he had already done years before he
died. Further, here is a complete list of slaves freed by the Proclamation:
That's right. None. Moving on.
Horowitz makes the hysterical claim that blacks in America would still be
slaves if not for the Civil War. Most historians, even the most credulous
members of the Great Man school of thought, would spill tea on their laps
if they read such a claim in a historical journal. Slavery was clearly on
the way out throughout the world, as labor could be more efficiently
organized by freeing people from land (serfs) chattel status (slaves) and
freeing them from the burdens of owning their own property (small scale
artisans). Mass industrial production eliminated the economic power of slavery.
But even if Horowitz is right and everyone else is wrong about history, and
Lincoln was essential, he would still be wrong. The Confederate states
seceded from the United States. "America" wouldn't have slaves because the
Confederacy was another country. If there was no Civil War and no Lincoln,
and nothing else changed in history (Horowitz doesn't specify) the US would
be a free country, and the Confederacy – a foreign power –
would be a slave country. Horowitz goes beyond racism and beyond right-wing
bombast to semiliterate stupidity with this "point."
10. The Reparations Claim Is A Separatist Idea That Sets African-Americans
Against The Nation That Gave Them Freedom.
Horowitz claims that the black community is being suckered by black
nationalists, black separatists and the political left. Apparently,
Horowitz forgot his lessons from SDS: black nationalism is a right-wing
movement, not a left-wing movement. Most black nationalists are against
Affirmative Action and reparations, they want a black nation or see blacks
and blacks alone (not the white government) as the agent of political and
Horowitz also asks, "Who is more American than the descendents of African
slaves?" to which one can only answer, "Indians." The question is a
rhetorical one; Horowitz sees the reparations claim as one that would
alienate blacks from the US. The opposite is true, few people are alienated
from institutions who give them money to make up for egregious treatment.
Horowitz also claims, in the point itself, that the US gave blacks freedom.
Sure, it did. After enslaving them in the first place. And the freedom the
average black person in the US has is qualitatively different than the
freedom everyone else in the US has, even other people of color and recent
immigrants. Racism isn't just a historical artifact, it is an institution
today, one informed by the institutions of the past.
Since Horowitz sees slavery as something that blacks benefited from (see
point 2), and racism as the passe whine of the overprivileged minority that
stops stuffing itself with government surplus cheese only long enough to
have bastard children and cash their welfare checks, it isn't surprising
that he would be equally confused on the facts of history, the actual
claims of the reparation movement and his own arguments.
Racism has always been a muddle, and Horowitz is the clearest demonstration
of that since... well, since last week.
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